The new Fiat Sedici, which goes on sale in the UK on Saturday 22 April, is Fiat Auto’s first entry in the compact SUV (Sport Utility Vehicle) market. In a steadily growing segment, the market share for vehicles with off-road capability has risen from 1.7% in 1992 to the current level of over 6% for the entire European fleet, and the compact SUV arena continues to attract increasing public interest.

The new Fiat Sedici – Italian for sixteen, in reference to its innovative 4×4 drivetrain – represents an intelligent evolution of the all-wheel drive genre, combining genuine off-road ability with all the versatility and practicality demanded by the modern family on the move.

Designed by Giorgetto Giugiaro in conjunction with Fiat Centro Stile, the new Sedici is the end-product of a recent collaboration between Fiat Auto and Suzuki. Built at Suzuki’s advanced new Hungarian production facility, the new compact SUV made its international public debut at the recent Winter Olympic Games, held in Fiat’s home city of Turin in February.

The new Sedici, priced from £12,495 on-the-road, will be available from launch in two trim levels – Dynamic and Eleganza – and powered by a spirited 107 bhp 1.6 litre, 16 valve petrol engine mated to a five speed manual transmission. Later this year the range will be extended by the arrival of a second powerplant – Fiat’s proven 120 bhp 1.9 MultiJet turbodiesel, allied to a six-speed manual gearbox.

Successfully combining SUV off-road performance with the dynamic agility of a front-wheel drive hatchback, the Fiat Sedici is fitted with a new, on-demand 4×4 system which features an electrically controlled centre differential and three driver-selected operating modes – 2WD, AUTO and LOCK – activated by a three-way transmission control rocker-switch housed in the centre console.

Via a central, electromagnetically controlled multi-plate clutch that transfers engine torque to the wheels with the most grip, the Sedici driver can easily and quickly select a transmission configuration best suited to the most diverse of driving conditions; conventional front-wheel drive, all-wheel drive with torque automatically modulated between front and rear axles, and, at speeds up to 37 mph, full-time four-wheel drive with an ideal, 50:50 torque split between front and rear wheels.

This simple, intuitive, electronic solution does away with the need for any cumbersome and intrusive transfer box gearlevers, whilst providing optimal traction and driving safety whatever the conditions.

Within a compact design that is lower and shorter than average for SUVs in this segment, yet boasts a generous 2500 mm wheelbase, the new Fiat Sedici’s spacious, flexible cabin meets the diverse demands of today’s active family, with numerous practical storage facilities, a full-width, top-hinged tailgate, and 60:40 split/folding and reclining rear seats which may be stowed compactly to increase the flat-floor luggage compartment volume from 270 to 670 litres.

The new Fiat Sedici’s comprehensive equipment specification has been carefully considered to enhance the comfort and safety of those on board, with ABS anti-lock brakes and EBD electronic brakeforce distribution, four airbags, remote central locking, electric front windows, air conditioning and an eight speaker radio/CD player fitted as standard across the range.

This generous standard equipment package is boosted by a range of innovative, safety and comfort enhancing options such as tinted rear windows, leather upholstery, a Safety Pack incorporating full-length curtain airbags and ESP (Electronic Stability Programme), an MP3 player, a 5-disc, centre console mounted CD changer and Fiat’s unique Connect NAV+ satellite navigation system.

With innovative engineering, sharp styling and practical versatility, the new Fiat Sedici will appeal to those drivers who demand genuine all-wheel drive ability without the associated size, weight and dynamic penalties. The Sedici is expected to attract some 1000 buyers within its first 12 months on the UK market, with the Eleganza model accounting for over 80% of sales, and an equal overall split between petrol and diesel engine choice.