Fiat has jumped on the 4x4 bandwagon! We find out just how much of a trail-blazer the Sedici Eleganza could be
It's a good looker, and as Fiat's first-ever true off-roader, the Sedici is certainly worthy of consideration. Bosses at the company expect most buyers to be those in the market for something more stylish and practical than a hatchback, but who don't want the bulk of a full-sized SUV. The petrol engine is a disappointment, though.
As compact off-roaders are proving such a hit, the arrival of the Sedici is perfectly timed. The stylish SUV is designed to offer refined road manners, an elevated driving position and decent mud-plugging ability.
Engineered with the help of Suzuki - which is set to launch the virtually identical SX4 in the UK later this month - the Fiat is on sale now, powered by a 1.6-litre petrol motor. Aimed at the likes of VW's Polo Dune, the Sedici gets chunky plastic bumpers, underbody pro-tection and a distinctive face, complete with a bold grille and headlamps.
Roof rails help enhance practicality, as does a large hatchback, which opens to reveal a generous-sized load area. Inside, there's seating for five, while the rear bench splits and folds.
The newcomer certainly looks smart, and thanks to Suzuki's help, everything appears solidly put together as well, particularly in terms of the bodywork. Some of the interior trim feels a bit cheap, but it should be remembered that the newcomer has been designed to be one of the more affordable offerings in this class, with the range costing from only £12,495.
On the road, the Sedici's 1.6-litre engine is refined, if a little short on power. The gearbox is relatively slick, and the ratios well spaced. Although the elevated ride height compromises handling, and the car suffers from body roll, the steering is sharp and accurate and ride comfort is impressive.
The latest Fiat proves much more at home around city streets, where the high driving position and tall suspension are a real advantage over speed bumps and potholes.
Off-road, the Sedici performs well, too. It's not going to scale Ben Nevis, but it can handle a bit of rough terrain. In everyday use, the car runs in front-wheel drive. However, flick a switch between the seats and it moves into 4WD auto mode, which sends power to the rear wheels when required. A further push of the button selects full-time four-wheel drive.
Standard kit includes EBD, four airbags and air-con. Our model was the top-spec Eleganza, which adds 16-inch alloys, a height-adjustable driver's seat and a multifunction steering wheel.
At 4,115mm long, the Sedici is 7cm smaller than the Stilo, and it's pitched as a practical family car. But rear space isn't great, and while the back seats tumble against the front ones, the cabin doesn't offer the kind of versatility that would mark it out from rivals.
Our advice is to wait for the 120bhp 1.9 diesel, due in July. The 1.6 has only 145Nm of torque, and has to be worked hard to get any kind of performance - so you have to drop down the five-speed gearbox even on gentle inclines.