Ibiza is famous for being Spain’s party capital, full of enormous nightclubs and booze-filled bars. But there’s another side to the island – a grown-up, refined landscape of traditional Spanish architecture and wide open spaces.
Cars can rarely match this contrast of styles, but it’s something the island’s namesake – a small hatchback built by Seat – has to achieve if it’s to compete with the class-leading Ford Fiesta. Like the Ford, the new Ibiza has to be great to drive, but it still needs to deal with the rigours of everyday life by being comfortable, spacious and well built.
Of course, being a product of the Volkswagen stable, the Ibiza has got the grown-up stuff sorted. The 355-litre boot, for example, is larger than that of the Skoda Fabia and even the cavernous Honda Jazz, let alone the Fiesta. It’s roomy in the cabin, too, with enough space for four adults, although they probably wouldn’t want to be there on a long journey.
And, naturally, the build quality is impeccable. Everything feels well screwed together, although it must be said that some of the plastics feel a bit thin, as if the car has been built down to a price. The massive piece of trim across the dashboard, for example, seems to have come from a wheelie bin.
In the centre of the dashboard, however, there’s a new infotainment system that certainly wasn’t found in an alley at the back of the factory. As standard, it’s a five-inch touchscreen unit, but more generously equipped cars get the full-blown eight-inch screen.
Either way, there’s more clarity to the display than in the old Ibiza, and although proper push-buttons have largely been eschewed, we’re glad they’ve kept the volume knob. We’re less pleased about the knob itself, though, because the power icon on the top turns with the rotary control. Turn the volume up or down and you leave the logo irritatingly off-centre. On the whole, though, the Ibiza’s interior is a fine place to spend time.
But if you thought Seat had done a good job of the interior, just check out the exterior. Okay, it isn’t a great leap forwards compared with the old Ibiza, but it’s still a handsome car. The Leon-inspired design is crisp and modern, and it probably won’t age badly, either. It looks particularly good from the rear, where the car looks wide, planted and purposeful.
Under the skin, though, we’re less convinced. Beneath the sharp Seat suit, the Ibiza uses much the same mechanical components as the VW Polo and Skoda Fabia. That’s no great problem – there’s nothing wrong with either car – but neither is particularly inspiring. They’re characterised by overly light steering and a general feeling of detachment.
The Ibiza is an improvement, but it still isn’t quite as accomplished as the Fiesta. In the popular and sporty FR trim levels, you get sportier suspension that improves the car’s handling and reduces body roll, but less expensive and mainstream models feel a bit less taut. The trade off, however, is that they are a little more comfortable.
Whichever you go for, though, the biggest let-down will be the steering. It’s incredibly light, which makes it fine for low-speed manoeuvring, but it feels limp and vague at higher speeds. And because it’s electrically assisted, rather than hydraulically, it leaves you with absolutely no sense of what the front wheels are doing.
In fairness, that’s par for the course these days, and there’s no denying that the Ibiza strikes a decent balance between handling and comfort. It’s certainly better than the majority of its rivals, but the Fiesta has set the bar incredibly high, and the Seat just falls short.
The engines, too, fall slightly short of the best. The entry-level unit is a 1.0-litre three-cylinder petrol, which boasts a mere 74bhp and manages 0-62mph in just under 15 seconds. And it really does feel as slow as it sounds, especially when it’s struggling to get up to speed on the motorway. It should be fine if you’re only going to use it around town, but you’re going to need more if you’re planning on hitting the open road.
Fortunately, Seat is offering much more. Admittedly, most of the range is still made up of 1.0-litre three-cylinder petrol engines, but they have been turbocharged, so they produce 94 or 113bhp depending on which variant you opt for. The 113bhp motor is the more convincing of the two, but neither can match Ford’s EcoBoost 1.0-litre or Peugeot-Citroen’s PureTech 1.2 for refinement.
On paper, the Ibiza’s engine isn’t as efficient as the others, either. Both the 108bhp Peugeot 208 1.2 PureTech 110 and the 99bhp Fiesta 1.0 EcoBoost 100 return 65.7mpg, whereas the Ibiza can only manage 60.1mpg. Of course, these are lab-based figures and you’re unlikely to meet any of them in the real world, but it makes bleak reading for Seat.
Fortunately, there is more economy on offer. The 94bhp 1.6-litre diesel engine feels meatier than its petrol counterpart and, for those covering long distances, the 74.3mpg thirst will be most welcome.
If you fancy something more powerful, Seat can offer that, too. The new 1.5-litre Evo petrol engine produces 148bhp – enough for 0-62mph in less than eight seconds – but because the engine can switch off two of its four cylinders when they aren’t needed, it can return an impressive 57.6mpg.
The pricing is even more competitive. At £14,255, the basic Ibiza is slightly more expensive than the cheapest Fiesta, but because the Seat isn’t available as a three-door, it’s a slightly unfair comparison. Compare it with the equivalent Ford, and the Spanish car is marginally cheaper.
It isn’t a poverty-spec car, either. Okay, that money will only buy you the sluggish 74bhp petrol, but alloy wheels, Bluetooth connectivity and air conditioning are all included, as well as media controls on the steering wheel and automatic emergency braking to help prevent accidents.
Further up the range, a top-of-the-line diesel will set you back almost £20,000, but it does come with satellite navigation, Alcantara seats and climate control.
All in all, then, the Ibiza is a solid, well-priced supermini – a real contender in its segment – but it doesn’t quite do enough to kick the Fiesta off the top spot.