Seat's not built a city car since the Arosa (itself twinned with the VW Lupo). Now history's repeating itself, with the simultaneous launches of the VW Up, Seat Mii and Skoda Citigo. Here we review one of the toppier Seat Mii models, the higher-powered 74bhp in what should equate to a UK-bound SE spec.
Buying a Mii is a simple choice. They don't (and won't) bother with diesel options, leaving a pair of outputs to pick from the identical 1.0-litre three-cylinder: choose your triple with 59 or 74bhp. It's a lightweight engine, tipping in at just 69kg.
It’s pretty diddy, the Seat Mii?
Yes, this is a proper city car. It's just 3557mm long, but what marks out the VW group's new small car entrant is just how much of that footprint is in the wheelbase: a whopping 2420mm stretches between the front and rear axles, giving the Mii a squat stance and freeing up plenty of space in between for bodies. An Aygo's wheelbase is 2340mm, by comparison.
The packaging is pretty clever, then. The boot offers 251 litres of space, considerably up on what you'll find in an Aygo/107/C1 (they swallow 139 litres of baggage), but it still looks quite cramped in the loadbay. Thing is, the Mii's boot is deep with a false bottom; a quick shuffle of partitions, and there's not bad room in a car so small.
As you play around with the boot and open doors, something quickly strikes you: the Mii is very well built. It has a tactile, feelgood quality to it - from the way the door thunks shut to the fit and finish inside. If this is what parts sharing and economies of scale mean in Wolfsburg, then it's great news for Seat.
Bet there's no room inside a Mii though?
It's fine up front. Even very tall drivers will get comfortable (CAR's own man mountain, Georg Kacher, can). But you can ignore what Seat claims about this being a full four-seater. It might have 94.7cm of rear headroom according to the blurb, but in the real world you'll have to detach your legs and hunker down, unless you still call teachers 'sir'.
Even Seat can't rewrite the rules of physics. Compact city cars will never offer spacious accommodation in both rows. Until now, they've struggled to feel upmarket, too, but I think the Mii feels warm and inviting inside.
There's a flash of body colour paint on the door tops, but the cabin is dominated by the gun metal grey strip across the dashboard. Switchgear is simple and noted for its minimalism. This is a modern, neat cabin. Our car had the effective Portable System sat-nav - an option costing around £350 in the UK. It's like a mini tablet computer that sits atop the dash, giving you directions or beaming up reversing instructions (yes, unfathomably, our Mii had parking sensors).
The touch-screen multimedia interface works well, plays your tunes, promises app functionality in future and can be taken with you. Rather than locking you in to the hardware in the car, it could in theory be upgraded cheaply and easily in future as computing power changes. We like that.
So what's the new Seat Mii like to drive?
Start up and there's a thrummy three-cylinder chortle which never really disappears. This 1.0 dominates the driving experience. I enjoyed its characterful rasping, but others may find it all a bit too much like a textile factory sewing machine in a Taiwan sweat shop.
Considering we drove the higher powered model, we wonder how breathless the 59bhp version will be. You have to rev the 74bhp 1.0 hard at times, but it is perfectly judged for town duties. All the major controls work seamlessly and the five-speed transmission and pedals make city driving a cinch.
If I had to single out one aspect of the Mii's dynamics that I thought worked best it would be the ride. Our car rode on 15in alloys (the largest diameter available) and although I kept aiming deliberately at Barcelona's worst potholes, I just couldn't deflect the Mii's composure. It rides like a much bigger car should. Its pliancy and control felt like something wearing a Blue Oval.
So should I buy a Seat Mii?
Starting at around £7500 when the first UK Miis land in May 2012, it's priced some £500 below a VW Up. And this time there's price parity between the Skoda and Seat. This will therefore become the joint cheapest way into an Up.
Seat is gunning for a 3% share of the UK city car market, which means they could end up flogging 6000 Miis a year. Buyers who do will be on to a good thing. If you remove the stylistic preferences, all three VW group city cars do a fine job and it might boil down to the vagaries of kit and how friendly your nearest dealer is.
All Seat Miis come with twin front and side airbags, anti-lock brakes, day running lights, Isofix, a CD player which talks to your MP3 player, an immobiliser and height-adjustable steering wheel. You can obviously start flashing cash on things like an auto-brake crash prevention system, but you'd probably spec up to an Ibiza or beyond if you wanted more toys.
The new Seat Mii is a great reminder how lucky Seat is to be in the VW fold. It could never afford to develop a city car this well engineered on its own. Motoring anoraks may regret how Volkswagen toned down the rear-engined concept, but on first taste the Mii hits the spot with its conventional recipe.
Have a good look if you want a tiny tot capable of 60mpg, with polished execution and prices below £8k. Thanks to low depreciation forecast, cars like this offer some of the cheapest new-car motoring on offer today.
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