Under the wings of the Volkswagen Group, SEAT as a brand has come on leaps and bounds in the UK over the last few years and has just experienced its most successful annual sales to date, ever. I don’t know how much of it’s down to the car’s being named after one of the world’s top party islands, but the Ibiza still reigns as the top-selling SEAT around the world. SEAT is a confident brand on a one-way upward trend, so nobody can blame them for regularly twiddling with their range, gradually introducing elements from their snazzy concept cars and making other improvements. The SEAT Ibiza is amazingly now in its fourth generation and looks, well… read on!
Passionate Hispanic styling? Not half!
This is the facelifted Mk4 SEAT Ibiza, introduced in the UK only a few months ago – so think of it as the Mk4b, as it were. SEAT call their improvement programme ‘Enjoyneering’ and they’ve enjoyneered the Ibiza very well indeed. Granted, the FR version I drove for a week didn’t possess a drop of discretion in its daring, shouty (and very popular, I might add) Lima Green colour scheme. But that’s what many buyers want from a warm hatch – the ‘look at me!’ factor. And when you do look purposefully at the revised 2012 SEAT Ibiza, what do you see? A crisp, clean, aggressive and solid face, for starters, courtesy of SEAT’s ‘Arrow Design’ philosophy, with its facial features sculpted round a ‘V’ idea. SEAT’s design bods have sharpened and narrowed the trapezoidal grille, lowered the air intake, made the fog light bezels more angular and added a few effective creases to the front-end, under the watchful eyes of new Design Director Alejandro Mesonero-Romanos.
The headlights on the Ibiza are new, too, and the swage line gives the car a muscular, confident stance. Face-on and from the front-three-quarters angle, the Ibiza FR looks great, dishing up enough sporty features to keep the warm hatch brigade happy without alienating more shy and retiring buyers who would go for the more conservative colours. It’s not in-yer-face design and perfectly blends Hispanic flair with Germanic quality and solidity. The FR badges on the front grille and boot let the more discerning admirers know that this is the ‘special’ model from the Ibiza range and the LED lights integrated into the swooping headlight clusters look fantastic.
The side profile of the new Ibiza 5-door FR doesn’t look bad either, the swage line, kicked-up rear window, privacy glass and side skirts catching one’s eye, with the optional 17” Tagus wheels filling the flared arches nicely. All the lines and creases incorporated into the Ibiza’s sides flow cohesively to the rear. Okay, the back isn’t quite as aggressive and sporty as the Ibiza FR’s new face but the FR logo, twin chrome exhaust, crisp light clusters and actually-quite-attractive black bumper finish the car off suitably well. As ever, the large SEAT logo on the back acts as the boot release. And the design of the rear comes alive in the dark, with beautiful strips of LEDs which form a ‘tick’ effect.
The new SEAT Ibiza FR 5-door certainly does it for me in the design stakes and when you think about its realistic rivals like the Vauxhall Corsa, Ford Fiesta, Suzuki Swift, MINI, Peugeot 208, Renault Clio, Citroen C3, Fiat Punto and the Kia Rio, the Ibiza holds its head high with pride, looking equally as good as, if not slightly better than, the best of them.
Are you SEATed comfortably?
Has the solid quality associated with cars from the upper tiers of the Volkswagen Group trickled down to the SEAT range and this latest Ibiza? Yes, it has, from the thudding doors and tight panels to the sturdy if slightly sombre interior. The sports bucket seats were surprisingly brilliant, providing a lot of support but managing to not be overly hard either. The driver’s seat is handily height adjustable and the red stitching brought some sporty flair to the cabin. I just wish the seats were electrically adjustable. The flat-bottomed sports steering wheel bears an FR badge and red stitching and the FR spec’ also gives you a leather gearstick gaiter. But that’s where the sporty touches end, really. In the same ilk as Skoda vRS models, the Ibiza FR I drove was definitely conservative inside. No bad thing, though, unless you’re someone who likes flamboyant interiors like the Kia Soul Hunter’s tartan seats.
Space in the front was decent enough for a relatively small car, but oddment storage areas weren’t as plentiful as I would have liked, being mainly restricted to the glovebox and door bins. The handbrake and plastic area it’s seated on along with the 12V socket and cupholders were all rather cheap feeling – not flimsy, but not tactile. The grab handles weren’t damped, either. But all in all, the interior of the new SEAT Ibiza does feel like it will last and is on the whole of a good quality. The red hue to the instruments, climate control and central infotainment system provides a classy aura, the design of the air vents in the centre of the dashboard is attractive, SEAT have used soft touch materials across some of the dashboard and given the FR’s steering binnacle a glossy metallic look. The CD-radio system produced a very good sound indeed with no discernible distortion even when cranked right to the max’ and the digital climate control system worked efficiently, pumping out cool or warm air very promptly after I’d selected it.
I took three passengers on a 30-mile journey and the two tall rear passengers commented that although the headroom could have been slightly better, they found the back seats in the Ibiza FR very comfortable and supportive and they surprisingly had no complaints about legroom – but remember that it was a fairly short journey.
