New Seat Ibiza supermini range first drive

Seat's new Ibiza SC 3-door

Seat's new Ibiza  SC 3-door  What has happened to SEAT new cars sales in the UK this year? Since March every month has shown a decline in the sales numbers over the comparable month in 2014.

October alone saw a massive fall of 32% but thanks to a good start to the year in January and February the year-to-date overall total is only down by a shade under 7%. But as the UK’s overall new car market is up by 6.4%, SEAT’s decline looks worrying.

SEAT is the Spanish brand under the ownership of the now troubled Volkswagen Group which is struggling with its tarnished image because of the cheating on exhaust emission figures. This serious issue might have had an effect on SEAT’s October’s registration figures but their decline started long before ‘dieselgate’ became an issue. By comparison in the UK sales of VW Group’s other mainstream brands in October showed a 9.8% fall for VW, a 3% fall for Skoda, a 2.2% increase by Audi and a 29% increase by Bentley.

At the UK media launch of the new SEAT Ibiza supermini range Jonathan Pratt, Ibiza product manager said, “We are still targeting around 50,000 new car sales this year which should be the second highest on record following six years of consecutive growth.”

He added “The fallout from the VW Group’s emissions issues has played a small part in the reduction in our sales but there are other reasons. These are the aggressive sales and marketing strategies by some brands looking to the UK for extra sales over struggling markets, there is more competition in all sectors, there have been large sales numbers for SUVs – we don’t have one and we have had late delivery of some Ibiza versions which is our largest selling model range. These include FR versions which impacted on our October sales plan and delivery of the new Alhambra large MPV was also delayed.”

He also added that currently the SEAT brand only covers 54% of the market in terms of model types but this will increase to 70% with new models being introduced from next year.” These include a mid-sized SUV based on the Leon platform.

Seat's new Ibiza 5-door Seat's new Ibiza 5-door  Seat's new Ibiza 5-door  Seat's new Ibiza ST estateWill the arrival of the new SEAT Ibiza range of supermini sector five door Hatchbacks, SC (three door Sports Coupe) and ST (Sports Tourer five-door estates) breathe life into an ailing brand? The new models arrive with keen prices, on average just 3% higher than the models they replace, there is a range of new EU6 compliant engines, much improved interior quality, improved ride comfort and more gadgets or technology, but the exterior styling changes look minimal.

Prices start from £10,000 for the for the SC versions, five door Hatchbacks start from £12,315 and ST estates from £13,015. I counted 32 different models listed in the latest price list boosted by a wide range of engine choices and a lot of specification choices. These are E, S, SE, Toca, Vista, Connect, FR and FR Red Edition but the availability varies between body styles. Cupra versions join the range in January 2016.

There are six petrol and three diesel engine options, six of which are completely new, again depending on the model chosen. These range from a 1.0-litre three-cylinder petrol developing 75hp and there are 95 and 110hp turbocharged versions of the same engine which offer better performance, improved fuel economy and lower emissions. There are also four cylinder 1.2-litre TSI turbo petrol 90 and 110hp units and a 1.4-litre Eco TSI four cylinder petrol 150hp engine. For diesel users there is the choice from 75, 90 and 105hp 1.4-litre TDI turbodiesel engines, the 75hp TDI Ecomotive being the cleanest in the range with 88g/km of CO2 and 83.1mpg in the Combined Cycle.

SEAT UK says they expect to sell around 22,000 Ibiza models in 2016, 44% will be the SC three door derivative, 53% five door Hatchback versions and 3% ST estates. Around 74% of sales will come from retail customers. Typical UK buyers are 51% female and 49% male with an average age of 43 years but with the largest proportion in the 25 to 34 age category for all body styles.

The likely best selling model will be the five door Hatchback, the most popular trim will be Vista and the most popular engine will be the three cylinder normally aspirated 1.0-litre 75hp petrol unit. This model is priced at £13,445.

That was the model I tried at the recent UK media launch. Starting from the outside in, the slightly revised styling retains the chiselled look with sharp styling lines and long wheelbase with short overhangs continues as before. LED driving lights are standard from the SE spec level upwards. There are six exterior colour pack options depending on the trim level. Exterior wise the latest Ibiza has had a make-over.

Seat's new Ibiza 5-door front interiorSeat's new Ibiza boot spaceInterior wise there is a much more obvious improvement in terms of quality and specification. Most of the plastic trim around the facia and door panels are now soft-touch which has replaced the cheap looking hard plastic trim of past versions. There is a sportier Leon style steering wheel with control buttons, new dials and colour packs for the steering wheel, door cards, air vent surrounds and upholstery.

