From £9,940
FR means a fruitier Ibiza

Our Verdict

Seat Ibiza

The Seat Ibiza is good looking, well-priced and spacious supermini that doesn’t quite live up to Seat’s sporty image

3 February 2004

Life can be pretty tough for the youngest brother; Chinese burns, dead arms and hand-me-down clothes are just some of the indignities heaped upon those unfortunate enough to be last out of the womb.

When the brother in question is Seat and the cast-offs include Volkswagen’s 1.8T engine, however, it’s hard to muster any sympathy. Having built virtually its entire brand around the turbocharged 20-valve unit, the Spanish firm is poised to beat Ford, Vauxhall and Citroën to the punch once again by launching a new turbocharged 150bhp Ibiza hatchback called the FR. At £13,500 it slots neatly between the 2.0 Sport and the forthcoming Cupra flagship, and – crucially – should undercut all its rivals when it goes on sale later this month.

So, what’s with the FR tag? Seems that Cupra Sport, the independent tuning company that owns the Cupra name, has laid down the law. From now on, only cars that have actually been fettled by the firm can wear the CupRacing badge, creating the need for a new intermediate, Seat-tweaked category: Formula Racing (FR).

Under the Ibiza’s bonnet sits the same 150bhp Euro4-compliant engine found in the entry-level Audi TT, connected to a five-speed manual ’box. Seat has also stiffened the spring rates (up 25 per cent at the front, 10 per cent at the rear compared to the Sport’s) and installed a thicker anti-roll bar between the front wheels, which now wear 205-section tyres.

These are wrapped around 16-inch alloys finished in titanium-look satin - a treatment that’s also been used on the door mirrors and lamp surrounds. Together with the new honeycomb-mesh air intakes in the front bumper and twin-exit exhaust pipe, they send out just enough signals to arouse suspicion that this is no ordinary Ibiza.

If it didn’t sit so high on its suspension, you’d even call it sporty. White-rimmed dials and dubious metallic trim aside, the only interior modifications of note are figure-hugging sports seats and a leather steering wheel and gearknob. The overall feel is quite subdued, but the lower driving position and body support are welcome.

As is the 150bhp engine upgrade. At 1154kg the Ibiza is no featherweight, which makes the 162lb ft of torque that the 1.8T stumps up between 2000rpm and 4500rpm all the more appreciable on the open road. Closely stacked gear ratios help here – the engine pulls 4100rpm at 100mph in fifth, making you wish for a sixth cog on the motorway – as does the lever’s uncharacteristically co-operative shift action (by VW standards).

As ever with light-pressure turbo cars, though, the driving experience is really defined by the lazy rush of acceleration that accompanies each press of the throttle – a sensation that makes Seat’s claimed 8.4sec 0-62mph time seem overly pessimistic.

Like other Ibiza models the FR can feel a little unsettled on rough roads, as if the springs are doing too much of the work, and the anti-lock tends to grab a little when you apply the anchors at high speed. But, on the predominantly smooth roads near Madrid where the car was launched, the ride felt quite acceptable and the body tautly controlled, while the grip served up by the wider tyres allows it to hold an impressive amount of speed into bends.

Drivers looking for an element of steering feel and chassis adjustability would be better off waiting for this autumn’s Fiesta ST150. But if it’s fast, safe fun you’re after – and standard equipment that includes a CD player, front and side airbags, traction and climate control – then the Seat is a very compelling proposition.

Euan Sey

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