Road test: SEAT Ibiza
Previewing a new generation of products, the Ibiza is a class act, says Alex Grant.
SECTOR Supermini PRICE £13,130-£17,310 FUEL 57.6-60.1mpg CO2 106-112g/km
As the longest-serving member of the SEAT line-up, the Ibiza has lived through 33 years of near-constant change. Born on Fiat underpinnings, sold under the early days of Volkswagen Group ownership, and a spearhead for the brand’s design since, generation five feels like the product of a renewed sense of confidence over at SEAT HQ in Barcelona.
With good reason; the brand’s global sales have grown 30% over the last four years, to 408,700 in 2016, largely down to the wider Leon range but also due to the popularity of the Ateca crossover launched last year. It’s now profitable and, with a recognisable family style and a focus on brand-relevant segments and core models, it’s finally found its place within the Volkswagen Group portfolio.
The Ibiza isn’t just significant for SEAT. This is the first car on the Group’s new supermini platform, so what’s underneath it will be shared not only with SEAT’s Juke-sized Arona crossover, but with the next Audi A1, Volkswagen Polo and similar-sized products. SEAT is previewing what’s coming soon.
It bodes well. At nine years old, the outgoing Ibiza was fun to drive but felt like a small car. The new platform, which is wider, has a longer wheelbase, larger diameter wheels and a stiffer, lighter structure, can rival larger cars on both ride and handling. It drives like a small Leon, which is a good thing.
However, behind the taut bodylines, the all-LED headlights fitted to all except the entry-level version, and the upmarket design of the cabin, it does feel a bit like SEAT has been denied the pick of the Volkswagen Group plastics – particularly the matte grey panel across the dashboard on lower-spec versions. Otherwise, it’s very difficult to fault.
Reasoning that the Arona will pick up customers who would have otherwise bought an estate, and the limited demand for three-door superminis, the Ibiza will only be offered as a five-door hatchback this time, with no plans for a high-performance Cupra version. The UK range comprises S, SE and SE Tech trim levels, topped off with either the sporty-looking FR, or the luxury-focused Xcellence – the only model to get parking sensors and electric rear windows.
SEAT claims Ibiza customers are under the segment-average age, so there are plenty of class-above options to pick from, but standard equipment is fairly generous. A frameless eight-inch touchscreen is standard from SE Technology upwards, and it’s intuitive and lag-free to use. However, it’s only FR and Xcellence that get DAB radio, and Apple CarPlay and Android Auto – these are £150 and £145 respectively on SE Technology trim. Surely both are attractive to young drivers?
The Ibiza is more petrol-weighted than most superminis too, even in fleet, and the latest version has some good options. It’s the 113bhp 1.0-litre turbo that’s the most appealing – quiet, keen to rev and with plenty of motorway ability – but it’s only available on the FR. The bulk of UK customers are expected to go for the 95bhp version of the same engine, which offers the same fuel economy on paper, and is offered across the range. It seemed noisier on the launch, and has five gears instead of six – this might make it less efficient in real-world use. Diesel versions will follow shortly after launch.
There’s a lot to like here, and a lot to look forward to from other Group brands if this is anything to go by. SEAT has put itself among the best in its class here, with a core part of its line-up. But, with a new Fiesta only a few months away, it could have a tough fight on its hands.What we think
The Ibiza manages to offer both the agility of a supermini with the ride quality and refinement of a larger car – which bodes well for other Group products on this platform. A compelling all-rounder.