Does the Seat Ibiza deserve class honours ahead of the Ford Fiesta? We spend six months with one to discover just that
Life with a Seat Ibiza: Month 1
Welcoming the Ibiza FR to our fleet – 08 November 2017
When we added the new fifth-generation Seat Ibiza to our long-term test fleet, I was the natural choice to run it.
Why? Because I’ve spent plenty of time driving one. A six-month stint in a new Ibiza FR barely qualifies as a long-term test compared with the 12 years that I owned a third-generation, 2005-vintage 1.4L Sport.
I bought my Ibiza from new and only parted with it earlier this year. It proved a trusty companion, only really letting me down once – albeit in spectacular fashion when an engine problem caused me to grind to a halt on the M4 with my sister-in-law and five-month-old nephew on board (I think she has since forgiven me…).
Don’t think my positive feelings towards my Ibiza might cloud my objective judgment, either.
If anything, I grew intimately aware of my Ibiza’s many faults and foibles. Those ranged from the major, such as suspension a little too firm for London’s pot-holed streets and a 1.4L engine that didn’t quite have enough torque at low speed, to the more trivial, such as the slightly questionable quality of certain trim bits, lack of any form of boot light and woeful slide-out cup holder.
Believe me, I know where to look to find faults with an Ibiza.
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I could forgive some of those faults because, in 2005, Seat was something of a budget brand, offering a relatively affordable way to buy a Volkswagen Group machine for those who couldn’t stretch to a VW and wanted something with sportier styling than Skoda.
Those expectations have been heightened further by our road testers, who proclaimed the new model the best small car on the market today. Or put another way: a Ford Fiesta beater.
Now that’s pressure – and our goal is to find out whether that verdict holds after an extended time in the car.
The Ibiza’s 4.5-star road test verdict made choosing a spec for our long-termer easy: we asked for it as our testers assessed it. Which means we’ve chosen the 1.0L three-cylinder TSI 94bhp engine, driven through a five-speed manual ‘box.
In this spec, our car can do 0-62mph in 10.9sec, with a top speed of 113mph, and I’ve been largely achieving solid mid-40s mpg fuel economy.
Initial impressions are remarkably positive: it’s quiet at low speeds yet develops a nicer sound when pushed, and I’ve yet to find it really lacking power. Aside from an occasional thrum when accelerating in lower gears, it’s smooth and responsive too.
It’s hard to think why you’d really need a bigger engine (except in a Cupra version, obviously; just saying, Seat).
We opted for the slightly upmarket FR trim, which comes with pleasant Nora Black FR cloth seats and a clean, clear dash. You can definitely see the family resemblance to my old Ibiza’s interior, but everything is more grown-up and refined.
A huge part of that is the full-colour infotainment touchscreen, which features Seat’s version of the VW Group’s excellent system, including features such as Apple CarPlay connectivity.
We added in the optional Beats Sound System for £365 because twenty-something me would have loved such a thing on my Ibiza in 2005; for my late-30s self, it makes Radio 4 sound very nice. Seems it’s not just the Ibiza that’s grown up…
Grown-up also describes the exterior of the Ibiza, and not just in terms of design, although Seat’s Leon-inspired angular lines and stylised creases certainly exude sophistication (the previous Ibiza looked like a squished Leon; to me, this new design just looks nicer than the Leon). To complete the look, we added metallic Desire red paint and the full LED headlights.
Crucially, though, it doesn’t feel too big. Rear passengers get more room and the Ibiza’s usefulness for an Ikea trip has been increased (trust me, I performed miracles to cram flat-packs into my old one), but it still feels and drives like a small car.
It’s nimble and the handling makes for an engaging drive, and it’s a perfect size for nipping round south London’s congested streets, while feeling more composed than ever on motorways.
Complaints? I have a few niggles, which may grow into annoyances in the coming months. The ride, with MacPherson front struts and a semi-rigid rear axle, can prove a touch jolting on bumpy city streets, although the trade-off is an engaging drive when you encounter faster, flowing roads.
Also, the boot has a propensity for not closing properly; and twice I’ve had to stop driving to re-fasten it.
And bafflingly, despite coming with a whole host of safety tech (enough to garner a five-star Euro NCAP rating) and having that lovely infotainment screen, on FR trim there isn’t a reversing camera. There isn’t even a reversing sensor, and while the Ibiza isn’t the hardest thing to manoeuvre (although it isn’t helped by small awkwardly shaped wing mirrors), it seems an odd omission in 2017.
Even with those annoyances, I’m impressed so far.