"The SEAT Ibiza is perfect for drivers of any age, with its vibrant design masking a very sensible car."
The SEAT Ibiza is certainly a head-turner, with its sleek dimensions and sporty style creating a truly eye-catching shape for pedestrians and other drivers. It's almost as dramatic as the front of the updated 2013 Ford Fiesta, and bags more exciting to look at than the bland Skoda Fabia. However, if you need even an ounce of practicality, you’ll need to look at the five-door or you’ll struggle to use the back seats for anything other than a place to throw your bag, just because its hard to get into. Even in the five door, boot space is highly restricted. For more space, we’d recommend getting a SEAT Ibiza ST estate, but these are quite rare – with only a handful actually available on the used car market.
The Ibiza comes in four main specifications – entry-level E, mid-range S and SE, and top-of-the-range FR. The base model and the S are somewhat lacking in standard equipment and accessories, however, so you might prefer to go for an SE model or above if you like your creature comforts. You do get to choose from a range of compact and economical engines that are available across the whole range, and have been tried and tested in the Volkswagen Polo – with which it shares many of its parts and mechanicals – so expect a high level of reliability, too.
The layout of the interior is also really appealing and very easy to live with on a daily basis, with a good, comfortable driving position. However, the stiff suspension set-up does reduce ride comfort quite a bit. For those with a true need for speed, the 178bhp SEAT Ibiza Cupra should offer more than enough performance, going from 0-62mph in less than seven seconds.
MPG, running costs & CO2 emissions
So, as you’ll have to fork out more money for those more economical models, we’ll start off with the 1.2-litre TDI diesel Ecomotive's impressive fuel economy figures. It promises to return 80.7mpg in combined economy and emit a tax-free 92g/km of CO2. However, the non-Ecomotive version still manages to return an excellent 72.4mpg and emit only 102g/km, nudging into tax band B, which will still only cost you £20 a year. So, before you get carried away with the Ecomotive rhetoric, make sure you’ve done your sums to see if the running costs saved really do cancel out the initial cost of buying one. And remember, even the performance-focused Cupra 1.4-litre turbo petrol still manages to return 47.9mpg – which is impressive for a sporty model. Factor in the reasonably low insurance groups and strong resale values, and the Ibiza becomes quite an inexpensive car to run across its whole range.
Interior & comfort
The most fitting word for the Ibiza's comfort levels is “alright”. You wouldn’t describe it as uncomfortable, but thanks to its firm suspension, neither will it win any awards for keeping bottoms and heads entirely unshaken. When you’re driving at low speeds it does tend to fidget about, while matters get decidedly bouncy when you venture out on the motorway. But the reason that's not all bad is because it makes the Ibiza feel more exciting than it probably would have otherwise. It's less of a “safe” choice compared to the Volkswagen Polo with which it shares many parts, but you do still get load of standard accessories inside the car. Wind and road noise inside the car are well supressed, but the same can’t be said for the range of engines on offer, with the diesels proving to be especially noisy when idling, and becoming intrusively loud when being accelerated hard or driven at motorway speeds. But if you can ignore the assault on your ears, front passengers have loads of space inside to stretch out and get comfy in, but anyone travelling in the back will likely feel a bit cramped, especially in the three-door model. Legroom is still a bit squeezed in the five-door, but there is more room to fit a couple of child seats, which just about keeps the Ibiza in the small family market.
Practicality & boot space
If practicality is high on your list of priorities, the Ibiza may not be the right car for you. While all models do prove to be reasonably spacious inside, getting in and out of the back of the three-door coupe is really quite difficult. The 2012 update has added more storage cubbies dotted around the interior, but it hasn’t improved the shallow door pockets, average-sized glove compartment and the small space behind the gear stick, which is really quite disappoint for a supermini in today's market. The boot is equally as middling, offering up an decidedly average 292 litres of luggage capacity with the rear seats in place – and if you choose the three-door coupe that goes down even more to 284 litres, which will just about take a week's shopping haul and a small-to-medium-sized pushchair. Fold down the back seats and the boot expands to a maximum capacity of 847 litres, which, again, is okay but hardly class-leading. It is worth mentioning, though, that if you go for the ST estate model then there is 430 litres of boot space on offer, which expands to 1,164 litres when you fold down the rear bench, which is then a viable option if space is important to your needs.
Reliability & safety
There are some benefits to being part of a large car manufacturing company like the Volkswagen Group. For instance, because SEAT is a VW-owned company, it gets to share the resources also offered to the likes of Audi and Skoda. In the Ibiza's case, it shares the majority of its parts with the Volkswagen Polo, so you know that it will be just as reliable as any VW. That's assuming that the new model will perform better in the Driver Power customer satisfaction survey than its predecessor, with the pre-facelifted model coming 144th in the 2013 survey's list of the top 150 cars on sale in the UK. That's a drop from its 2012 position of 91st, which wasn’t that great to start with. In fact, no SEAT models managed to crack the 2013 Driver Power top 100 cars. Expect the updated model to do much better if debuts in the 2014 survey. But it is a safe car, at least, being awarded the maximum 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, electronic stability control (ESP) and anti-lock brakes (ABS) all fitted as standard. Inside, the dashboard is made of good-quality soft-touch plastic, but the rest of the interior is sadly built using hard, scratchy materials that do feel below par for this class.
Engines, drive & performance
The main issue for the Ibiza is that while its undeniable fun to drive, it does sacrifice a lot of ride quality to get it. The suspension set-ups available all veer towards a firm ride and even when driving around town, the car can get a little juddery and shaky, thudding across potholes and generally becoming a little too harsh for comfort. And the higher up the range you venture, the more pronounced this flaw becomes, with the FR model proving to be particularly bad at ironing out any bumps that the UK's ever-worsening road network can throw at it. That said, you drive from a low, comfortable position, from the eco-friendly Ecomotive right up to the top-of-the-range FR and performance-focused Cupra models. Plus, the 2012 facelift of the Cupra has noticeably softened the set-up and made it much more forgiving for passengers. Other than that, the Ibiza remains fun to drive, with the 1.2-litre TSI petrol and 1.2-litre diesel Ecomotive engines impressing us the most, with their decent blend of performance and economy. Some of the smaller diesels do get somewhat noisy and are a little slow in responding to the accelerator pedal, but the higher-spec FR and Cupra models are truly fast and responsive, in either petrol or diesel versions.
Price, value for money & options
That lack of practicality makes more sense when you consider who SEAT is targeting with the Ibiza – young drivers. The Ibiza is competitively priced (even cheap) and yet comes loaded with lots of accessories and equipment, including the option to add a sat-nav dock on top of the dashboard where you can install a separately bought sat-nav. So, like-for-like, the Ibiza's good equipment levels mean it works out a lot cheaper (and gets lower finance offers) than the Volkswagen Polo, for instance. You do pay a little more for the five-door model, but that extra bit of practicality does help it hold its resale value in the used car market better. You should be able to find a pretty decent second-hand deal for your Ibiza, provided you’re not afraid to haggle a bit. However, SEAT does put a hefty price tag on the most efficient Ecomotive models of the Ibiza, so you’ll have to pay up initially if you want to save any significant money in the long run – so it may only be worth it if you do clock up a lot of miles on a regular basis.