SEAT Ibiza FR: young at heart

IF you got a prize for counting how many SEAT Ibizas you see on any given trip round town, you’d probably run out of fingers to count on – and toes too.

The popular Spanish supermini has long been one of their best sellers because even though rivals like the Fiesta and Corsa have, in name anyway, been around longer, there are still plenty of us with an eye for a car that offers good value for our money.

I’ll hold my hand up here and admit I’m one of those who looked, compared, and bought a bright red Ibiza SC as our family runabout – and I’m kind of wishing I hadn’t.

Not because there’s anything wrong with the car – far from it. But with every decision you make, as sure as Ferrari will once again lose the F1 championship, a few months later something better will appear to have you kicking the garage door in anguish.

In my case, with this week’s test car, it’s the engine. There’s not much wrong with the 1.4 engine in my car – it’s economical, nippy when you need it. But with 200cc less and state-of-the-art turbocharging, the 105ps 1.2 in the five door FR we’ve been sampling is so much better all round.

105ps against 84ps for the 1.4, 175Nm of torque against 132, 118mph versus 110, 43.5 urban v 35.5 – getting the picture? That torque figure is available from just 1550rpm so it’s more on the button than Jenson and very responsive.

FR trim level is the sporty alternative in the SEAT empire (others available on Ibiza are E, S A/C and SE), and obviously that means a top of the range price – £13,965 in this instance, and with over £3,000 worth of extras added on top that makes for an expensive supermini. For your cash you get exclusive FR touches like twin exhausts, sports seats, sports suspension, leather clad steering wheel and gearknob, 16 inch alloys and signature FR interior elements.

What the Ibiza does, with a five star performance, is make a good fist of being an economical and user friendly small hatch.

It’s a very neat little car with a mildly refettled exterior design that’s even sharper than before with revised head and tail lights, bumpers and the front grille. It remains stylish and distinctive, and in five door form has that touch more practicality than the three door.

Inside there’s a new three spoke steering wheel, flat bottomed on FR variants and with neat red stitching which also extends to the seats, new instrument graphics that are easier to read, although the warm but fuzzy red lighting on the switchgear remains, and the climatronic unit has been updated. There’s also an much enlarged glovebox, because quite simply the previous offering just wasn’t big enough. Now the lid can securely hold a pen, mobile phone, credit cards, tickets, without impacting on the storage space inside. Otherwise there’s not a lot of change inside – radical revisions were not required.

The 1.2 engine sampled here never has to be worked hard to get the best from it, because it always sees ready, willing and able to do its job.

The handling is as sharp as the bodywork. There’s a lovely light clutch and equally deft five speed gearbox that work in harmony with the speed sensitive electro-mechanical power steering – very positive when you need to change direction – and that helps to make manoeuvering in town traffic or  zipping along a country road a far less taxing experience than it sometimes can be.

The very efficient brakes are ventilated all round with larger discs at the front. And models with 100ps or more have the innovative XDS system, which uses the ESC system to mimic the effects of a limited slip diff. In effect, a bit of fine tuning of the software ensures maximum traction at all times without the weight penalty of extra components.

Ibiza is a car with a decidedly youthful appeal, and the latest revisions will keep it on the radar of car buyers looking for a sensibly priced car with sporty credentials that’s fun to drive.

FASTFACTS: SEAT Ibiza FR 1.2 TSI 5 door; £13,965; 4 cylinder 1197cc 105ps, 175Nm; Top speed


 118mph, 0-62 9.8 secs; Fuel: urban 43.5, extra urban 64.2, combined 55.4; CO2: 119g/km; Insurance: 12E.


Wheelwrite 2012