Fiat's new Sedici attracts a little more interest than your average new European five-door hatchback because it is the first fruit of a joint venture with Suzuki and is built in the Japanese automaker's Esztergom plant in Hungary.

The Suzuki version, revealed a few days after Fiat's, is called the SX4. The Japanese firm claims to have taken the lead in design and production of the new cars and will grab the lion's share of the planned annual output of 60,000. Fiat will have 20,000 to sell - 12,000 at home in Italy and 8,000 in export markets.

The Sedici is available with two trim/equipment specifications called Dynamic and Emotion and the choice of a107bhp 1.6-litre 16-valve petrol engine or a 120bhp 1.9-litre 'Multijet' diesel.

Suzuki will offer a unique 99hp 1,490cc petrol engine and share the two larger powertrains with the Italians. Its diesel will have a six-speed gearbox, it noted in the press bumpf.

'Urban Line' and 'Outdoor Line' are the names given to the trim/equipment options for the Japanese-branded cars.

According to Fiat, the little SUV is claimed to combine the driving satisfaction and handling features of a compact Fiat with the off-road performance of an SUV and is targeted at buyers of hatchbacks such as the VW Golf and Ford Focus who could occasionally use a little ability off-road (but not too far off), as it can be switched from two- to four-wheel drive.

Suzuki makes similar claims but will offer its Outdoor Line versions with both two-wheel drive and on-demand 4WD.

Giorgetto Giugiaro's design company, Italdesign, tweaked the styling for Fiat but there are some obvious Suzuki features - such as the stereo - in the cabin. Both Sedici and SX4 share the same basic body shell and are differentiated by nose and tail styling and interior details.

The Fiat model line goes on sale in Italy in March and the Italians have arranged plenty of advance publicity by having the Sedici declared 'official' car of February's 20th winter Olympic Games in Turin.

Suzuki's cars go into production in December ready for a public launch at the Geneva motor show in March. European sales start soon after, with right hand drive cars reaching the UK in June.

The US market will get the Suzuki, most likely built in Japan, with a two-litre petrol engine and four-wheel drive.

There is also potential for it to be sold as a Holden in Australia and in some other markets as a Chevrolet, though this has not been announced.

Fiat has also added a more sportily styled model called the Cross to its smaller four-wheel drive Panda range.

Aimed at younger buyers, the Panda Cross has roof bars, chunky side strips, big headlamps and wide bumpers, plus special upholstery inside.

Graeme Roberts