Seat Ibiza ST driven

* Attractive alternative to boxy MPVs * Still some weak engines, though * On sale now, from £12,070...

Seat Ibiza ST driven

If youre in the market for a compact, spacious family car but find the thought of the running around in a small MPV too much to bear then youd do well to look at the new Seat Ibiza ST.

Its an estate version of the Ibiza hatchback, so its a stylish and impressively comfortable wagon thatll double as a family load-lugger. Its boot is a spacious 430-litre with the rear seats in place, and the rest of the car is smart enough to get you noticed for all the right reasons.

Does it have the power to cope?

When the Ibiza hatch was launched we criticised its antiquated engines, and while the odd one or two continue to lurk in the ST line-up, Seat has now got its hands on the latest Volkswagen Group engines. These include the sweet 1.2-litre TSI petrol turbocharged engine and the super-frugal 1.6 TDI diesel.

Both generate an identical 105bhp and, thanks to turbocharging, both are spookily similar in character. The TSI petrol engine is actually the diamond in the range, pulling strongly from low revs and proving happy to spin smoothly right up to the red line. In the Ecomotive version, which comes with stop-start technology, this engine will return a credible average economy figure of 55.4mpg, too.

The diesel produces a bit more mechanical clatter at tickover, but its smooth and tractable as you pull away from rest. Once the cars settled at a cruise, youll struggle to tell the diesel apart from a well-sorted petrol engine.

Of course, the diesels trump card is the infrequency with which youll need to pull up next to the pumps: its average economy of 67.3mpg and CO2 output of just 112g/km, should mean more than a few thrifty-eyed fleet managers will give it the once-over.

What's it like inside?

Getting into the back seat of the estate is a tad easier than in the hatchback versions, because Seat has had the foresight to extend the rear doors: itll make life that little bit less stressful when youre clamping those tantrum toddlers into their child seats.

The big boot is a useful, flat-sided shape thatll easily cope with a carry cot and a fold-up buggy, and it widens towards the rear hatch to accommodate wider items.

Ask most parents, and theyre likely to choose sturdy over stylish most times, so its just as well that this is probably the best way to describe the STs cabin. There are plenty of wipe-clean surfaces and scuff-resistant trim, so it should resist the rigours of family life in fine style, even if it isnt the last word in attention-grabbing design.

Whats it like when the kids are with the in laws?

There are two chassis set-ups to choose from. Most models come with the standard softer set-up, which is great in a straight line, effortlessly ironing out lumps and bumps. However, it does feel rather soggy when the road turns twisty, with plenty of body roll and not enough feel through the steering wheel.

The Sport model sharpens things up, because it comes with an electronic limited-slip differential, bigger alloy wheels and stiffer springs. Youll have to sacrifice some comfort, but youll have more fun thanks to heavier, more direct steering and stricter body control.

What equipment does it have?

Part of the Ibiza appeal is its highly competitive standard kit, and the ST is no exception. All models come with air-conditioning, roof rails, remote central locking, front electric windows, height-adjustable front seats, an MP3-compatible CD player ISOFIX child seat fixing points and six airbags. Engines with more than 100bhp come with full electronic stability control, which include a limited-slip diff and hill-hold function. This is available as a 290 option on lower powered cars.

What Car? says

Sassy-looking cost-effective estate

Peter Tullin