Forgetting the price for a moment, the specification of this 2012 Ibiza FR 5dr was pleasantly high, fitted with cruise control, light and rain sensors, an auto-dimming rear view mirror and auto-folding door mirrors courtesy of the ‘Technology Pack’. The Bluetooth Communications Pack came with USB and AUX sockets, handsfree phone connection with voice control and two dedicated speakers and an adaptor for full iPod integration. The Bluetooth wasn’t as easy to connect to as other systems I’ve used, ironically because it’s a rather more simple system and puts the onus on the phone handset, as the car ‘end’ is always on. A feature I always appreciate is Hill Hold Control, which this FR had, along with Bi-Xenon Adaptive headlights with washers and LED DRLs, which looked great and worked well. Other options fitted to this particular car included privacy glass, rear electric windows which I feel I should mention cost £155, a panoramic glass sunroof and a pre-installed TomTom sat nav which you could shove away in the glovebox whenever you park up or just don’t want to use it.
Practicality & Manoeuvrability
I wasn’t expecting the boot to be up to much, having made a few quick glances into it during the first few days. Then came the usual weekend supermarket shop test and to my pleasant surprise, the SEAT Ibiza 5dr’s boot swallowed our eight usual shopping bags comfortably. Thumbs up there, then – although you might struggle when it comes to fitting a family of four’s suitcases in the boot for a staycation or the like. The actual volume of the standard boot itself is 270 litres, expanding to 601 litres when the split-folding rear seats are flattened. This obviously allows you to carry much larger loads, minus any rear passengers of course – but bear in mind that there’s a pronounced boot lip hindering load-in somewhat, the wheel arches eat into some of the boot space and the exposed yellow foam undersides of the rear seats are a bit ugly. Generally speaking, it’s a good, old-fashioned, ‘does what it says on the tin’ kind of boot, with no fancy storage boxes in its walls, no bag hooks or the like, but is of a reasonably good size for a small warm hatch like this. Folding the back seats down is a doddle and a space saver tyre is stored under the boot floor.
Manoeuvring the 5dr SEAT Ibiza FR was aided by means of its good turning circle (10.48m to be precise), good visibility and compact dimensions. This press car wasn’t specified with parking sensors, but you can get by without them on a car like this. The steering was nicely weighted at slow, town-driving speeds, so it wasn’t an effort to thread the Ibiza FR in and out of tight spaces and the modestly-sized 45-litre fuel tank will see you through plenty of miles thanks to the car’s excellent fuel consumption. The Ibiza FR 5dr is therefore an ideal car for singletons, couples or small families.
On the road
A warm hatch like the SEAT Ibiza FR, and especially one as daringly-coloured as this one, had better perform well. And fortunately for the latest FR 2.0 TDI, it does. The clutch and pedals were nicely positioned and had a good feel to them, which definitely helps for starters. The 2-litre, 143PS diesel engine isn’t the most muted out there, but if you’re at all familiar with VAG engines, you’ll have expected that like I did. The gearstick itself felt a bit flimsy but the actual gear changes and 6-speed gearbox were very smooth, which is something that can either make or break one’s bonding with a car. In this case, it helped make it. The gear ratios seemed sensibly programmed, too, whether I drove sportily or sedately. Gears one to four are set up for brisk progress, with the longer-ratio fifth and sixth gears reserved for achieving that excellent fuel economy on the open road.
What with the FR badges, more aggressive styling and ‘look at me’ colour, I just couldn’t help myself but push the Ibiza FR from the off. And I must say that considering a 2.0 TDI engine was providing the power, it was a positive experience. There is a bit of diesel clatter, yes, but the exhaust note’s reasonably decent at the same time – and boy, the engine was pretty punchy. Generous power was on tap in all the gears, allowing you to either sprint away from the lights, pull quite nicely to execute audacious overtaking moves on A-roads and motorways and climb steep gradients without having to worry too much about dropping down the gears. A lot of the Ibiza FR’s ability to pick up its skirts and build up speed nicely is down to the impressive 320Nm of torque from the 143PS engine, combined with the smooth 6-speed manual gearbox. The quoted 8.2 seconds to get to 62mph sounds and feels about right and the Ibiza FR will apparently do a top speed of 130mph. The chunky sports steering wheel is attached to a well-balanced and weighted electro-mechanical, speed-sensitive steering setup which promotes confidence in you to chuck the Ibiza FR 5dr round bends.
