"The SEAT Ibiza is perfect for drivers of any age, its vibrant design masking a very sensible car."
The SEAT Ibiza hatchback supermini's distinctive design has no problem turning heads - the three-door model in particular sports a sloping rear end that creates a shape that's nearly as dramatic as the facelifted Ford Fiesta, thanks to the input of Lamborghini's former chief designer. Taking on rivals such as the Fiesta, Volkswagen Polo and Vauxhall Corse, the five-door is more practical for families, of course, although the boot capacity isn't as good as it could be. The Ibiza comes in four specification levels - E, S, SE and FR, with the two lower-spec models being a bit sparse in terms of equipment. A selection of compact, economical engines are offered across the whole range and are the same ones used in the VW Polo, so they'll be reliable, too. The driving position is comfortable and the interior layout is appealing and easy to live with. However, ride comfort is lessened by a firm suspension set up.
The Ibiza is fun to drive thanks to quick and accurate steering, a low, comfortable driving position, and a firm-and-smooth gearbox. The drive is consistently good in all models, ranging from the eco-friendly Ecomotive versions right up to the top-of-the-range FR and performance-focused Cupra models. There is a selection of suspension set ups, however, that are all a bit firm, to a greater or lesser extent. So, driving around town can get a bit bumpy and shaky, thudding into potholes and generally feeling a little harsh. This is more pronounced the higher up the range you go: the SC version is much less adept at smoothing out any bumps. However, the 2013 update of the Cupra model has noticeably soften the suspension. Beyond that, the Ibiza has excellent, secure road-holding, with the 1.2-litre TSI petrol and 1.2-litre diesel Ecomotive impressing, in particular, with their good balance of performance and economy. Some of the smaller diesels can be quite noisy and a little slow in responding, but the higher-spec FR and Cupra models are very fast and responsive with either petrol or diesel engines.
While it's never uncomfortable, the Ibiza does fidget about a bit at low speeds and gets a little bouncy on the motorway - which actually adds to the feeling that's it not quite as grown-up as the Volkswagen Polo that it's based on, which can be a good thing. All models do a good job of reducing wind and road noise at all speeds, even if they don't manage to keep their own engines quite as quiet. The diesels, in particular, are loud when idling and often get intrusive when driving at speed. Inside, front passengers will find plenty of space to get comfy in, but those sitting in the back could well feel pretty cramped, especially in the three-door models. Rear legroom is fairly poor in the five-door model, too, but there is enough space for a couple of child seats to be fitted, which keeps the Ibiza an appealing option for small families.
Because SEAT is part of the VW Group, the Ibiza shares plenty of parts with the Volkswagen Golf, so reliability will be high. The pre-facelift model only came 91st in the 2012 Driver Power survey because of complaints about build quality, but the new model should perform better. In terms of safety, the Ibiza scored a full five stars in the Euro NCAP crash safety tests, outperforming 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 plastic.
The boot on the three-door SC is slightly smaller than the one on the five-door model, offering only 248 litres of space compared to 292 litres, but both will easily take the week's shopping or an average pushchair. When the rear seats are folded, this increases to a maximum capacity of 847 litres. It's worth noting that the ST estate model has a 430-litre boot that expands to 1,164 litres when its back seats are folded. Getting in and out of the back in the three-door model can also be a bit tricky. In terms of interior storage, however, the original model only offered an average-sized glovebox, basic door pockets and a small space behind the gearlevel - not really what you'd expect from a modern supermini - but the 2012 facelift has added a few more cubby holes.
Value for money
The Ibiza is targeted at younger drivers, so prices start relatively low and it comes equipped with plenty of equipment, including an optional dock on top of the dashboard for a separately bought sat-nav. Good equipment levels also mean the Ibiza is typically much cheaper and gets lower finance offers, like-for-like, than the Volkswagen Polo. The five-door is a bit more expensive but also holds its value better when it comes time to haggle those resale deals. However, SEAT puts a hefty price premium on the most efficient eco-friendly Ecomotive version.
If you go for the 1.2-litre TDI diesel Ecomotive engine, you're promised superior fuel economy of 80.7mpg and tax-free CO-2 emissions of 92g/km, but the non-Ecomotive version still manages to return an excellent 72.4mpg and emit 102g/km. Even the performance-focused Cupra 1.4-litre turbo petrol manages to return an impressive 44.1mpg. Factor in reasonably low insurance groups and strong resale values, and the the Ibiza is quite an inexpensive car to run across the whole range.