(Pocket-lint) - Say Hola! to the new Seat Ibiza, the fifth-generation of the Spanish firm's popular small car.
Seat has suddenly got very popular in the UK – the new Ateca SUV and Leon family hatchback selling big, but the Ibiza has always been at the core of the firm's Seat's offering. So for 2017 the company has brought out a completely new model, which is set to offer stiff competition to the class-leading Ford Fiesta.
Our drive of one of the first cars to land on UK shores showed that, if you're in the market for a small car, the Ibiza really needs to go on your shopping list. Stylish, fun to drive and full of tech, the big question is can it topple the Fiesta and go straight to the top of the class?
Seat Ibiza FR review: Fun for all the family
While some cars get a simple facelift, this Ibiza is genuinely all new. Yes, it might look familiar – Seat says it's deliberately been styled to look like its big brother, the Leon – but underneath it's the first Seat, VW, Skoda or Audi product to benefit from their MQB A0 platform. This set of technologies and engines will sit underneath the next generation VW Polo and Audi A1, but Seat's pulled off a coup by getting it first for the Ibiza.
The benefits of the new platform are immediately obvious. The Ibiza looks grown up, but in a fun, sharply styled way. It looks like a five-sixths scale Leon, but in our eyes that's no bad thing, and the design is set off by a series of neat details. There's a sharp surface that creates a powerful rear shoulder haunch, the LED front and rear lights, and the rear wing surface which loops through the tail lamp graphic and then becomes the shut line between body and bumper surfaces.
It's all set off – if you choose the FR model that we drove – with neat 17-inch alloys. Combined with the horizontal shoulder line, it looks more purposeful and more grown up than the swoopy, diving body side of the Ford Fiesta.
Surprisingly, the new Ibiza is shorter than the car it replaces (by just 2mm) – yet with a 60mm longer wheelbase and being 87mm wider, the proportions look better and there's much more space inside. Rear legroom space grows by 35mm compared to the car it replaces – so a tall person can sit behind the driver's seat with no issue. The Ibiza also aces the Fiesta is with its generous 355 litre boot capacity.
The Ibiza genuinely is a car for all the family, it'll accommodate two generous sized adults up front and two kids in the back with no qualms, car seats fit in the back just fine, and you can latch the new i-size, isofix seats. And a larger buggy or massive weekly shop doesn't dwarf the boot.
One potential black mark against the Ibiza is that – like the Renault Clio – it now only comes as a 5-door model. If your idea of sporty means your small car must have 3-doors and not 5-doors, then head to your local Ford dealer.
Seat Ibiza review: Which engine and trim?
Our review car had the 1.0 TSi engine, running in its 115hp format. It was kitted out in Seat's sporty FR trim, which puts this model towards the top of the range, with a price of £16,630.
From launch, there's a choice of three engines – all 1.0 litre in capacity. The entry-level model is a 75hp unit, and then there are a pair of 1.0 Eco TSi 3-cyilnder units. One has 95hp with a 5-speed gearbox, or like our test car you can have a 115 hp version with a 6-speed box. A 150hp 1.5 TSi petrol and a couple of diesels will join these engines later in the year. For now, we think you're likely to find something that will suit you out of the three available.
Trim levels follow Seat's other models with S the base model, moving up through SE, the sporty-orientated FR (our test car) and topping the range with the luxury XCellence trim.
S bags you aircon, Bluetooth and a bunch of safety stuff. SE – which Seat reckons will be the volume seller – gets all this plus 15 inch alloys, a media system with 5-inch colour screen but no sat nav system or DAB. FR has cruise control, 17 inch alloys, twin exhausts, sport seats, a flat-bottom steering wheel and the larger, 8-inch touch screen with sat nav, DAB and Full-Link (which is Seat-speak for meaning you can use Apple CarPlay, Mirrorlink and Android Auto). On XCellence you get all this but no body kit, 16 inch alloys, front and rear park sensors, keyless entry, plus adaptive headlamps.
