First DriveDo revisions to the Seat Ibiza FR add any more spice to this warm hatch? We try the 1.4 TSI version on UK roads to find out
First DriveUpdated Ibiza gets a much-needed interior refresh, chassis tweaks and new options, and proves worthy of consideration
What is it?
The new Ibiza supermini, due in UK showrooms in mid-July, and the model first to use an all-new “agile chassis” platform, whose elements will go into the new VW Polo, a forthcoming baby Audi (dubbed A0) and the next Skoda Fabia.
The July launch of the new Spanish-built supermini is expected to lift Ibiza sales well above the already impressive level of 180,000 units a year, about a third of current Seat volume. This will spearhead a strong push by Seat’s president, Erich Schmitt, to double the size of Seat’s range to 16 models by 2012, and double sales to 800,000 cars by about 2015.
The new Ibiza comes in two body styles, a five-door hatchback due in UK showrooms on July 16, and a sportier three-door with different doors and bodysides, dubbed SportCoupe. It also has a lower roofline, different tail lights and more muscular ‘haunches’ over the rear wheels. The SportCoupe will probably make its world debut at the London Motor Show in July and hit the market this November.
The Ibiza’s launch engines are a trio of petrol units updated to deliver Euro 5 emissions when needed in a couple of years’ time, but familiar from other VWs: a 1.2-litre, 69bhp triple, and an 84bhp 1.4-litre unit and 100bhp 1.6-litre four cylinder. Three diesels will arrive in 2009: VW’s familiar 1.4-litre, 80bhp TDI, and two versions of the trusted 1.9 litre TDI, packing 90bhp or 105bhp.
What’s it like?
An all-new Ibiza shape, the work of a team headed by ex-Lamborghini design boss Luc Donckerwolke, incorporates a low and far more aggressive cab-forward profile. Designers have done a good job of boosting perceived quality by defining the shape with a series of precise panel creases that run confidently across doors, tail lights and the fuel filler flap with Audi-like accuracy.
Similar design precision continues inside, where a simple but modern, driver-oriented control layout is the order. Depending on model, Ibizas comes with many big-car features, such as bi-xenon “steering” lights, tyre pressure monitoring, USB audio connectivity, rain-sensing wipers and automatic headlights among them. Most eye-catching option is a seven-speed twin-clutch paddle-shift (DSG) gearbox, available with the diesel units and the 1.6 petrol engine.
Our early test focused on two cars, a 1.6-litre petrol model with the sportier of two suspension options plus 17-inch wheels, and a 105bhp, 1.9-litre diesel on 15-inch wheels with the more relaxed standard suspension.
We concentrated on the former because it will be first to appear in the UK, and discovered a car with near-neutral handling, plenty of dry-road grip, alert and accurate steering turn-in and minimal body roll.
Though distinctly sporty, it felt supple and quiet over whatever bumps we could find, revealing that the Sport is more comfortable than your average, harsh-suspended hot hatchback. The 1.6 engine sounds sporty but must be revved hard for action, and even then it isn’t especially quick. The 1.9 diesel is more instantly responsive, in a way, since it delivers useful torque at 1000rpm, and pulls hard from 1500rpm onwards.
Despite its new, sporty proportions and its claim to a very lively character, our first impression of this new Ibiza was of chassis quietness, comfort and refinement in both suspension guises, plus impressively fresh style inside and out.
Should I buy one?
Yes, provided new Ibiza prices stay sharp (we’ll find that out closer to the summer launch) the leading superminis of Europe will have to shove up to accommodate a tough new Catalan competitor.