► All-new Seat Ibiza supermini tested
► Bloods new VW group small car platform
► On UK sale July 2017, from £12,915
The new Seat Ibiza is a big deal, for a small car. As a product, it’s conceived to deliver significantly more space despite being smaller than the outgoing car, and a bigger car’s refinement and tech features.
At corporate level, the Ibiza – here in its fifth generation – is Seat’s heartbeat, the muscle that propels young customers into the brand and must continue to drive the Spanish firm’s financial turnaround. And at a group level, the Ibiza introduces Volkswagen’s new MQB-A0 ‘platform’, the oily bits that will underpin the new-generation Polo/Audi A1/Skoda Fabia, as well as a host of small SUVs that can’t come soon enough. It’s a big deal, that’s for sure.
Is Volkswagen marketing alphabet soup among its many brands?
Sounds that way, given MQB-A0 (that last character is a zero, by the way) is a bit of a mouthful. The last time the group made such a big hurrah about a new components set was the MQB platform under the 2012 Golf. Think of A0 as a shrunken version of MQB to underpin smaller cars. It shares its principles: transverse engine and front-wheel drive, dimensional flexibility to differentiate multiple brands’ cars while allowing them to be pooled on production lines, and advances in torsional stiffness, engines and technology.
Seat’s Alejandro Mesonero is a design chief who obsesses about good proportions, making his team start with an unadorned clay in the quest for a simple, dynamic outline. MQB-A0 helps to this end by pushing the wheels out to the corners of the car, with an extra 95mm of wheelbase compared with the outgoing car. The Ibiza’s width is stretched by a similar amount, although the supermini is a hair’s breadth shorter and lower than its predecessor.
The function behind this form is utterly evident inside: no rubbing shoulders with the driver, no contact with the seat in front for a six-footer’s knees behind an equally tall fellow. There’s sufficient headroom in the back too, and the 355-litre boot is up there with the class best. It augers well for the space efficiency of the forthcoming Polo and A1 (the latter of which will be built at Seat’s Martorell plant), but don’t expect identical dimensions: Mesonero’s lobbying unlocked the investment to move the Ibiza’s windscreen pillar 90mm rearwards, for example, to enhance the stance with a longer bonnet.
Triangular lamp motifs – fully LED as a £480 option – immediately mark out the Ibiza as a member of the Seat family, while the design chief is proud of the bodywork’s crisp lines which subtly join elements together. So the bonnet crease flows from the A-pillar across the bonnet, then alongside the grille to accentuate it, before the arrowhead retreats towards the foglamps. Maybe it’s just me, but I found myself following the lines as intently as I would on the London Underground map. Okay, it’s just me.
Stop making me do lines! How does it drive?
Exuding poise, precision and purpose, it drives in the customary Seat manner. We spent most time in the 1.0-litre TSI, a turbocharged and intercooled three-cylinder petrol with 94 or 113bhp in our case. This blown 1.0 is likely to be the best-seller in the UK. You need to use the accurate and satisfying six-speed manual to keep it in the sweet spot above 2000rpm, where it produces 148lb ft of shove; climb past 4000 revs for a sweet three-cylinder growl. Performance is fine for nipping through the city, but carrying three middle-aged blokes up the mountain roads above Barcelona required plenty of downshifts to usher us forward. Opt for the new 1.5-litre Evo engine to pick up the pace with more grunt (184lb ft from 1500rpm): the 148bhp unit is punchy and smooth, if – like many of today’s turbocharged fours – not particularly sonorous.
The Ibiza feels at home on those mountain roads. The first indication of that big car feel comes from the steering, which is pretty light but responsive and reassuringly metronomic in its weighting. An optional driving mode adds a little heft (and sharpens throttle response), but these are gains so marginal even Sir Dave Brailsford might not bother with them. Tip the nose into a corner, and it’s steadier than Angela Merkel’s centrist beliefs: the 215/45 R17 Michelins grip and the balanced chassis sweetly sweeps through. Body roll is well contained, and the suspension – MacPherson strut front, torsion beam rear – is completely untroubled on these smooth roads. You have to really go for it in a corner to trigger more wayward roll, or to make a wheel lift and spin away power.
The impression is of a stable, sporty car with a pretty comfortable ride, but with the caveat of me recalling only one demanding pothole, which the Ibiza navigated with aplomb. Cruising on the motorway, there’s barely a rustle of wind, and the tyres produce just a gentle hum. Torsional rigidity improved by 30% has helped deliver the advances in refinement and driving precision, says Seat. It is indeed a civilised supermini.
Presumably it’s got more gadgets than an Amazon warehouse…?
There’s technology aplenty on the new Ibiza, but unlike Nissan’s new Micra, the Ibiza doesn’t flaunt it with lots of switches and unusual kit. The dashboard feels quite barren, especially with the ‘mystic magenta’ fascia which deposits an overbearing slab of angular gold/beige across the cockpit. Marooned within it on Ibiza FR, SE Tech and Xcellence models is a super-sharp 8-inch touchscreen, the same as in VW’s facelifted Golf, to control most functions including the standard navigation (though there are traditional knobs for the standard air-con). The top two trims have Apple, Android and MirrorLink capability for safely operating smartphones – Seat is focusing on connectivity to meet the demands of its young (and older) customers.
Like the new Micra, the Ibiza includes standard Front Assist automatic braking if you’re heading for a rear-ender, and optional 360-degree view of your parking from cameras mounted around the car. Adapative Cruise Control is standard on FR and Xcellence models, while a seven-speed dual-clutch automatic is optional on the 113bhp petrol and 1.6-litre diesel. Spec DSG and you can get the optional Traffic Jam Assist enabling autonomous stop and go driving in congestion.
The Ibiza costs from £12,915 for the entry level S with a 1.0-litre naturally aspirated engine and five-speed ‘box; our 1.0-litre TSI with FR trim – including sports bodykit and suspension, plus thin but comfy sports seats – retails for £16,630. This time it’s only available as five-door hatch; the next model is a higher-riding small SUV, the Arona, which follows towards the end of the year.
Seat’s new Ibiza is an extremely polished car – as you would expect from a company blooding a new platform forged by the r&d might of Volkswagen group. It feels a more mature proposition than Nissan’s eager and tech-packed new Micra, and more rounded than Citroën’s cute and comfortable C3. But of course the new Ford Fiesta and the Polo, Seat’s Volkswagen cousin, are just around the corner. Regardless, the Ibiza is a compelling mix of handsome looks and stable, willing chassis, decent refinement and sophisticated technology. Seems like the supermini named after the party isle just grew up.