In line with other manufacturers in the supermini size sector, SEAT has introduced higher and more advanced infotainment and connectivity functions through their new SEAT Full Link, Mirror Link and SEAT Connect systems which use Smartphone connectivity and Apps via the touchscreen.

The Vista specification over SE level adds 16-inch alloy wheels, Driver’s Pack which consists of cruise control, hill hold, tiredness recognition and rear parking sensors. The SE level includes halogen headlights, LED taillights, front fog lights with cornering function, 5.0-inch touchscreen, FM/AM radio and six speakers, leather steering wheel and gear knob. Items such as Bluetooth, air con, 60/40 split folding rear seats, trip computer, alarm and electrically operated windows and door mirrors are included from models with the lower levels of specifications.

Another big improvement is in ride comfort. SEAT through their heritage of motor sport always liked to offer a firm, even hard, ride for even their most popular of models. Not anymore, comfort is a new proposition and it’s very welcome. The ride is now more compliant by a large margin and it hasn’t reduced the Ibiza’s ability for nimble and sharp handling with good body control during higher cornering speeds. The steering is light and the brakes well balanced and predictable on wet or dry surfaces.

The five door Hatchback models seem to offer the best balance for price, space and usability. The three door SC versions offer very little rear legroom but have the same 292-litres of boot space as the five door Hatchbacks. The less popular ST estates are not any more spacious for passengers than the five door models but have a larger load capacity of 430-litres.

The main selling engine is forecast to be the 1.0-litre, three cylinder normally aspirated petrol unit giving a modest 75hp and 95Nm of torque at 3,000rpm. It is mated with a five speed manual gearbox. Top speed is 107mph and the zero to 62mph is a lengthy 14.8-seconds. The official Combined Cycle fuel consumption is 54.3mpg and on test using A and B country roads returned 47.1mpg. The CO2 emissions are 118g/km so VED road tax is £0 and then £30 for the Year Two rate. This unit appeals most because of its lower purchase price with the Vista spec in five door Hatchback form costing £13,445, so it should be best selling model. But this engine is no more than competent and lacks mid-range response.

A much zippier unit, which is far more responsive, is the all-new 1.0-litre Eco TSi turbocharged, direct injection, three cylinder petrol unit with 95hp and the real gain is the supply of 160Nm of torque from just 1,500rpm. Top speed is 119mph and zero to 62mph takes 10.4-seconds. The official fuel economy is 68.9mph, 51mpg on test, with CO2 emissions of just 94g/km so it is more fuel and CO2 efficient, more responsive and free of road tax. The downside is that this engine does not come with Vista specification, only the one grade lower at SE level and costs £530 more to buy with the five door Hatchback body option. I would gladly pay that because of the more responsive performance, better real-life fuel economy, lower CO2 emissions even though the insurance is higher at Group 13E instead of Group 8E for the non turbo unit in the Vista version.

The new Ibiza has been improved in some important areas. But it has a tough sales task in a growing, discounted price-led supermini sector. The best selling Ford Fiesta still leads the way with the highly rated Skoda Fabia popular because of its cheaper price. There are of course the VW Polo and Vauxhall Corsa ranges to contend with – just to name a few. It is a buyer’s market.

MILESTONES: SEAT Ibiza Vista 1.0-litre, 75hp, 5-door Hatchback, (Best selling model). Price: £13,445. Engine/transmission: 3-cylinder non-turbocharged, multi-point injection petrol, 75hp, 95Nm of torque at 3,000rpm, 5-speed manual. Performance: 107mph, 0-62mph 14.3-seconds, 54.3mpg (47.1mpg on test), CO2 118g/km, VED road tax £0/£30, BIK company car tax 18%. Dimensions/capacities: 5-doors, 4-5 seats, L 4,061mm, W 1,693mm, H 1,445mm, boot 292-litres. Warranty: 3-years/60,000-miles. For: Wide range of body styles, specification levels and engine options, keen pricing, sharp exterior looks, vastly improved interior quality and finishes, far more compliant ride. Against: This 75hp engine lacks mid range response, the new 1.0-litre 95hp turbo petrol engine is a far better choice for not much more money and its costs less to run, not all engines available with the most popular Vista specification. Miles Better News Agency

Written by