Sedici means 16 in Italian. And what does 4×4 equal? Yes, 16. So, welcome to Fiat’s latest off-roader.
Aimed mainly at urban mums who fancy a 4×4 without the cost and bulk of conventional offerings, the Sedici sets out to steal sales from Nissan’s X-Trail, Toyota’s RAV4 and similar members of the school-run set.
But with prices topping out at £13,495 for the highest-spec Eleganza version, it might also seduce a few farming families looking for tidy backup transport. A diesel version was not available at the April launch, as Fiat cannot turn out enough engines, although it will be along soon.
Meanwhile, here is the run-down on the petrol-powered Eleganza, which Fiat believes will account for more than half of UK sales.
CompactDesigner Giugiaro has produced a compact shape that is part 4×4 and part hot hatchback, which manages to look neat without being a head-turner. The Sedici is small for a mid-segment car, undercutting the class averages for length and height.
Yet it is not cramped; four adults won’t come to blows over seat position and the resulting rear legroom, and they will find comfort and support in the cloth-trimmed seats. Families, though, may fall out over what to put where; stowage for oddments is in short supply.
Further back, a smallish load space is compromised by the rear suspension turrets, though the split-fold back seat does lay flat once you have located its cheap fabric release tabs.
The neatly-executed interior is made of better stuff and seems screwed together well, refusing to squeak when pounded off-road. Relatively low side glass and a steep-raked screen make for a bright interior, but the resulting flying-buttress front pillars fall nastily in the driver’s line of sight on twisty roads.
Motive power comes from a 107hp, 1.6-litre Suzuki petrol engine, with a 120hp diesel to follow. Teamed up with a notchy-shifting five-speed manual box – an auto is not on the menu – this free-revving, but never tuneful motor makes a modest fist of punting the Sedici along, though it can’t deliver any serious overtaking punch and is woefully short of torque at low revs.
The first shortcoming is not terminal, the second is hard on the clutch and not ideal in an off-roader. Braking is strong, but over-generous servo makes smooth driving a challenge.
On fast roads, low gearing produces buzzy travel and probably does not help economy, while cruising past 70mph generates irritating wind whistle from the mirrors. So it is thumbs-up for short trips, thumbs-down for long hauls.
In line with the Sedici’s limited performance pretensions, handling and ride are biased towards comfort. The powered rack and pinion steering is unexpectedly weighty and short on precision, underlining the general feeling of a chassis that prefers not to be bullied through corners.
Adequate grip is bolstered by 4wd that can be switched in on the move to boost confidence as surfaces turn slippery. Firm springing is backed by good damping, so while the car seldom rides serenely it does cope with the scourgings of UK tarmac.
Can the Sedici cut it away from the road? Yes, and better than you might think for something with no low range box. To help fuel economy, the front wheels normally do all the driving.
Clicking a console switch lets drive transfer to the rear as conditions demand; holding the switch locks the centre diff. This simple setup is good for climbs and cambers, although limited ground clearance, short-wheel travel, limited engine braking and the motor’s low-revs weakness are obvious barriers to badland progress. On tracks, through medium ruts and over hummocky land the Sedici is just fine.
Inoffensive, undemanding second-string transport with a dash of character; easy to look at and easy to drive. For best effect, wait for the diesel.