17/02/2007 00:00 | By By Christopher Hubbard

On test: Fiat Sedici Eleganza 1.9 Multijet review (2006 onwards model)

Fiat Sedici (© Image © Fiat)

Bodystyle: 5dr SUVEngine: 1.9-litre, four-cylinder, turbodieselTransmission: 6–speed manual

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What is it?

The Fiat Sedici is officially designated a ‘compact SUV’ by its Italian maker. But with its jacked-up hatchback looks and relatively compact footprint, perhaps its better to think of it as a crossover, and therefore somewhere between the two. This doesn’t mean its all show and no go in off-road terms, however, as “Sedici” means “16” in Fiat’s native tongue – a deliberate reference to the 4x4 hardware underneath. Closely related to Suzuki’s SX4, it offers some of the best build quality in the current Fiat range and is an interesting alternative for those seeking a small family car that’s both practical and relatively rugged.

Where does it fit?

The compact crossover segment is threatening to explode in the UK marketplace, with specific new models and toughened-up versions of existing cars all fighting for buyers previously enamoured with the traditional hatchback. So the Sedici finds itself competing with dedicated crossovers like the all-new Nissan Qashqai and budget-orientated Dodge Caliber, high-rise 4x4 family cars like the Golf 4motion and Skoda Octavia Scout, but also plain vanilla hatchbacks including the Ford Focus, Toyota Auris, Vauxhall Astra, and so on. As one of the forerunners in this new niche, the question is whether the Sedici stumbles, or shows the others how it’s done.

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Is it for you?

If the concept of a higher driving position and the added security of switchable four wheel drive appeals to you, but you’re put off by the negative connotations currently associated with more overt SUVs then the Sedici could be exactly what you’re looking for. Sharing fundamental components and an assembly factory with the Suzuki SX4 should help assuage any lingering fears about build quality and reliability, while the contribution of Fiat’s excellent 1.9-litre MultiJet turbodiesel engine is a boon for torquey drivability and decent economy. A Suzuki-sourced 1.6-litre petrol is also available, but we reckon the oil-burner better suits chunky nature of the car.

What does it do well?

The Sedici’s biggest surprise is how good it is to drive. Taut body control, eager turn-in, and punchy turbo-diesel performance combine brilliantly with the compact dimensions and impressive grip, making the Sedici an entertaining companion even in everyday motoring. The electronically controlled centre differential has three self-explanatory modes – two-wheel drive, Auto, and Lock – and should see you safely through most on-road scenarios. Although the Lock setting only operates up to 37mph, the Fiat is more than capable of tackling moderate off-road driving, helped by its short front and rear overhangs, and again that diesel torque. Looks good, too.

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What doesn’t it do well?

If simply sitting in the Sedici doesn’t make you feel like you’re in a genuine off-road vehicle, the gearbox certainly will. Baulky and obstinate – especially between first and second – it does get better as the fluids warm up but remains our least favourite part of the car. The gruff engine noise from the diesel intrudes into the cabin a little too much for our liking, and you might also find the steering heavier than you’d expect from a modern vehicle – certainly a modern Fiat. That said the weighting seems well matched to the level of grip and compensates gallantly for a lack of genuine feel.

What’s it like to live with?

If you’ve seen inside a Suzuki Swift, the Sedici’s dashboard will be familiar. This is no bad thing, as it means subtle red illumination, sensibly placed controls, and reasonable plastics. Passenger space is ok, especially given the exterior dimensions, and achieved without completely sacrificing the boot; no luck for golfclubs, but the shopping centre shouldn’t trouble it. Less good are the A-pillars, which take chunks out of front three-quarters visibility despite the integrated glass, and the gearbox gaiter dislodging itself every time we selected reverse. But the overall cabin quality is good, and the large mirrors help with what is otherwise decent visibility. The penalty for not leaning like a bus round corners is a moderately bumpy ride – but this wasn’t a big issue for us, and we certainly wouldn’t describe it as harsh.

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How green is it?

The 1.9-litre MultiJet diesel engine provides 120bhp and 206lb ft of torque, which makes the Sedici feel pretty lively in most situations, even if the cheaper and less powerful 1.6 petrol (107bhp, 107lb ft) actually gets to 62mph more quickly – 10.8 seconds instead of 11.2. However, aside from the noise, what’s most disappointing about the diesel is it’s only 3mpg better on the combined cycle, returning an official figure of 42.8mpg compared to the petrol’s 39.9 – which isn’t terribly impressive, even for a compact 4x4. It also puts out 174g/km of CO2 – actually 1g/km worse than its cheaper sibling. In other words, the Sedici diesel’s green credentials look more than a little pale.

Would we buy it?

We really like the way this car drives, making a convincing case for the crossover concept by combining that high driving position with decent dynamics and an appealing package of abilities. Equipment levels are generous – entry level Dynamic spec including such goodies as air-con, eight-speaker CD-stereo, electric mirrors, while the Eleganza gets climate control, 16” alloys, MP3 capability and a multifunction steering wheel – and the interior quality is generally high. But given prices between £12,495 and £15,495, it does seem rather expensive – especially compared to the Suzuki SX4. Fiat dealers are usually keen to discount, however, so if you’re in the market for a compact all-rounder, we suggest you get down there and get haggling.

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