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Click for pictures“Sweet little Sixteen:
  that’s Fiat’s new Sedici.
  A compact family SUV
  that combines sports
  utility off-road ability
  with the dynamic agility
  of a front-wheel drive

FOUR BY FOUR equals 16 and sixteen in Italian is sedici; hence the name Fiat has given to their all-new urban 4x4. The five-door on-off roader is their first entry in the compact sports utility vehicle (SUV) sector. The Fiat Sedici goes on sale in the UK from 22 April, priced from 12,495 on-the-road.

Speaking at the UK media product launch, Giulio Salomone, managing director of Fiat Auto UK Limited, said: "With Sedici we want to continue the same brilliant success story in the UK as we are experiencing with the new Grande Punto supermini.

"In March I promised our dealers that Fiat would be one of the fastest growing brands in the UK and I'm pleased to say that my forecast
was correct — our 06 new registration plate sales were 64 per cent up on March 2005. We sold a total of 10,700 vehicles in March, 6,000 of them being the new Grande Punto."

Fiat sales year-to-date also show a significant increase of 44.5 per cent over the same period last year, whilst the overall UK new car market is down 4.6 per cent.

Salomone continued: "I want to repeat our sales success with Sedici and there is every reason to be optimistic. In Italy in the first 10 days Sedici went on sale we sold 7,000 units and our objective for the
whole year is only 12,000. We plan to sell just 1,500 Sedici vehicles in the UK in the remainder of this year and that will be a supply-restricted number for right-hand drive vehicles rather than the volume we could really achieve."

The Sedici is designed by Giorgetto Giugiaro in conjunction with Fiat's own central styling facility and it is the end-product of collaboration between Fiat and Suzuki. The Sedici, and the similar Suzuki SX4, are built at Suzuki's advanced new production facility in Hungary, where a combined total of 60,000 units will be built this year: 40,000 for Suzuki and 20,000 for Fiat.

"Although built in a Suzuki factory, Sedici is a real Italian Fiat," Salomone added. "It's stylish, solid and with the best 4x4 technology. We already have great experience in this area with our Panda 4x4. The other great strengths of this car is the class-leading fuel consumption, the best in comparison with other 4x4s and even compared with C segment cars such as the Peugeot 307. Sedici is the most versatile
car because it is a compact 4x4 which is great in the city and the countryside. Petrol and diesel versions are available with Dynamic and Eleganza trim levels.

"When we look at Sedici against its SUV competitors — the Hyundai Tuscon, Kia Sportage, Nissan X-Trail, Toyota Rav4 and Honda
CR-V — we see big opportunities in this sector, and there is also the opportunity to compete in the C-segment of medium-sized cars
against the Peugeot 307 and Renault Megane."

Fiat UK said the segment Sedici will sell in is still growing rapidly — up from 1.7 per cent to 6 per cent of the European market. Already worth 200,000 sales a year in the UK, it shows no signs of abating.

Brane Bosancic, Fiat UK's product marketing manager says: "Sedici stands out from the usual off-road crowd because of its styling. It is not difficult to handle and park and this matters, especially to our
main target audience — women customers. These factors are very important, especially in urban areas and for school runs where parking can be difficult.

"The new car is perfect for customers who have young families: it is compact but it has five doors. The comparatively low height makes
the vehicle look trimmer and more stylish, like a compact saloon, which enables improved performance, reduced fuel consumption and, critically, reduced emissions. So it's leaner and greener as well as stylish. The Sedici's on-demand four-wheel drive system makes it ideal for use in bad weather conditions because real life is a real adventure."

Fiat expect 80 per cent of Sedici sales in the UK to be for the higher Eleganza trim specification with an equal split between petrol and diesel engines.

At launch the Sedici will be available with a Suzuki-designed 1.6-litre, 107bhp petrol engine mated to a five-speed manual gearbox. In June, Fiat's proven 120bhp 1.9-litre MultiJet turbodiesel powerplant with a six-speed manual transmission will be added to the range, priced at 15,495. This is a significant 3,000 price premium over petrol models due to the higher-cost diesel power unit and the use of a six speed transmission. At this point Fiat are unable to confirm exactly when an automatic transmission for the petrol Sedici model will become an option, although Suzuki have indicated that their current SX4 models — and initially only two-wheel drive vehicles — will be offering an automatic gearbox option this summer.

The Sedici's on-demand four-wheel drive system allows for the vehicle to be used most of the time in 2WD (front-wheel drive) mode. Four-wheel drive is via an electronically-controlled centre differential with
a multi-plate clutch system engaging the rear axle when required. In four-wheel drive Auto mode the power is varied between the front and rear wheels automatically depending on which wheels have the most grip. The third transmission mode is Lock, when full-time four-wheel drive is provided 50:50 between the front and rear axles for maximum grip. This mode is used at speeds up to 37mph and then transfers automatically to the Auto setting for higher speeds. When the engine
is switched off, the four-wheel drive system automatically reverts to front-wheel drive.

