Thursday 17 August 2017

It's Ibiza time for SEAT: new supermini due next month

First drive in Barcelona: Seat Ibiza

Seat Ibiza
Seat Ibiza

Cathal Doyle

The Ibiza is probably the nearest thing SEAT has to a signature model.

In its various incarnations it's been around since 1984 and was the first car from the brand to be sold in any volumes outside its native Spain. More than 30,000 have found homes here.

That original Ibiza created something of a stir at the time, not least as it featured styling by Italian designer Giugiaro, and proudly bore the branding 'System Porsche' on the engine cover - the performance car manufacturer developed the head for the 1.5 litre engine.

The fifth generation model arrives here next month and might in its own way be as revolutionary as the original.

It's the first car in the Volkswagen Group to use the new MQB-AO platform, which will also underpin a variety of compact models including the next generation Audi A1 and Volkswagen Polo.

Getting first dibs on it should dispel any assumptions that Seat is the poor relation in the larger Volkswagen Group.

Indeed the brand is on an upward spiral, recording its best results in 2016.

In Ireland too it's bucking the trend, with sales 15pc up so far in 2017 in a market that's down 10pc overall.

Add in the Arona, a new compact crossover due later this year, plus a large SUV coming in 2018, and you can see why there's a palpable sense of optimism around the brand.

Appearance-wise the new Ibiza is very much in tune with modern Seats: more sculpted than the car it replaces and bearing more than a hint of resemblance to its big brother, the Leon.

No longer than before, albeit a little wider, a longer wheelbase (+95mm) gives it a well proportioned look.

Don't hold your breath, though, if you are waiting for a 3dr version or an estate, as Seat is focusing all its attention on the 5dr model. Neither will there be a Cupra version we're told.

There's a new sense of style about the interior too, with the rather budget-looking interior of the last Ibiza replaced by high-quality plastics and well-positioned controls.

The longer wheelbase means four adults can be reasonably well accommodated, while Seat tell us the boot of 355 litres is best in class.

Available features include an 8in infotainment touchscreen with smartphone interfaces, a Beats sound system, and full LED headlights - a segment first.

Engine options at launch include an entry-level 1.0 litre MPI petrol (75hp) and a 1.0 litre 3cyl turbo TSI (95hp, 115hp). A 1.5 TSI 150 hp FR version follows in September.

You'll have to wait until November for 1.6 TDI diesel versions with 80hp and 95hp outputs.

Four trim levels - S, SE, XCELLENCE and FR - are offered, with prices starting at €14,995 for the 75hp S model. A 95hp SE will be the likely volume seller - it's priced at €18,065.

Taking the 115hp 1.0 TSI to the roads, two things stood out. First and foremost was just how quiet and refined it was. Not always a Seat strong point, kudos to the engineers for a job well done here.

Secondly, that new platform is 33pc stiffer than before - and it shows.

The Ibiza has taken a big step forward in both the ride and handling departments, with a poise and assurance much improved on the old car.

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Combined with this 115hp engine, it's mature, yet fun to drive. A DSG gearbox adds further refinement.

Competition is tough in this supermini segment with a plethora of new models recently launched or shortly arriving, but Seat's contender is certainly one that should be on any shortlist.

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