All new SEAT Ibiza supermini makes good use of Volkswagen's new small car platform and is now a very polished performer. So much so that it dares to step on the toes of its big brother, the SEAT Leon.
In the metal
We've given the Ibiza three stars here, not because it isn't handsome or good looking (it is both), but because it is a touch too derivative, which holds it back in this arena. It's more or less the same size as the old Ibiza, overall, though has a longer wheelbase and it's a little wider than before. Thanks to that, and the fact that it follows the styling of the SEAT Leon very closely, you could easily mistake it for the larger car, even close up. The rest of the styling is a bit of a mishmash of current SEAT and Volkswagen Group design cues. The angled headlights and slim grille from the Leon and Ateca, the rear lights very similar to those of a Volkswagen Polo, the ridges on the bonnet quite like those on the new Audi A5 Coupe. Again, there's nothing unpleasant to the eye here, and in mildly warmed up FR trim, it looks really quite nice, but there's nothing new here either. It's a generic SEAT, but perhaps seeing as SEAT is still trying to build its brand as a whole, rather than bling up the styling of an individual model, that's forgivable.
The cabin is even more successful, and in contrast to the grey and cheap-feeling interior of the old Ibiza, it might actually be the strongest point of this new model. The dials, instrument binnacle and steering wheel are all more or less lifted from the Leon and they look, for the most part, classy and of high quality. High quality is a pretty good summation of the entire cabin, actually - cheap, grey plastic is notable only by its absence. Thanks to riding on Volkswagen's new 'MQB-A0' platform, SEAT's engineers have been able to extend the Ibiza's wheelbase by 96mm, and increase the width by 87mm, without the overall length or height of the car growing. That means you get a roomier interior than before, and rear seat space approaches that of the larger Leon. Plus, the boot holds a useful 355 litres, so while SEAT says it's untroubled about the possibility of the Ibiza poaching sales from the Leon, it looks like it might yet be something of a problem.
Thanks to the MQB-A0 platform, there's also a lot more tech present in the cabin, and this is an area in which SEAT says it wants to take a lead. The Spanish company claims to have the youngest buyer base in Europe (with a claimed average age 10 years lower than the industry average) and that these buyers, as well as wanting sporty dynamics and attractive styling, mostly covet connectivity. So, our test car was equipped with a snazzy new eight-inch touch screen infotainment system that supports Apple CarPlay and Android Auto, and there are high tech options such as emergency braking with pedestrian protection and active cruise control that can deal with slow, trickling traffic. For a model that was once quite crude and cheap-feeling, the Ibiza is suddenly a great deal more sophisticated.
The old SEAT Ibiza was reasonably good fun to chuck around the place, but it was a crude device, suffering from poor refinement and a rock-hard ride quality on anything other than tiny wheels. The new Ibiza erases all of that, and is one of the slickest small cars to drive, right now. It starts with light, accurate steering that's short on road feel (indeed, true feedback is almost entirely absent), but long on speed across its locks and good behaviour when making fast direction changes. It doesn't talk to the driver much, but you can place the Ibiza with beautiful precision on twisty roads. The ride quality is much improved too. FR models are a touch on the firm side, thanks to stiffer, sportier suspension components and larger wheels, but the range-topping XCellence version has slightly softer settings, which makes progress slightly more comfy over all but the sharpest bumps. Spanish roads are in generally much better nick than ours, but we found a few pot-holed patches that suggest the Ibiza will overall be much gentler to your spine and your nerves than before.
Refinement is also significantly better than before. Tyre noise is much reduced, and the 1.0-litre three-cylinder turbocharged petrol engine emits a pleasing gruff growl at low rpm before becoming admirably quiet when cruising on main roads. It's definitely the pick of the new Ibiza's engine range, with official 60mpg economy (which feels as if you might get close to that level in real driving) and CO2 emissions of just 108g/km. Mind you, don't dismiss the 1.5-litre in 150hp form, either. It will doubtless be an expensive model, but a brief test drive showed it to be exceptionally refined and punchy, and it could make an excellent choice for those who fancy trading down from the Leon, but want to keep a bit of poke. It's also a good choice for those seeking to dump diesel.
What you get for your money
We do know that Seat in Ireland will offer the new Ibiza in S, SE, X-Cellence and FR trims, but we don't yet know what the prices or standard equipment levels will be. Our test cars were fully-loaded FR or X-Cellence models, which included the active cruise control, eight-inch touchscreen, rear view camera, parking sensors. A basic S model (which does come with standard forward collision alert) starts at a very competitive €14,995 for the 75hp 1.0-litre three-cylinder petrol model. Want the 1.0-litre TSI? Then you'll have to upgrade to an €18,745 1.0 TSI 95hp SE. High-spec XCellence models start at €18,745 while a range-topping 1.0 TSI 115hp in sporty FR spec will be €20,185. Diesel models (1.6 TDI engines in 80hp and 95hp forms) and the very-smooth new 1.5 TSI 150hp petrol will arrive towards the end of the year.
We need to see prices and final specs before coming to a complete conclusion, but the new SEAT Ibiza hatchback is looking exceptionally impressive at this first meeting.