If you like pushing a car to its limits (or to the boundaries of your own limitations, more like) you’ll encounter a bit of understeer, but the majority of drivers won’t notice it, as the Ibiza FR 2.0 TDI dishes up a lot of fun even with driven a long way short of its capabilities. It’s the Ibiza range’s sporty offering so yes, the ride has been firmed up on the FR, but I honestly didn’t find it bone-shaking and thought the car tackled the UK’s pothole-ridden roads very well, not crashing into potholes with any annoying jarring, but biffing through them with confidence. The firm ride naturally works wonders on the twisty stuff, too, the FR sitting 15mm lower than other model variants and having a stiffer anti-roll bar fitted. I’ve driven several other hot or warm versions of various makes and models in recent months and was impressed by the Ibiza, which was more immediately engaging that the Fiesta Metal which really needed pushing hard to get any sporty satisfaction out of it, as did the Skoda Octavia vRS in fact. I didn’t find the Ibiza FR diesel quite as engaging and addictive as the Suzuki Swift Sport, but admittedly the SSS is a different kettle of fish – and what the Ibiza FR 2.0 TDI does bring to the table by way of USPs is frugality, punchiness and a sprinkling of Iberian individuality. Just ignore the gear change indicator and trust your own instincts, whilst realising that the Ibiza FR isn’t a rev-mad kind of car so there’s no gain to be had from pushing it into the red. Just let the mid-band torque do its thing and you’ll be happy.
SEAT publish a combined fuel consumption figure of 60.1mpg and I was pleasantly surprised to have averaged 56.1mpg over the course of the week, which included a lot of spirited driving. The 45mpg I always saw on the display when tootling around town is equally close to SEAT’s official urban figure of 47.1mpg. CO2 emissions are fairly good at 123g/km, it sits in road tax band D so costs you nothing for the first year, servicing is every 12 months or 10,000 miles (and shouldn’t prove expensive, from my experience with SEAT main dealers) and BIK is 18%.
The new SEAT Ibiza FR 2.0 TDI 5dr looks great, if not as sporty as its SC sibling nor indeed the new Cupra when it comes out. It offers the practicality of having decently-proportioned doors and reasonable amounts of space for rear passengers over short and medium journeys, combined with a more than ample boot. It’s let down a little by some poor interior plastics but does feel robust and is ergonomically sound with a good driving position and plenty of standard and optional kit. The 2-litre diesel engine is standard VAG fare but suits the small Ibiza well, giving it plenty of punchy torque and a fairly fun driving experience. It’s definitely a warm hatch as opposed to a truly hot one, so it’s best not to compare it with the Clio RenaultSport nor any of the other hot hatch greats, leaving the Ibiza Cupra to tackle those boys. The £16,840 base price of the Ibiza FR 2.0 TDI 5dr I tested puts it at the top of price band for small warm hatches and the total price after options of just over £20,000 does make the Ibiza 5dr FR expensive, costing about £1,000-£1,500 more than rivals carrying the same options. But which of them offer a powerful 2-litre diesel engine putting out 143PS whilst returning a combined MPG figure of 60.1? Perhaps only the equivalent MINI, which costs slightly more. This sets the Ibiza FR 5dr diesel apart and certainly means it’s worth considering if you’ve got a child or two and do a lot of miles. Overall, a very good effort from SEAT.
© Oliver Hammond
Motoring Writer, Road Test Reviewer & Car Consultant
Specification of the New SEAT Ibiza 5dr FR 2.0 TDI 143PS tested in this review
Engine: 1,560cc, 4-cylinder diesel
Transmission: 6-speed manual
Max Output: 112bhp
Max Torque: 270 lb ft
Top Speed: 112mph
0-60mph: 13.6 seconds
Combined fuel economy: 53.3mpg
Fuel tank capacity: 60 litres
CO2 Emissions: 135g/km
Gross Weight: 2,030kg
Max Towing Weight (braked): 1,300kg
Boot capacity: 512 litres (rear seats up), 1,604 litres (rear seats down, brimmed to the roof)
Dimensions: 4,365mm long, 1,836mm wide including mirrors, 1,639mm high
Standard Specification includes (but not limited to):
Height adjustable passenger and driver’s seats
12V accessory socket in centre console
Height and reach adjustable steering wheel
Auxiliary input socket
Isofix system on outer rear seats
Body colour door handles, mirrors and bumpers
LED tail lights
Leather steering wheel and gear knob with red stitching
Child locks on rear doors and Deadlocks
MP3, AM/FM radio, (single) CD player, four speakers
Coming home lights
One touch electric windows (front)
Air conditioning with pollen filter
Remote central locking
Driver and passenger airbags
SEAT logo boot release
Electric headlight adjustment
Electro-mechanical, speed-sensitive power steering
Electrically adjustable and heated door mirrors
Split folding rear seats
FR Sports seats
Sports suspension (15mm lower)
Audio controls mounted on steering wheel
Front seatback pockets
Front side airbags
Twin chrome exhaust pipes
Tyre repair kit
Options fitted to this particular press vehicle:
17” Tagus alloy wheels £150
Space-saving spare wheel £95
Climate control £310
Technology Pack (cruise control, light sensor, rain-sensing wipers, auto-dimming rear view mirror, electric folding mirrors) £550
Bluetooth Communications Pack and USB/AUC port with handsfree phone connection, voice control and two additional speakers, plus adaptor for full iPod integration £410
Hill Hold Control and tyre pressure monitoring £50
Bi-Xenon headlights (Adaptive Front Lighting System – AFS) £765
Dark tinted windows £155
Rear electric windows £155
Panoramic glass sunroof £490
Navigation pre-installation for TomTom sat nav £40