Test drive the new SEAT Ibiza
YOU don’t have to buy a sports car to have sports car performance – great news if you are on a tight budget, writes Jon Smith.
I’ve just been driving a small three-door hatch with a sub-£16,000 price tag that’s guaranteed to put a wide grin on your face.
The SEAT Ibiza SC FR has a pocket-sized 1.2-litre engine under its bonnet but belts out no less than 108bhp – that’s nearly the same as the original Golf GTi, the archetypal hot hatch.
But more significant than impressive statistics, it feels every inch a polished, dynamic piece of machinery that combines swift acceleration with sure-footed road holding and handling that shames many so-called sports cars.
The SC is a three-door with a racy profile but it’s still capable of fulfilling family obligations, with a full four seats and a sufficiently big boot to accommodate holiday luggage.
If you want more versatility, there’s a five-door version or an estate but the semicoupe SC body perfectly matches the model’s peppy performance.
Sharing many of its mechanical bits with VW and Audi models, it possesses the same robust, eager nature and sense of durability.
Acceleration is lusty enough with a time to 62mph of 9.1 seconds and a max of 122mph via a light, engaging six-speed manual gearbox.
Even when revved hard, the four-cylinder turbo engine remains sweet and smooth. And there’s more torque than you might expect, allowing you to trundle around in fifth at under 30mph, then pull away strongly.
More sensitive and intuitive than its brother, the VW Polo, the steering is well-balanced and has good communication skills over slippery surfaces.
There’s little sign of front ‘steering tug’ when exiting bends under full throttle.
The cabin is reasonably spacious although those using the rear seats may have to make a somewhat crouched entry. Front seats are well-shaped and supportive with adequate adjustment even for tall drivers.
Those in the rear, however, may need to compromise on their legroom. Boot space in the rear hatchback is up to usual supermini standards with 292 litres of cargo space.
While the interior is practical and smart enough, it doesn’t possess the upmarket feel of a Polo or the panache of a Fiesta.
SEAT prides itself on turning out models with a sporting accent and the FR certainly delivers on that score.
Not only does it feel livelier than the stats suggest – it performs in such a willing fashion and the composed ride strikes the right balance between performance and comfort.
Despite the car’s warm-hatch character, it remains cheap to run. Emissions levels of 119g/km allow low road tax and most owners will find they are getting more than 45mpg in everyday driving.
With the Ibiza FR, SEAT proves it’s possible to have family motoring that’s fun without breaking the bank.