Monday 26 August 2019

Awesome threesome

Despite the popularity of SUVs, there is still a place for small family hatchbacks, writes Geraldine Herbert

SEAT Ibiza
SEAT Ibiza

When choosing a new car, as in life, sometimes the simplest things are the best choice rather than larger and costlier options. Three new small hatchbacks - the Seat Ibiza, Nissan Micra and Ford Fiesta - exemplify this philosophy and are among the best to launch in 2017.

Seat Ibiza

Ford Fiesta
Ford Fiesta

The Spanish manufacturer SEAT has produced a range of fine small cars over the past 30 years and the Ibiza has been one of it's most successful, a fact reflected by more than 5.4 million car sales globally. The latest incarnation of the popular hatchback is one of the lightest, most practical and spacious hatchbacks around. Outside, it is now more sharply defined. Inside, it feels roomy and there's plenty of space across the back for kids, friends of kids and other people you're obliged to drive around, so it's big enough for a family and yet small enough to squeeze into the tiniest parking spaces, plus it comes with a luggage capacity of 355 litres.

Powering the range are a selection of petrol engines: 1.0-litre MPI petrol engine and 1.0-litre TSI and 1.5-litre TSI engines across 75hp, 95hp, 115hp and 150hp. In terms of diesel engines the Ibiza will be available in 1.6 TDI with 80hp and 95hp. The gearboxes offered are a manual five-speed or there is a six-speed transmission for the more powerful engines. The dual-clutch DSG seven-speed gearbox is another of the options available.

On the road it is quiet and comfortable and what the Ibiza does have in common with the rest of the VW family is the new high-tech MQB platform, so it is 30% stiffer and feels firm and sporty. Four  trim models are available - the S, SE, FR and Xcellence - and prices start at €14,995 for the S range, €17,335 for the SE range, €18,745 for Xcellence and €19,465 for the FR range.

SEAT is renowned for producing cars that pack a lot of punch while oozing appeal and the Ibiza is a very impressive hatchback, that is classy, spacious and fun to drive.

Nissan Micra
Nissan Micra

Ford Fiesta

At a glance it is the same car as the previous one but a few tweaks along the side panels and front and rear lights distinguish it, and now the grille identifies which version of the car you are driving. But the changes are more than skin deep.Inside the harsh, cheap plastics have given way to a far more tasteful high-quality look and feel. There are also now far fewer buttons and switches and the streamlined dash is more intuitive with all the main functions and dials clear and easy to understand. The Fiesta is also crammed with enough technology to keep even the avid tech fan entertained. While bigger than the previous version, it is still far from the roomiest supermini but overall it feels spacious with comfortable and supportive seats. Boot capacity of 290 litres allows for a decent amount of luggage space. You can choose between a three- or five-door model, while engines on offer are a 1.1-litre non-turbo petrol  in 70ps and 85ps  and a 1.0-litre EcoBoost turbo petrol offered with 100, 125 and 140ps and a 1.5-litre diesel in 85 and 120ps with a choice of manual or automatic gearboxes. The new Fiesta comes in five very distinct flavours, from the upmarket Vignale and the sporty ST-Line to Titanium and Zetec, with an Active crossover model due here next April.

The entry level Zetec is €17,250 and heads swiftly to a top-of-the-range Vignale price of €26,530. In between are Titanium from €19,050 and the ST-Line from €20,450.

Standard equipment includes 15-inch wheels, NCAP safety pack, ESP with hill start assist and Bluetooth with My Ford device dock.

The Fiesta comes stuffed with big-car technology thanks to 15 high-tech features ensuring a safe and smooth journey, including Pre-Collision Assist featuring pedestrian detection, meaning that the driver is warned when people are on or near the road.

The new Fiesta is still a joy to drive and with a much improved interior it's likely to remain as one of Ireland's most popular cars.

Nissan Micra

Nissan's Micra has been a popular choice with Irish drivers for over three decades but despite its pint-sized practicality, affordability and legendary reliability, the Micra has never been a car destined to improve your street cred - until now, that is. Long gone are the cute lines, the curiously high-mounted headlights and cheeky face; essentially, just the name remains. The chiselled exterior and sleek lines give the Micra some serious kerb appeal and the funky design shouts 'look at me!' Our test car came in a particularly eye-catching black with splashes of dramatic orange inside and out. There is a choice of a 1.0-litre petrol, a 1.5 -litre diesel or, as in our test car, a very gutsy 0.9-litre turbo petrol that manages 90hp and a decent 150Nm of pulling power. Inside, it's not quite the radical departure of the exterior styling but it is lively and intuitive and the quality is particularly good. Everything is simple to use and the large dials only add to the ease of use.  There's plenty of space adjustment to help any size of driver to get comfy. On the downside, design has the edge over practicality and space in the rear is far from generous and access is best suited to yoga buffs. Headroom overall is not great due to the sloping roofline and rear visibility is pretty poor.

The peppy engine is a really nice surprise. It tootles happily around town and turns as tightly as a shopping trolley. More impressively, on the motorway there is more than enough oomph, it is reasonably quiet and seems so effortless. The handling is sharp and it is firm on the road, maybe a little too much for some, and steering is on the light side. The new Fiesta beats it in terms of sportiness but the new Micra is still a very engaging and endearing car to drive.

Despite its funky looks it comes packed with enough grown-up goodies to keep you safe on the road, including Intelligent Lane Intervention, Intelligent Emergency Braking with Pedestrian Recognition, Traffic Sign Recognition and High Beam Assist.

Our  range-topping test car with a tiny 898cc engine was priced at at €24,400 and  promises a healthy average of 4.4 litres/100km and CO2 (g/km) of 104 means the motor tax annual cost is €190.

There are four trim levels - XE, SV, SV Premium and SVE - and prices for the range start at €16,650. The SV trim starts at €17,450, the SV Premium at €19,450 and the SVE at €20,650 and offer increasing levels of goodies, but even on the basic model there is no scrimping on the equipment as all Micras get 15-inch wheels, LED daytime running lights, electric door mirrors with integrated turn signals, electric front windows, rear spoiler, Hill Start Assist, trip computer with gear-shift indicator and outside temperature read-out, manual air conditioning, height-adjustable driver's seat, rake/reach adjustable steering wheel and two-tone dashboard. There are also more than 100 different style configurations so you can ensure no two Micras are the same.

With head-turning looks and good driving dynamics, the multi-talented Micra is one of the most impressive cars driven this year.

Overall the Fiesta is a good car and is the best of the three to drive but it's a little dull and it is definitely on the pricey side. By comparison the new Micra is a revelation: it is fun to drive with very cool styling but the sloping roofline means headroom is an issue, so overall it's not quite as memorable a car as it looks. The cheapest of the three, the Ibiza is no compromise; smart looks are complemented by a polished drive and is it genuinely roomy enough to earn family car status.

All prices quoted are for five-door versions.

Sunday Independent

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