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Click to view road test review picture gallery“Looking for a family-
  friendly compact SUV?
  One that has on-
  demand 4WD for the
  times you really need
  it; one that stands out
  from the SUV crowd;
  and one that can
  stretch a gallon of
  diesel a fairly long
  way? Yes? Then
  check out the Fiat
  Sedici MultiJet...”

FIAT'S COMPACT 4X4 SPORTS UTILITY, THE SEDICI, is designed to be urban-friendly. It's also family-friendly it comes with five-doors and a switchable 4WD system, which helps it to achieve an official average fuel consumption figure of 42.8mpg. Also doing its bit for economy (as well as CO2 emissions) is the turbodiesel engine a 120bhp 1.9 MultiJet with a Diesel Particulate Filter tucked away under the distinctly plunging bonnet line.

Having a four-wheel drive system is not always a guarantee of good off-road ability, but away from the cityscape's blacktop the Sedici acquits itself well. As the Sedici's four-wheel drive system is switch-able it offers the driver a choice of three settings, activated by a three-way rocker-switch mounted alongside the handbrake. 2WD does exactly as you'd expect — sending power to both front wheels — and will no doubt happily be used by most drivers most of the time.

Switch to Auto mode and you make the best use of the on-demand four-wheel drive system: in this mode power is automatically modulated between the front and rear axles depending on which wheels have the most traction. And it's equally handy for tackling slippery off-road tracks or adding grip and reassurance on-road in adverse weather con-ditions such as heavy rain, ice and snow.

The third mode is Lock: full-time four-wheel drive with an ideal 50:50 torque split between the front and rear wheels for maximum grip. This mode can be used at speeds of up to 37mph, at which point (for higher speeds) it switches automatically back to the Auto setting. Just for the record, if or when the engine is switched off, the 4WD system reverts automatically to front-wheel drive mode. And while the Sedici isn't a full-on hardcore mud-plugger, it does have enough ground clear-ance and ability to venture quite a way off the beaten track, coping well with muddy inclines and demanding forest tracks.

Climb aboard and it doesn't take long to find out that the Sedici has an easygoing nature. For a start the cabin is pretty spacious, particularly around the front seats. The Sedici's tallish stance is not immediately obvious from outside due to its 'stand-out' looks and well-proportioned lines.

On the inside, however, there's ample head room both front and rear. All passengers will enjoy a clear view out. Those travelling in the back sit higher (by several inches) but will have no reason to complain about headroom, legroom or backrest comfort — each rear seatback reclines individually. There's a selection of storage bins scattered around and the doors have accommodating armrests.

The Sedici's boot takes a useful 270 litres of luggage and, thanks to the top-hinged tailgate, load access is easy. Need more room? The volume can be quickly increased to 670 litres of flat-floored luggage space simply by folding down the rear seats — a straightforward exer-cise that double-folds each seat forwards into an upright stowage position behind the front seat backs.

The Eleganza trim level provides, amongst other things, four airbags in the front, tinted windows, metallic-finish roof bars, four electric win-dows (only the driver gets a one-shot auto-down function), built-in radio/single-slot CD player CD with four speakers and four tweeters, remote central locking with deadlocks, electrically-operated and heated door mirrors, electric power-steering, automatic air conditioning, 60:40 split 'flip & fold' rear seats, 16-inch alloy wheels, satin-finish front and rear metal bumper shields for off-road use, ABS with Electronic Bake-force Distribution and, of course, on-demand four-wheel drive.

Parents will also appreciate the Isofix child seat attachments on two rear seats and the ability to manually deactivate the front passenger airbag using the ignition key so that a rear-facing baby seat can be used.

Although the leather-rimmed three-spoke steering wheel (with remote audio controls on the crossbar) only adjusts for rake, the driver's seat is height adjustable and drivers can easily find a good driving position. Visibility is good and, helped by a tight turning circle, it's an easy car to place on the road, to reverse and to park, which will appeal to
its main target audience — women; and women with children. For the latter, these are important points, especially for the school run and getting around in urban areas.

Getting comfortable in the smartly-finished cabin is not a problem as the seats are supportive and upholstered in a rugged fabric that turned out to be surprisingly comfortable to sit on. The uncluttered cabin itself is well laid out, with a high standard of fit and finish — no squeaks or rattles here! The dash is logically arranged and the alloy-framed centre stack houses easy-to-use buttons for the stereo and foolproof chro-med rotary controls for the automatic AirCon. In addition, a slim display panel above the air vents and hazard warning switch keeps you informed of the time, outside temperature and instant/average fuel consumption.

Fire up the 4-cylinder 1,910cc turbodiesel and it immediately feels 'beefy'. As it should with a strapping 206lb ft of torque available from just 2,050rpm. Which explains why the engine feels so perky at 70mph in sixth gear on the motorway at 2,100rpm. It's also quiet at these speeds and seems as 'happy as a lark'.

For the record, that's an extra 99lb ft of 'muscle' over the Sedici's petrol alternative, a 1.6-litre with 107bhp. Acceleration from rest to 62mph takes 11.2 seconds, and the Sedici will run to 112mph flat out. CO2 emission are 174g/km, putting it into Band E (annual Road Tax 165) and the other official fuel consumption figures are 34.9 in town and 49.6mpg touring. Our overall test average was a commendable 41mpg. Which, it's fair to say, makes it very much a 'guilt-free' 4x4.

More good news comes from the six-speed manual gearbox: its clean change action combines well with the punchy turbodiesel and makes
it rewarding to drive. Given it's tallish stance, the Sedici handles surprisingly neatly. Left in 2WD for everyday driving, there are no surprises. Composure is good; cornering is predictable; it rides level
and feels secure at speed and through bends.

Grip, from the chassis as well as from the 205/60 Continental tyres, is plentiful even in 2WD. The steering is pleasantly light and direct, and the ride, although a tad on the firm side, is comfortable at all speeds. The brakes simply do their job and you never give them a second thought. In fact, overall the Sedici feels as dynamically driveable as a front-wheel drive hatchback. And that's no bad thing.

The Sedici will appeal, not just for its distinctive 'face' — nattily defined by a pair of distinguishing curved headlamps and flared wheel arches — but also for its overall usefulness. Taking up no more road space than a regular five-door hatchback, it offers family-friendly versatility with the added safety benefit of an easy-to-operate 4WD system. And, averaging 41mpg, it's economical to boot. Best of all, it's so easy to drive — it's one of those cars that should you be handed the keys to five minutes before setting off on a complicated drive halfway across the UK, you could just get in and drive away feeling relaxed. Yes, it really makes you that confident.

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Fiat Sedici 1.9 MultiJet Eleganza | 15,700
Maximum speed: 112mph | 0-62mph: 11.2 seconds
Overall test MPG: 41mpg | Power: 120bhp | Torque: 206lb ft

CO2 174g/km | VED Band E 165 | Insurance group 8
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