Earlier this year in Geneva, SEAT unveiled their fifth generation of their most iconic car, the all-new Ibiza. Since it was first introduced in 1984, the manufacturer has managed to shift more than 5.4 million SEAT Ibiza cars, and at one stage, the car itself proved to be better known than the brand that actually made it.
This generation, according to the manufacturer, is going to be the best Ibiza in history. After just a day with it, I would tend to agree. The new Ibiza comes at a great time for SEAT. As a brand, they are currently riding a wave of "better-than-ever" figures. Last year was their best ever year, and so far 2017 is up 14.5% month-on-month. So, with this positive news, it makes sense to re-ignite the sales of their most popular car.
To be honest, it's not at all surprising to see SEAT celebrating successes over the last couple of years. They have been on somewhat of a product offensive. The Ateca, the LEON and now the Ibiza have been key cars for the brand. The Ateca has put them in a great spot in the SUV segment - you'd be convinced that SEAT had been making them for years - and the LEON is an excellent car (which deserves to be more popular in Ireland). The product offensive won't stop there though. Very soon, we're going to see another new SUV from the brand - a small SUV called Arona. Then, to complete their SUV family, they are expected to launch a large SUV in 2018.
While the all-new Ibiza is instantly recognisable as an Ibiza, every bit of it has changed. To begin with, the car now sits on Volkswagen Group's newest platform - MQB A0. SEAT are the first in the Group to get to use this modular platform - the Ibiza even gets it before the new Polo.
MQB A0 gives manufacturers more flexibility when they are building their cars and it allows for different body types, sizes and wheelbases to utilise it. This platform improves the performance of the vehicle while offering a lightweight body and massive structural stiffness. Adding to the stability of the car is a wider track, bigger wheels and a superior suspension.
Our test route, which covered approximately 210km, had a mix of windy flat roads, twisty mountain roads and motorway. Where I was most impressed by the Ibiza was with its sharpness. It took bends with ease, it steered well and even the ride was refined. The Ibiza was always a fun car, but now it's even better.
I drove two cars at the launch. Both of them were 1.0 3-cylinder 115hp petrol engines, and both had the DSG 6-speed gearbox. The only difference between the two was that one was the sportier FR trim and the other was the Xcellence trim. For some reason, it seemed that the FR was a little raspier than the Xcellence, but it was confirmed to me at the event that there are no synthetic sounds in the new Ibiza – perhaps it was my imagination. Because the car is powered by a 3-cylinder engine, there is bit of engine growl – especially when you put the foot down. In saying that, it is a very good engine, and seems to be economical too. The bulk of buyers in Ireland will probably opt for the 1.0-litre 75hp or even the 95hp. We will hopefully get to drive them both when they land in Ireland.
I felt that the six-speed DSG gearbox in the SEAT Ibiza 1.0 held onto the gears a little longer than it should when I put extra pressure on it. But without that pressure, the changes are fluid in normal driving conditions. Where this car performs best is definitely on turns and corners. Body control is excellent and testing the car on bendy roads, really shows just how good this new MQB A0 platform is.
As I've said, we only drove the 1.0-litre 115hp. Also available to the Irish market will be a 1.0 75hp and 95hp. At some stage in the future there will be a 1.6 TDI model offering either 80hp or 95hp (95hp will be available with a DSG gearbox). We're not sure whether the diesel choices will be at all popular - it seems that more people are edging towards petrol again when it comes to superminis. Soon, there will also be a much anticipated 1.5-litre TSI engine, which will offer 150hp. We have been told in no uncertain terms that there will be no Cupra edition of the Ibiza.
The exterior of the car has changed significantly too, and I would go as far as saying that this is the best looking car in its segment (followed closely by the underappreciated Mazda2). The new lines are impressive and there is now a more sculpted look to the car. If you're going for one of these - go for the red (Desire Red). This colour really accentuates those lines. The signature headlights add to the sporty character of the car - and if you're happy to spend more than the entry level price, consider the LED lights instead of the entry-level halogen lights.
The tensional lines to the side and the bonnet give the Ibiza an athletic look which is not common within the segment. It's far more exciting. To the front, you might also notice an x-shape around the grille and the registration plate area - it's minor, but does add some more sporty angles to the car.
Inside is nicer than ever before, and SEAT are now making items available with the cars that would not be common to the segment. Our test models, which were the higher-specced FR and Xcellence trims, welcomed us in with an 8-inch touch screen which sat on a two-toned dash. The dashboard is crisp and clean, and it runs from side to side in a straight line. It looks premium. However, the plastics, or the vinyl surrounds, do feel a bit on the cheap side. This is the supermini segment though, and we're not talking about the luxury end of it.
The entry level model comes with a 5-inch touchscreen, Front Assist, Aux-in and USB (unfortunately, Bluetooth only comes as standard from level-two/SE trim). SE also receives a multifunctional steering wheel. All of this stuff is common enough, where things start becoming unique within the segment is when you opt for things like Adaptive Cruise Control, Pedestrian Protection, Tiredness Recognition and multicollision brake. The car is also available with Apple CarPlay, Android Auto and Mirror Link.
On account of the versatility of the new MQB A0 platform, the new Ibiza has been configured to offer more leg room than before. The overhangs to the front and rear of the car are very short, and because the wheels have been pushed closer to the four corners, the interior now offers more room - most notably knee room to the rear. The front is spacious and comfortable and the back will squeeze three adults in – obviously having just two adults in the back would be more comfortable. There is a transmission tunnel back there, but they have done a good job in keeping it low. The SEAT Ibiza also offers the best boot space in its class at 355-litres.
Xcellence and FR are the top of the range choices for Ibiza, and unsurprisingly, they will cost more money. FR gets 17" alloys, tinted rear windows, leather interior and the SEAT drive profile (which allows you to choose your driving mode; Eco, Normal, or Sport). The Xcellence trim also comes with the different driving modes, but it would be less sporty looking than the FR. Both cars feature hill hold assist, tiredness recognition and cruise control.
Prices for the new SEAT Ibiza start from €14,995 for the "S" trim. Pitted against most of its rivals, the Ibiza is competitively priced, especially when you consider that it is only available as a five-door. The next step up is the "SE" trim which starts from €17,335. Xcellence starts from €18,745 and FR (which is our pick of the lot) starts from €19,465.
For a long time, using the term "fun" within this segment usually went only to the Ford Fiesta. I'm now adding the Ibiza to my own fun list. The handling of the new Ibiza really makes it stand out, and of course, it helps that it looks great too.