Our advice is that if you're on a budget, SE is a happy place and can be improved by a couple of options if you've got a little extra cash. You'll be able to get the SE from £14k on the road, but the more important figure is probably the fact you can put £1,250 down and then drive it away for £179 per month. Otherwise the FR is our favourite, for a combo of its looks and offering that upgraded Media system. Notably, if you're keen on an Ibiza from the off, during August, Seat is offering the FR model with a year's free insurance for anyone over 18. Now that's a good deal.
Seat Ibiza review: An interior to get excited about?
While the outside looks great, sometimes inside you can see why Seat's cars are such good value... the cheap-feel materials and trim aren't ideal.
However, the new Ibiza does a good job of making sure you don't feel too short changed. The overall interior ambience is pleasant, there's a clear smattering of Volkswagen switchgear – but this is almost always a good thing – while the new dashboard design, although not quite passing as exciting, is certainly not dull.
There's a good range of cubbies, from big door pockets, to a pair of water bottle holders in the middle, a slot for your phone at the base of the dash, and a small open bin in the console. A lidded bin or two wouldn't have gone amiss, and some lining in the door pockets would kill the rattles. The dash-top plastics are also hard feel – whereas the Fiesta's are soft, and you can bet the next VW Polo's will be too.
Still, these are minor quibbles. We happily spent a day sat in the Ibiza and think it'd make a good accomplice for a few years motoring, with very few irks, and the one or two cheap parts are easy to explain away when you consider what else you're getting for the price.
Seat Ibiza review: The technology
Like all new small cars, Seat's making a big play of both on-board and new assistive safety technologies with the new Ibiza. We'd advise comparing the specs carefully – as not everything is standard on all models.
Life-saving stuff first. Naturally, all Ibizas run on the new platform, which is said to be safer than before. Well, we write "said" but the reality is that "is" has greater accuracy, because the new Ibiza has already won a 5-star rating from the crash testing people at Euro Ncap, which is under the newer, tougher test regime. It gets an impressive 95 per cent for adult occupancy safety across all of the crash test types, thanks to the high-tensile steel structure and six airbags.
All Ibizas also get Front Assist, Auto Emergency Brake (which works to help avoid both vehicles, objects and pedestrians), plus a speed limiter, and are available with active cruise control and an attention assist system. Surprisingly, there's no lane keep assist – but the parking sensors (where fitted) are a new style, which Seat says provide greater accuracy, and you can now have a reverse camera, too. One area the Fiesta goes one better is by adding cross-traffic assist warning to this system.
All Ibiza models get at least a 5.0-inch touch screen. Note that in the base S model there's unnecessary de-contenting going on, because it's only black and white. Given the SE gets full colour and is only £870 to buy – or more likely £15 more per month – it's one of the many reasons why we'd recommend the SE over the S.
Seat Ibiza review: Full Link Media System Plus
However, at launch, we were only able to test the larger, 8-inch screen equipped with Media System Plus. This is standard on FR and Xcellence models. On SE models, you'll pay an £810 extra to get it, although this does net you inclusive Full-Link, too. Unfortunately, it seems you can't have the Full-link Apple/Android stuff without selecting the bigger screen (can you see why we like the FR model best?). Also worth noting, when you select the bigger screen/media system on the SE, Seat then makes you pay an extra £145 for DAB radio on top, but on the FR/Xcellence models this is included as standard.
Generally, the 8-inch Media System Plus is excellent. It's mounted in-line with the gauge cluster on the dash, instead of standing proud off it like on the new Fiesta. It's fast reacting and easy to use, and while Seat isn't quoting a resolution, this new screen feels notably high-end, with images rendered nicely: Seat's bespoke menu home screen looks particularly rich in this setting, and the 3D navigation maps clear and with good contrast.