The 1.6-litre, four-cylinder 107bhp petrol engine gives the Sedici a
top speed of 106mph, 0-62mph in 10.8 seconds and a combined fuel consumption cycle of 39.8mpg with 173 g/km CO2 emissions. Urban miles-per-gallon is given as 31.7, with 46.3mpg achievable out of

The 1.9-litre, four-cylinder 120bhp MultiJet turbodiesel lifts the Sedici's top speed to 112mph with 0-62mph in 11.2 seconds. Consumption is 42.8, 34.9 and 49.6mpg respectively for the combined, urban and out of town cycles. CO2 emissions, at 174 g/km, are virtually identical to those for the petrol unit.

Fiat's first foray into the small SUV market is certainly noticeable. Marked out by a distinctive face with a plunging bonnet line that's defined by a pair of distinctive curved headlamps, it also features muscular wings and boldly flared wheel arches.

Driving the new Sedici at the end of last week both on- and off-road, the lasting impression was: What an attractive and useful car the Sedici is. It has the same road footprint of a compact family car but with four-wheel drive, and it is as fuel efficient as the best of the modern five-door hatchbacks. So the anti-4x4 brigade have nothing
to moan about there.

With five doors, passenger and load access is easy, and the 60:40 split/folding rear seats make the Sedici a very versatile family car.
As well as reclining individually, each rear seat may be double-folded forwards into an upright stowage position behind the front seat backs, thereby boosting the volume of the flat-floor luggage compartment from 270 to 670 litres. Fiat has used hardwearing materials designed
to stand up to the daily rigours of family life. Mums are just going to love taking the children to school in one of these. And I rather suspect quite a number of older couples would like to be seen driving a Sedici to and from the garden centre.

As the diesel powered Sedici will not be with us for a few months, we were only able to drive the 1.6 petrol Eleganza model. I have two issues. First: there is no sign of an automatic transmission option for the Sedici, even though Suzuki will be offering that option later in the year; and second, I feel the 3,000 price premium for diesel versions over petrol models is too high. When you consider the fuel economy figures, at this stage there seems to be very little extra fuel economy benefit from the diesel unit.

But in real life motoring conditions this may not be the case. I rather suspect the 1.9-litre turbodiesel engine will also provide a better over-all drive thanks to almost twice as much torque (206lb ft at 2,050rpm versus the petrol unit's 107lb ft at 4,000rpm), more accessible power (the diesel develops its 120bhp at 4,000rpm while the petrol needs 5,600rpm to generate its peak 107bhp) and more engine flexibility than the 1.6 petrol engine, which needs to be revved hard to get the best from it.

On the road, the petrol Sedici model coped more or less as well as any 1.6-litre family hatchback. An urban-friendly 11-metre turning circle and electric powered assistance for its rack and pinion steering helps make the most of its compact dimensions. The Sedici is 100mm lower and 110mm shorter than average for SUVs in this sector.

Off road its four-wheel drive system impressed. Providing the engine was revved hard, it scrambled up quite steep hills and — just as importantly — came down them in a controlled manner. The real benefit of this on-demand 4WD system will be experienced in the winter when there's mud, ice and snow on the roads both in the country and in the town. For those who need to venture off-road on muddy tracks and in car parks situated in fields, the selectable all-wheel drive system will be a distinct bonus.

The basic Dynamic trim level provides four airbags, remote central locking, front electric windows, electric door mirrors, ABS with electronic brakeforce distribution, electrically-assisted power steering, height adjustable steering wheel, Radio/CD with eight speakers, air conditioning, front fog lights, Isofix attachments for two rear seats
and 60:40 'flip and fold' rear seats.

The higher-grade Eleganza trim adds 1,000 to the price but for that you get automatic climate control, 16-inch alloy wheels, electric rear windows, metallic grey roof rails, a height adjustable driver's seat, chromed interior highlights, satin-finish front and rear bumper guards, body-coloured, electric and heated door mirrors and a multi-function leather steering wheel with audio controls.

Optional equipment includes tinted windows, leather upholstery, a safety pack incorporating full-length curtain airbags and an electronic stability programme, MP3 player, a 5-disc console-mounted CD changer and Fiat's unique Connect NAV+ satellite navigation system. If that's still not enough, you can personalise your Sedici with a range of accessories that, among other things, includes an aluminium ski-holder, bicycle carrier, luggage compartment cargo box, aluminium pedals and kick-plates, reverse parking sensors, Bluetooth hands-free mobile 'phone connectivity and an iPod connection kit.

In short, the Sedici is a very pretty, compact and versatile family-sized five-door hatchback with easily selectable two- and four-wheel drive. It's also fuel efficient and clean to run (the 1.9 MultiJet has a DPF Diesel Particulate Filter to further enhance its low emission credentials) and although there's a rather hefty price premium for the diesels, the petrol models are very competitively priced. — David Miles

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Fiat Sedici 1.6 16v Eleganza | 13,495
Maximum speed: 106mph | 0-62mph: 10.8 seconds
MPG: 39.8mpg | Power: 107bhp | Torque: 107lb ft

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