The Sedici is the first fruit of Fiat and Suzuki’s collaboration. Both companies will produce their own soft-road versions – the Sedici and the recently released Suzuki SX4 – that share the same platform and architecture.
The Japanese seem to have done most of the work – they have provided the overall architecture, a 107bhp 1.6-litre petrol engine with five-speed manual gearbox and the all-wheel-drive layout.
The off-road set-up uses a simple electro-magnetic clutch that quickly and effectively apportions torque to the axle with the most grip.
Fiat’s engineers have handed over their 120bhp 1.9-litre Multijet turbodiesel engine, complete with particulate trap and six-speed manual transmission.
Both cars have been designed by Giorgetto Giugiaro at Italdesign, and both will be built at Suzuki’s new factory in Hungary.
The Suzuki will dominate the production line with around 40,000 SX4s planned for the next 12 months compared to only 20,000 Sedicis.
The Sedici plays a clever visual trick by looking far bigger than it is. At 4,110mm long, 1,760mm wide and 1,620mm high it’s not much bigger than a Ford Fusion. You certainly won’t mistake the Sedici for anything else on the road – apart from the Suzuki SX4 that is.
It looks very different, with Giugiaro’s styling creating a strong visual face with those unusual headlamps and odd three-quarter front window.And given its off-road prowess, those 4x4 styling clues – the side cladding, roof rails and metal-look front and rear scuff plates – look the part.
What a pity then that this striking exterior design is badly let down by a cabin that is utterly bereft of even the smallest amount of style or flair. Bar a trio of smooth-turning and tactile ventilation controls, there’s nothing in the cabin that is good to look at or to touch.
The hard and shiny plastics – and the truly nasty seat upholstery material in particular – smelled terrible, were unpleasant to look at and worse to touch.
Despite its compact size, the Sedici offers decent on-board accommodation. The 2,500mm wheelbase means there’s plenty of room in all directions for four passengers – five would be a squeeze – and although the boot is modestly proportioned, you can fold forward the split rear seat back to boost luggage space.
But rear passengers will find the rear bench extremely short of under-thigh support, and the low-rent feel to the interior means spending a lot of time in the Sedici is best avoided.
Standard equipment is pretty generous and includes twin front airbags, climate control, anti-lock brakes with electronic brakeforce distribution and a single slot CD stereo.
Upgrade to the top-spec Eleganza and you’ll get side airbags, alloy wheels, an uprated stereo and dual-zone climate control.
Although Fiat has been trying to shore up its residual values by reducing its rental business, the company hopes the Sedici should have some user-chooser appeal.
Either model will be relatively cheap to run – both petrol and diesel powerplants offer good levels of economy and low emissions and both should be inexpensive to tax, insure and repair.
It’s difficult to slot the Sedici into a neat market sector.
The Fiat’s crossover combination of supermini-sized hatchback layout and all-wheel-drive means real rivals are few and far between.
There are dozens of hatches out there in the Sedici’s price range and an equal number of soft-roaders – but few if any that straddle the gap between the two.
A niche sector at this end of the market will also mean small sales.
A good job then that Fiat UK reckons it will only be allocated around 1,000 Sedici models in its first 12 months on sale.
Fiat believes the Sedici should find favour with rural drivers who don’t want a full-on off-roader or those that want the dependability of a Japanese soft-roader but without the bland image.
Behind the wheel
WE only got to drive the 1.6-litre petrol model because Fiat was too busy stockpiling the more desirable diesel for its sponsorship deal of the 2006 Olympic Winter Games, to be held in its home town of Turin.
The petrol engine is pretty gutless at low revs and revving it is, unfortunately, something you’ll avoid because the engine is boomy in the mid-range and thrashy near the redline.
That said, short gearing means it feels perky enough up to 50mph and above that, it hauls the Sedici around with a ‘don’t-hurry-me’ nature. Its five-speed gearbox has a clean throw, but could do with an extra ratio at motorway speeds.
There are no surprises on the dynamic front – the Sedici drives just as you’d expect a generic Japanese hatchback to. There’s plenty of all-wheel grip, the steering is light and overall handling is tidy.
The low-speed ride is rather brittle and the suspension feels too stiff around town, something those in the back will notice more than the front passengers.
Overall the Sedici’s on-road dynamics fall squarely into the section marked mediocre.
It’s hugely effective in the mud though because it’s equipped with a differential that gives the driver a choice of three driving modes – front-wheel drive, on-demand four-wheel drive or a 50/50 power split between the axles for serious off-road performance.
THE petrol’s lack of low-rev grunt means lots of revving in first and second to make any progress. It has modest on-road talents but at least the Sedici offers decent off-road ability.
|Max power (bhp/rpm):||107/5,600||120/4,000|
|Max torque (lb-ft/rpm):||107/4,000||207/2,050|
|Max speed (mph):||105||112 (est)|
|0-62mph (secs):||12||11 (est)|
|Combined fuel economy (mpg):||39||48 (est)|
|CO2 emissions (g/km):||173||150 (est)|
|On sale:||March 2006|