If you've used other, recent VW, Skoda or, indeed, Seat systems then the look and feel will be familiar. Layout is intuitive, Seat uses a hot-corners menu system – which can slightly wrong-foot first timers but is very easy to get your head around – and plugging in an Apple device immediately boots up CarPlay, which looks great and functions very well through this screen. Optionally, you can also get a wireless charging mat in the cubby.
We think the graphics and on-screen iconography are better designed and more-modern looking than the Ford Fiesta's too. Although sat nav online search, when we tried it, was a bit hit-and-miss and we don't love the digital panel menu shortcut keys.
In the gauge cluster you get a small secondary digital display, and it's possible to do control most things via the steering wheel controls – including changing the radio station, calling people, bringing up sat nav turn-by-turns. However, this secondary display isn't full colour as standard. Nonetheless, the dials are clear and easy to read – once again echoing the "mini Leon" design vibe. There are two USB ports at the bottom of the dash, just above the cubby, and an aux in. Voice control is standard and, as ever, worth ignoring.
One surprise was that all the test cars we drove featured the Beats Audio-branded sound system – a 300W system that's an upgrade over the regular car. We first tested out this system at a special event in Barcelona, Spain, to get a sense of how it performs. While Beats is usually crazy bass-heavy, we thought it sounded well balanced in this format. Cleverly the sub is built into the spare wheel, using that space to create the low-end. Plus the new Ibiza is generally much quieter and more refined than before – so ambient sound doesn't disrupt the music, whatever the volume.
Seat Ibiza FR review: A class-leading drive
Seat has always pitched itself as the sporty, Spanish, fun-loving cousin – but the last Ibiza didn't really live up to this billing. For your driving kicks, you'd have taken a Fiesta every day.
But 2017 levels the playing field. With 115hp, the 1.0 TSi FR Ibiza flew along the motorways of North-west England, was a doddle to manouver on the mean streets of big cities, and brought a smile to our faces on the fast, flowing and then tighter, twistier roads of north Wales.
Quite simply, the new Ibiza is a lot of good fun to drive. It brilliantly mixes that fun with an easy, no-hassle, familiarity. The driver's seat and steering wheel have masses of adjustment so it's a doodle to get comfy, too. The steering, gearshift and clutch are all light and the ride isn't hard. The only thing you'll need to watch is the over-servo'd brakes.
Out in the sticks, the steering weights up nicely, the ride seems firm and body control is well controlled. The Ibiza will even tuck its tail in, tightening the line neatly if you dive into a corner too fast and then back off the gas.
The engines are all 3-cylinder units, which can typically cause vibrations, but in the Seat they're very well damped. While out on the move, they seem to love being thrashed and emit a great noise as you wring them out.
We seriously struggle to pick fault in the overall Ibiza package. A Fiesta's steering is perhaps a might quicker and sharper to turn in, but overall we'd happily take the Ibiza as a best of all worlds, it feels agile and light on its feet.
After a couple of hundred miles the car returned a 46mpg average. Given the stick this little car got, that didn't seem bad at all. Reckon on at least 10mpg more if you're gentle.
The Seat Ibiza has always been a "nearly" car. It was nearly fun to drive, nearly had that Spanish flair the company claimed, and was nearly top of the class in some ways. Ultimately however, it lost out to the more fun-to-drive Fiesta, a chicer Renault Clio, and a more accomplished and mature VW Polo.
For 2017, Seat has really pulled out all the stops. The new Ibiza has style in spades, it looks great in this FR spec, offers genuinely useable interior space, and the 8-inch Full Link media system is easy on the eye and easy to use.
Above all, though, it's the way the new Ibiza drives that seals the deal. That's what turns the 2017 model from a "nearly" car, to a great car. The Ibiza treads a brilliant line between being a superbly engineered everyday transport for those who don't care to get their kicks behind the wheel, and being a fully involved car with up-for-it fun factor, for those who do.
We'd have to drive both Fiesta and Ibiza back-to-back to truly call a winner between the Ibiza and Ford Fiesta. But be in no doubt, this is a truly all-star new Seat, and should be right at the top of your small car shopping list.