"The SEAT Ibiza is perfect for drivers of any age, its vibrant design masking a very sensible car."
What happens when a mainstream car company hires a former Lamborghini design chief to style their latest car? The SEAT Ibiza hatchback that's what. So it's no wonder the Ibiza so easily turns heads when its smooth dimensions cruise by. The three-door model in particular sports a sloping rear that creates a sleek shape that's almost as dramatic as the face on the 2013 Ford Fiesta. If you’re looking for family practicality, then obviously the five-door version will be a better fit, even if the boot space isn’t as large as it could be. For more space, you can get a SEAT Ibiza ST estate, but these are quite rare – with only a handful available on the used market. The Ibiza comes in four specifications – entry-level E, mid-range S and SE, and top-of-the-range FR. The base model and the S are a bit short on equipment and accessories, however, so you might prefer to focus on SE models and above. You get to choose from a range of compact, economical engines that are available across the whole range and that have been tried and tested in the VW Polo – with which it shares many parts – so expect great reliability, too. The interior layout is really appealing and very easy to live with, with a good, comfortable driving position, but the firm suspension does reduce ride comfort a bit. For those with a need for speed, a 178bhp Cupra version of three-door coupe should do the trick, going from 0-62mph in under seven seconds.
Quick and accurate steering and a firm-but-smooth gearbox help makes the Ibiza a lot of fun to drive. Driving from a low, comfortable position, the drive is consistently excellent across all models, from the eco-friendly Ecomotive right up to the top-spec FR and performance-oriented Cupra models. The only possible negative is that all of the suspension set-ups available lean towards a firm ride to a greater or lesser extent. Even driving around town streets can get a little juddery and shaky, thudding across potholes and generally being a little too harsh. And the higher up the range you go, the more obvious this flaw is, with the FR model particularly bad at smoothing out any bumps that the UK's ever-degrading road network throws at it. Fortunately, the 2012 update of the Cupra model has appreciably softened the set-up and made it more forgiving for passengers. Other than that, the Ibiza is fun to drive, with the 1.2-litre TSI petrol and 1.2-litre diesel Ecomotive engines impressing, in particular, with their superior balance of performance and economy. Some of the smaller diesels can be on the noisy side and are a little slow in responding to the accelerator pedal, but the higher-spec FR and Cupra models are very fast and responsive with either petrol or diesel engines.
Even with its firm suspension, you wouldn’t describe the Ibiza as uncomfortable. It does fidget about somewhat when driving at low speeds, and definitely gets little bouncy on the motorway. Interestingly, though, this actually makes the Ibiza feels a little less grown-up than the VW Polo that it shares its underpinnings with, which means it's more exciting and feels like less of a ‘safe’ choice. But that doesn’t mean SEAT has sacrificed any of the prerequisite niceties – all models keep wind and road noise down to a minimum at all speeds, for instance. That said, the car's engines aren’t so well behaved, with the diesels in particular proving pretty noisy when idling and getting intrusively loud when driving at any real speed. Inside, passengers in the front have loads of space to stretch out and get comfy in, but people in the back will likely feel a bit cramped, especially in the three-door coupe model. Legroom is still pretty squeezed in the five-door, however, but there is plenty of room to fit a couple of child seats, which just about keeps the Ibiza in the small family business.
First off, thanks to SEAT being part of the VW Group, the Ibiza shares a lot of mechanical parts with the Volkswagen Polo, so reliability will be high. But, no SEAT models managed to crack the 2013 Driver Power customer satisfaction survey top 100 cars. In 2012, the pre-facelift Ibiza only came 91st because of complaints about build quality, and that same car ranked 144th in the 2013 poll. The updated model should perform better, however, but is still too new to feature. In terms of safety, the Ibiza secured a full five-star rating in the Euro NCAP crash safety tests, doing better than many of its supermini rivals by coming equipped with a range of front and side airbags, plus electronic stability control and anti-lock brakes fitted as standard. Inside, while the dashboard is made of pleasing soft-touch plastic, most of the interior is undeniably constructed with hard, scratchy materials.
The Ibiza isn’t the most practical car to be honest. All models are reasonably spacious inside, but getting in and out of the back of the three-door coupe is frankly quite difficult. The interior now has more storage cubbies thanks to the 2012 facelift, but the average-sized glove compartment, basic door pockets and small space behind the gear lever remain the same – still very disappointing for a modern supermini. The five-door model has 292 litres of boot space, which isn’t great, but the three-door coupe goes down a bit more to 284 litres, which is good for a week's shopping or a mid-sized pushchair. They both have the same maximum 847-litre capacity once all the back seats are folded down. However, it's worth pointing out that the ST estate model has a 430-litre boot that expands to 1,164 litres when its back seats are folded, if you really do need more space.
Value for money
The benefit of SEAT targeting younger drivers – suddenly the lack of practicality makes more sense. The Ibiza is priced relatively low and it comes packed with lots of equipment, including an optional sat-nav dock on top of the dashboard where you can put separately bought units. These good equipment levels also mean the Ibiza is typically much cheaper and gets lower finance offers, like-for-like, than the VW Polo. The five-door is a little bit more expensive but also holds its value better when it comes time to haggle for those resale deals on the used car market. However, SEAT puts a hefty price tag on the most efficient eco-friendly Ecomotive version, so you’ll have to pay up initially if you want to save money in the long run.
Given that you have to pay more for the most frugal model, we’d be remiss if we didn’t point out that while the 1.2-litre TDI diesel Ecomotive does return a promised fuel economy of 80.7mpg and emits a tax-free 92g/km in CO2, the non-Ecomotive version still manages to return an excellent 72.4mpg and emit only 102g/km. So you really should make sure that the running costs saved do add up to more than the extra cost when going eco in an Ibiza. Even the performance-focused Cupra 1.4-litre turbo petrol manages to return an impressive 44.1mpg. Include the reasonably low insurance groups and strong resale values, and the Ibiza is quite an inexpensive car to run across the whole range.