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SEAT Ibiza 5-door 1.4 SE

Click to view picture gallery“The all-new Ibiza five-door hatch-
  back models, on sale now, herald the
  start of a new product offensive by
  SEAT. And with road tax and fuel
  costs going up and up, it could be
  the right car at the right price at the
  right time
...”

THE IBIZA IS TRADITIONALLY SEAT'S BEST SELLING RANGE with sporty styled three-door models more popular than family-orientated five-door hatchbacks. But this is changing as the SEAT brand gains wider appeal, not just from their traditional younger buyers who associate themselves with the manufacturer's motorsport activities, but increasingly from active, mature customers who are attracted by SEAT's youthful 'auto-emocion' advertising strapline.

The all-new Ibiza five-door models with 1.2, 1.4 and 1.6-litre petrol engines are now on sale in the UK, with prices ranging from 8,995 to 11,295. Diesel engine options for three- and five-door Ibiza's — 1.4 and 1.9-litre — and Cupra and FR derivatives will be added to the line-up in 2009.

Around 13,000 Ibiza models are sold in the UK each year, where they compete for sales against the new generation of 'superminis' such as the Vauxhall Corsa, Peugeot 207, Mazda 2, Renault Clio, Skoda Fabia, Fiat Punto and, soon, the new and larger Ford Fiesta. This market segment is now the largest in the UK as customers continue to down-size looking for affordable family and business cars with lower running costs and less punitive road tax charges.

With S, SE and Sport specifications currently available, the likely best selling version of the five-door Ibiza will be the 1.4 SE priced at 10,395. With the 83bhp four-cylinder petrol engine officially returning 45.5mpg for the combined fuel cycle and emitting 149g/km of CO2 to give it a Vehicle Excise Duty rating of 120 a year, this should prove to be the most sensible choice for most people.

Although SEAT gains 'first use' of the excellent new Volkswagen family 'supermini' platform, generally the Ibiza has to make do for now with older tried-and-trusted power units and five-speed manual gearboxes.

Thankfully there is a new 1.6-litre petrol engine available at the launch of the new Ibiza. This 103bhp unit with 113lb ft of torque returns 42.8mpg with CO2 emissions of 157g/km — meaning a road tax bill of 145 this year and 150 from next April. Having driven both the 1.4-litre and new 1.6-litre units at the press introduction of the new Ibiza models, the new 1.6-litre engine is by far the best one to go for. The downside is that this engine is only available with Sport specification so the five-door model costs 11,295 — 900 more than the 1.4 SE and 600 more than the 1.4 Sport.

But it is money well spent because the new 1.6-litre petrol unit is smoother, quieter, more responsive and only marginally worse for real-life fuel economy when driven over a variety of roads from motorways to country lanes.

The 1.2-litre 69bhp petrol engine is going to be too dull for most people, unless the car is used just for pottering to and from the shops.

The new Ibiza has an excellent platform, it handles really well, the steering responds sharply and accurately, the suspension absorbs potholes well and road and tyre noise intrusion into the car is minimal. In truth, it feels like a slightly smaller version of the highly-rated VW Golf and it handles with the same perfection and refinement. Praise indeed.

The latest five-door Ibiza is larger than its predecessor — as most new generation 'superminis' are — but it is, importantly, 50kg lighter and generally than means improved fuel economy and lower CO2 emissions. The passenger space is better, too, even though the wheelbase has only been extended by 7mm. The front track has been increased by 30mm and the rear by 33mm, giving the new car an attractive 'planted' look. The boot is also larger — by 25 litres, giving a 292-litre capacity with the rear seats in use. Fold them down and the load spaces increases to a maximum 847 litres.

The equipment levels are also higher for the new models over the old but strangely the safety related Electronic Stability Programme is a 280 extra cost option when it should be fitted as standard. However, the car scores well in the Euro NCAP safety ratings with five-stars; four stars for child protection and three stars for pedestrian safety. A wider use of airbags, including thorax units, plus a softer bonnet and front-end design has helped to achieve these results.

All models have improved levels of standard equipment and a wider choice of options including the facility to connect a portable SatNav (currently TomTom One V3 units) system direct to the dash.

The most popular SE model specification includes air conditioning, trip computer, electronically adjustable and heated door mirrors, front and rear electric windows, cruise control and 15-inch alloy wheels. Sport models gain sports suspension, sports seats, a leather wrapped steering wheel and gear lever knob and low profile tyres on 16-inch alloy wheels.

All models gain sharper and angular styling lines blended with sculptured panels and the sporty rising waistline but retain the SEAT family 'face'. Inside, the dashboard is well laid out and simple to use. The textured plastic coatings for the interior panels are clean and modern but the shiny silver cowl to the instrument panel causes unwelcome reflections in the driver's field of vision. The interior is a bit of a mixture — some good points; some utilitarian and bland.

Overall the new Ibiza sports smart, modern and interesting styling and as well as being sharper looking, it serves up sharper handling. It's also now a roomier car with lots of extra equipment although it still needs some more uprated and modern engines but for now the new 1.6-litre petrol unit is the pick of the bunch. It would also be nice to see the ESP fitted as standard. — David Miles

SEAT Ibiza 5-door 1.4 SE
| 10,395
Maximum speed: 108mph | 0-62mph: 12.2 seconds
Overall test MPG:
39.4mpg | Power: 83bhp | Torque: 97lb ft
CO2 149g/km | VED Band C 120 | Insurance group 3