The Ibiza supermini sized hatchback/estate range priced from £11,410 offers a wide choice of petrol and diesel engine options and specification levels and it remains their best selling model now closely followed by the praiseworthy Leon C-segment models, again available with a wide range of engine and spec level options. The Ibiza in its four generations has been on sale for 30 years in the UK.
I have just had a painful spell in the Ibiza FR Edition five door version powered by the VW Group’s 1.4 TSI ACT 140PS turbo petrol engine. ACT means Active Cylinder Technology and this unit switches in milliseconds between two and four cylinder operation depending on the demands placed upon it. The FR (Formula Racing) Edition specification is one level down from the £18,980 range topping 1.4-litre TSI supercharged and turbocharged 180PS Cupra with DSG twin clutch auto gearbox – a three door missile.
But the 1.4 TSI ACT 1450PS with a six speed manual transmission is plenty swift enough and carries a price tag of £16,660 which is good value for the performance with a top speed of 130mph and a zero to 62mph acceleration time of just 7.8 seconds – all from a 1.4-litre engine with the potential for 60.1mpg and ultra-low CO2 emissions for a petrol engine of just 109g/km. On my week long test drive covering all types of roads at all types of speeds from slow moving traffic to open road blasts the overall average figure was still an impressive 42.4mpg. Even more impressive is the low 109g/km of CO2 emissions and I remind you this is a petrol unit not a diesel. This official figure means VED road tax is £0 cost under the First Year rate and then only £20 for each year after that. In the unlikely event you get one of these as a company car then the Benefit-in-kind tax penalty is only 14%.
That’s the gain bits, where the pain element comes in is with the extremely harsh ride performance which is so severe it hampers the car’s handling, agility and fast cornering capabilities. Potholes send a shudder through the car and they unsettle the handling balance. Even on smoother surfaces there is a constant firm, fidgety and noisy ride. The steering feedback is muted as well so that doesn’t help with precise cornering. Some hard-core driving enthusiasts will find pleasure in this pain and I can see it will add to the ambiance of the driving experience, but after a while it gets annoying and tiring, especially for passengers. The FR Edition has 17-inch alloy wheels and sports suspension, a combination which really doesn’t do the car any favours in real-life UK road conditions.
On the plus side the new engine is extremely accomplished. When driven at normal everyday speeds it is very responsive and fuel efficient with 50mpg-plus easily achieved. Around town in stop-start traffic this high performance engine is smooth, docile, not temperamental and this is no evidence of the constant changing between two and four cylinder modes. Open the throttle more and the acceleration is really impressive and you have to keep reminding yourself this is just a 1.4-litre engine, not a 2.0-litre.
It is almost as impressive as the 1.6-litre 180PS EcoBoost turbo petrol unit in the Ford Fiesta ST or the slightly less ‘hot’ new Fiesta Red or Black Editions powered by their award winning1.0-litre turbocharged petrol, three-cylinder engine but tweaked to push out138bhp. The go–faster Fiestas are by far more accomplished in the handling and compliant ride departments so they would have the edge for me as the best sporting supermini package.
With the SEAT Ibiza FR Edition it is always a compromise. If you go up to the ‘fun’ end of the performance level on offer the finesse goes away big-time despite the fact that it has a clever XDS electronic differential system which reduces torque steer. Let’s just say you have to choose your moments of fun very carefully and the chances are this hard-riding mini-missile will out-perform many drivers’ skills.
If the new variable cylinder operation petrol engine with its torquey response of 250Nm (184lb ft) from just 1,500rpm is the star element of this car the spec level runs it close.FR specific spec includes exclusive bold design front and rear bumpers, twin exhaust tailpipes, sports steering wheel, sports seats, cruise control and SEAT Portable Live a clip-in display unit on top of the fascia panel which provides such functions as sat-nav, Bluetooth connection with audio streaming and integrated trip computer functions. The FR Edition addition includes larger 17-inch alloy wheels, red brake callipers, dark tinted rear windows, climate control and red seatbelts, electrically operated windows and door mirrors, front fog lights with cornering function and split folding rear seats are carry forward items from lesser models in the Ibiza range.
All this is wrapped up in a fairly conventional supermini sized bodyshell. Rear passenger legroom for adults is cramped but there is ample room up-front and the FR Edition trim treatment with sports seats and red seatbelts brightens up the generally dull interior with acres of grey-black trim. Some of the plastics feel and look a bit low-rent.
Overall the Ibiza FR Edition with its brilliant engine is a story of two parts, the stunning engine performance and the compromised ride and handling qualities. But if you consider the high sporty spec and the competitive price then owning this version starts to look a bit less painful but with the rapid Fiesta ST or the slightly less ‘hot’ new Fiesta Red and Black Editions there is no pain at all – only gain.
MILESTONES: SEAT Ibiza FR Edition 1.4 TSI ACT 140PS 5-door. Price: £16,660. Engine/transmission: 1.4-litre, 2-4-cylinder, direct injection turbocharged petrol, 140PS (138bhp), 250Nm (184lb ft) of torque from just 1,500rpm, 6-speed manual XDS electronic front wheel drive differential. Performance: 130mph, 0-62mph 7.8 seconds, 60.1mpg (42.4mpg on test), CO2 109g/km, VED road tax £0 First Year rate then £20 Year Two onwards, BIK company car tax 14%. Insurance group: 22E. Warranty: 3-years/60,000-miles. Dimensions/capacities: L 4,082, W 1,693, H 1,441, boot 292-litres. For: High performance engine with low running costs and taxes, high spec, relatively low price in the sports supermini sector. Against: Compromised ride quality and handling, minimal rear seat legroom, dull interior trim. Miles better news agency