Seat Ibiza long-term test review
The Seat Ibiza is one of our favourite small hatchbacks, but just how deep do its talents run? We look back at our time behind the wheel...
The car Seat Ibiza 1.0 TSI 95 FR Run by Chris Haining, digital reviews editor
Why it’s here To find out if a small, economical car can cut it as an all-rounder, for weekend pleasure and motorway commuting alike.
Needs to Sip petrol, absorb long journeys without stress, come alive on a country road.
Miles 4650 List price £19,185 Target Price £16,722 Price as tested £19,980 Test economy 48.7mpg Official economy 51.2mpg, Running costs Fuel (£468), Dealer trade-in value now £10,890 Dealer price now £13,409 Private price now £11,919
11 February 2021 – Tangerine dream
It’s funny how, once you’re introduced to something distinctive, you keep seeing it wherever you go. Before I got my Seat Ibiza, Eclipse Orange was merely a very natty colour. Today, though, I see it in every fallen leaf, every winter sunset and, increasingly, in certain vividly-hued buildings I pass. Including a hump-back bridge in Walton-on-the-Naze.
And if you’ll forgive an excruciating metaphor, Eclipse Orange pretty much sums up the spirit of the Seat Ibiza FR. Playful, effervescent, exuberant. My time with Seat’s small hatchback has never been short of smiles. Even the best parties, though, must come to an end, and we’ve now gone our separate ways. And, but for one relatively fundamental character trait, I’ll miss it immensely.
I was looking for an economical commuter companion that liked to let its hair down at the weekend, and that’s exactly what the Ibiza was. I certainly couldn’t fault it for economy; I might not quite have realised Seat’s quoted figure but my economy rarely dipped below 48mpg, placing it among the most frugal petrol-powered cars I’ve ever held the keys to. What’s more, that parsimony didn’t come at the expense of sloth. Indeed, the little three-cylinder engine’s response at low revs was almost diesel-like, with a handy slab of torque that made for nippy progress through a series of roundabouts. Consequently, pre lockdown, I found it a great car for visiting Milton Keynes in.
It didn’t feel out of its depth on motorways, either, and while hardly the quietest car in the world, my car’s Beats stereo system did a fine job of drowning out the racket. It’s just a shame that it’s so devoted to hedonism that it doesn’t seem to know how to relax.
The Ibiza FR makes mincemeat of even the most challenging corner; its handling is straight out of the hot-hatch copybook even if its engine power isn’t quite. Its unfailing composure on country roads, though, comes at the cost of a ride that’s flinchingly firm at precisely the moments that you wish it wasn’t, namely when cruising to work on the M25. Things are actually made worse by the fact that its body movements are so well controlled – all is wonderfully calm over regular undulations, so it comes as a shock when it turns potholes into trenches.
In previous reports I have said that the Ibiza FR would make a fantastic car for a young, enthusiastic driver, and that remains true. As sporty small cars go, it’s relatively cheap to insure and keeping it fuelled certainly won’t break the bank. And while the whole “sporty” thing might instil fear in any parent who might sponsor such a car, they can be reassured that the extent to which its handling security exceeds its power must make it one of the most fundamentally safe cars on the road.
I’m increasingly less young than I used to be, though, and have to grudgingly admit that FR trim doesn’t quite hit the spot for me. So, next time I order an Ibiza, I’ll take it in more softly sprung SE Technology trim; I can’t imagine this being vastly less capable in corners unless I’m really pressing on, and it should be rather more calm when I want to cover the miles in comfort. I’d go for the same engine again, though; only occasionally did I wish it had more grunt, and that was merely because I’m used to more powerful cars.
Thankfully, despite Seat’s online configurator suggesting otherwise, you can add the Beats hi-fi upgrade, rear parking sensors and a full-size spare wheel to the SE Technology trim level, and that's just what I'd do. Devastatingly, though, Eclipse Orange has been struck from the menu and Seat’s palette is now without any hues that come close to its vibrancy. I suppose Desire Red will have to suffice.
It’s a shame to end a generally glowing review on a downer, so here’s something far more encouraging. The Seat Ibiza has taught me that a small car really can do it all. Choosing something small and economical doesn’t have to be a compromise, and that’s not something I could confidently say when I were a lad.