Tuesday 17 October 2017

Ibiza hatch mirrors the big step from cheap to chic

A great all-rounder spoiled by its wing mirrors

Excellent motor: Seat Ibiza
Excellent motor: Seat Ibiza
Eddie Cunningham

Eddie Cunningham

God forgive me but I don't like pointed wing mirrors. They remind me of Japanese imports from the early nineties. Not a good start for me then when I sat in the new SEAT Ibiza was it? There, almost arrow-like, lurked one either side.

They brought back memories of the 'Jap import' I once had which plagued us for years with, wing mirrors apart, an incessant ding-dinging when I hit 50mph.

But sharply-drawn mirrors must be regarded as fashionable items, pieces of post-modern design, now. Otherwise, why would SEAT use them on this brand new, good-looking supermini?

It happens you know. If you wait long enough, what was cheap and cheerful becomes chic-and-cheerful.

Previous Ibizas had been cheap, borderline cheerful, for years. The Ibiza was a car for those who needed low-cost A-to-B transport.

Somehow, miraculously sometimes, SEAT kept them fresh, through up-speccing and revising. No wonder there are thousands of them out there still going strong.

This new one is not so cheap-n-cheerful - though if you were to go by the irrelevant low, entry-level, price version you might be tempted to think things haven't changed that much after all.

But they have; big time. Not just on price which is okay mid-stream, but on nearly everything else, too. There's a significant lift in quality, technology and engineering that finally lets the Ibiza compete as an equal with the big small-car names (Fiesta, Yaris, Polo, Fabia, Micra, 208, Corsa, Mazda2, Jazz, Hyundai i20, KIA Rio, Clio... it goes on).

Not only is it bigger, it feels a lot more spacious. I wasn't taken much by the design initially - with the likes of the Nissan Micra showing what audacious lines can do for a new car's profile.

But as the week wore on, I came to like it a lot. It is quite a smart-looking motor with loads of subtle design things going on. Fond of the look now (pointed wing mirrors excepted, of course).

The room in the cabin was deceptively impressive. I passed few remarks at first but when the tall daughter had plenty of space in the front passenger seat while her tall holiday chum sat behind without being cramped, I reckoned few others in the class would beat it. I'm puzzled though on why electric rear windows are merely options.

I don't think the boot can be beaten either (well, maybe the Honda Jazz sneaks it). We had plenty of room for two huge haversacks and several other small bags. It's deep and square and takes a skinny spare wheel.

But it took me too long to get my seat height and steering-wheel reach the way I wanted. I blame the low-set seats for that. Some people love sitting low. I don't. It just so happened I had a lot of heavy, heavy town driving. I notched up 220km on pure city trips alone. That's a lot of snail-like trudging hours. That's when you notice how easy a car is to manage - or not - such as ease of clutch and brake, steering, visibility (including mirrors), gear flexibility and so on.

We nudged and crept for hours over the week (traffic is way, way up), yet I felt little strain or weariness. And we were comfortable over Dublin's myriad scarred roads. I would, however, have loved additional lumbar support on my seat (some whinges never change).

When I shook off the city-street shackles and slipped on to open roads, the 1-litre 115bhp 3cyl turbo petrol engine and 6spd gearbox excelled. I'd drive this Ibiza all day. Love that sweet engine. I would point out, though, that it was a powerful petrol version and my car was highly-specced, so it would need to be earning such plaudits. They had it well set up to be a really good drive. Maybe not altogether Ford Fiesta sharp on handling and ride but only a fraction behind. I don't know who is going to bother about that sort of stuff too much, but it's a really enjoyable edge SEAT hasn't had before.

The FR-spec dash and instrumentation felt and looked upmarket in a low-key way; indeed several areas have the feel of a car from a segment above. The big screen takes the eye; other stuff works easily. But again for the spec, it would absolutely need to.

I would have preferred a brighter blend of colours. I wouldn't be mad about a lot of the dark, hard plastic areas either. Sure it's a practical car first and foremost, but a little bit of softness never goes astray - like that in the door insets.

Looking back (as you do with wing mirrors) I admit I had initial reservations about this. But over the week, it showed itself to be an excellent motor. It's easily the most refined Ibiza; there's a lot of room and excellent underpinnings keep things comfortable. If I were buying I'd opt for a brighter cabin - and see if I could do something about the pointed wing mirrors.

FACTS & FIGURES

SEAT Ibiza 5dr, 1.0TSi petrol (115hp, 6spd, 108g/km, €190 tax, 4.7l/100km). Range from €14,995; FR (on test) from €19,465 (95bhp), €20,185 (115bhp driven). With options: €23,132.

Standard spec: 14ins wheels, 5ins t/screen, 4 speakers, hill hold control, electric mirrors. SE (from €17,335) adds 15ins alloys, front fogs, air con, 5ins colour screen, 6 speakers, Bluetooth, LED DLRs. xCELLENCE adds tiredness alert, cruise control, rear-park sensors, light/rain sensor. FR adds 17ins alloys, FR sports seats, throttle response. Options: full LED h/lights, Media System Plus (8ins screen), 18ins alloys, BeatsAudio, SEAT Full Link.

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