A couple of factors make this new, fifth-generation Seat Ibiza more significant than it might at first appear.
JUL 19th 2017
First Drive: Seat Ibiza
For a start, it is not a mere mid-life facelift to prolong sales, but a genuinely all-new version of the Spanish firm’s most popular (and longest serving) model. More startling is that Seat has been granted first use of the Volkswagen Group’s MQB A0 small car modular platform, thus beating even the new Polo to market. Not only that, but when Audi starts to build its forthcoming A1 using the same technology, it will do so at Seat’s Martorell plant alongside the Ibiza.
Which really, is all a long-winded way of saying that the VW Group might finally be taking its Spanish brand seriously. With strong sales, some impressive products and happy dealers on its hands, you can well understand why it might. Either that, or it’s being used as an MQB guinea pig. Regardless, the obvious target for the new Ibiza is the equally new Ford Fiesta, but let’s not forget there are a fair few others to consider in a sector that is as competitive as Anthony Reid in a Sunday Shootout: Mazda2, Nissan Micra, Skoda Fabia and Vauxhall Corsa to name just four of its talented rivals.
The Ibiza gets off to a good start by having the largest boot in its class, and plenty of space for passengers in the standard0 five-door layout. Rear legroom is particularly generous, making the Ibiza almost feel like a model from the class rivals such as the Fiesta. The quality on show is equally impressive, particularly if you opt for the upgraded 8-inch touchscreen media system that sits within a rather nice sweeping dash panel. With full smartphone connectivity on the options list and even an upgraded Beats sound system, it all feels appropriately contemporary.
What further impresses about this new Ibiza is the way it drives. So long as you avoid the 18-inch wheels, it is quiet and compliant on a long journey and has unusually well-sorted suspension. Where a Fabia is too soft to control its body movements, the Ibiza is never anything less than settled and stable.
We tested it on some of the best roads North Wales has to offer and quite simply marvelled at how maturely it dealt with the rollercoaster of crests, bumps and turns, sometimes all at once. If it’s not quite at Ford Fiesta levels of driver engagement it’s certainly close, with even the steering proving to be nicely weighted and quick to respond.
In time a 1.5-litre petrol engine and a diesel will bolster the line-up, but the bulk of Ibiza sales will fall to 1.0-litre petrol. Buyers can opt for the 74bhp naturally aspirated unit, or turbocharged versions of the same engine with 94- or 114bhp, the latter receiving a six-speed gearbox while the former two make do with only five forward ratios. A six-speed DSG automatic will follow later this year.
It is the 94bhp unit that is expected to account for the bulk of sales, and with good reason: It’s quiet, smooth, economical (you can expect in the region of 50mpg in normal driving) and quick enough to entertain. What’s more, you can have it in all of the available trim levels, whereas the more powerful version of the same engine is reserved for FR-spec Ibizas with their tuned (read less forgiving) suspension.
As to whether you’d ultimately choose one over a Fiesta might depend on how much you need the Ibiza’s extra space, or whether the Ford’s still sportier drive wins the day. Or, it might simply be down to which you prefer the look of, never mind those all-important monthly finance payments. Either way, the fact that ‘Fiesta or Ibiza?’ looks set to be a conundrum for so many buyers is evidence of just what a good job Seat has made of its new small car.
Engine: 999cc 3-cyl petrol turbo
Transmission: 5-spd manual, FWD
bhp/lb ft: 94/129
Top speed: 127mph
Price as tested: £15,125
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