Sales of most new hot hatches in Ireland have been killed off by a combination of high taxation and the current economic climate. It doesn't help that the majority of car buyers are obsessed with diesel power. SEAT does offer a TDI version of the Ibiza FR, but this petrol-powered model is a sweeter proposition.
Inside & Out: 4.5/5
The recently updated Ibiza looks particularly well in FR specification. As standard there's a unique FR body kit, double chrome exhaust, tinted rear windows, body-coloured door mirrors and handles, front fog lights and darkened headlight surrounds, along with distinctive LED rear lamps, reduced ride height and 16-inch alloy wheels. The test car came with a gorgeous set of 17-inch wheels that aren't cheap at €1,600 - and that bright red paintwork is €148, though arguably worth it. If you're more concerned with image than practicality go for the even sportier looking three-door SC variant.
Inside, FR models gain height adjustable front sports seats, a sporty leather steering wheel with a flat bottom and a matching FR-specific gearstick. It's a neat makeover for an already quite appealing car and the FR additions don't detract from the spaciousness or versatility - a split fold seat is standard for instance.
Engine & Transmission: 3.5/5
First up it may come as a surprise initially to find that this car has a five-speed manual gearbox. The engine's torque delivery means it's all that's needed most of the time, though if you plan on spending a lot of kilometres on the motorway you may miss a tall top ratio. Presumably the seven-speed DSG automatic option covers that.
Our initial impression of the engine was that it didn't feel all that much quicker than the non-turbocharged 1.2-litre unit, but as soon as you move away from town and use more of the rev range it comes alive. This engine really likes to be extended and rewards the driver with a sporting note and plenty of performance. It certainly lives up to the sporting FR image, which should be thought of as junior hot hatch territory.
Ride & Handling: 4/5
The standard Ibiza has a great mix of handling, body control and comfort so it's to be expected that the FR model, with sports suspension, tips the balance towards sportiness - and it does. The ride is a little choppier, which, given that the test car had even lower profile tyres than standard, is understandable. However, it's not truly uncomfortable. Indeed, the biggest effect of the wide tyres is noticeably more road noise on the motorway.
As ever the Ibiza is quick to change direction, offers a modicum of feel through the steering wheel and is generally fun to drive. The FR version turns that all up a notch without alienating relatively inexperienced drivers. Indeed, it's fitted with an arsenal of acronyms aimed at keeping the car on the road - including SEAT's XDS system, which uses the brakes to mimic the action of a mechanical limited slip differential.
Equipment, Economy & Value for Money: 4.5/5
Before we look at the equipment included with the FR model, it's worth noting that this junior hot hatch slots into Band A for tax and, when you're not using all the performance on offer, returns impressively low fuel consumption figures. No full-on hot hatch of the moment can get close.
So what's standard? The interior and exterior FR enhancements already mentioned above, plus the Bluetooth, USB and aux-in connectivity and air conditioning found in the Ibiza Style. We struggled to find many rivals on sale in Ireland that have the same mix of performance and sporty image as the FR.