Seat Ibiza 1.2 TSI DSG

Size really doesn't matter for the car that shrank its engine and boosted performance

Price: from £12,780 plus £450 for DSG transmission

Top Speed: 118 mph

Acceleration: 0-100 km/h (62 mph): 9.7 seconds

Fuel consumption: 53mpg

C02 emissions: 124 g/km

Seat has introduced an impressive new small turbocharged petrol engine and a keenly-priced DSG option for the Ibiza.

The new engine, a 1.2-litre badged TSI, is a replacement for the previous 1.6-litre option. But if you think that means you'll be getting less for your money, you couldn't be more wrong, because turbocharging more than compensates for the reduction in capacity. The power output of the 1.2, 105 horsepower, is the same as that delivered by the 1.6-litre, but in every other respect the new engine is much better.

Top speed and acceleration are slightly improved, while torque, or low-end pulling power, which is a more reliable guide to real-world performance than horsepower, is improved from 148 Newton metres to 175 Newton metres - and that's only half the story. The old 1.6 delivered maximum torque at 3,800 rpm, rather a high figure, while the 1.2 gives its biggest punch at a diesel-like (in this context, that's good) 1500 rpm, and pulls strongly over a much wider range.

All that translates into excellent performance out on the road. I haven't had the chance to compare the old 1.6 Ibiza and the 1.2 TSI directly in a back-to-back test, but I've driven a number of cars with each engine and the 1.2 TSI is superior in every way; livelier, smoother and more refined, it is particularly impressive in the Ibiza, which is smaller and lighter than some of the other cars in which it can be found, such as the Skoda Octavia. For the manual version, CO2 emissions are down 20% from 149g/km to 119g/km, and fuel consumption improves from 45 to 55mpg on the official combined cycle test.

One important thing to stress is that today's mainstream turbocharged engines feel completely “normal”. You can certainly forget anything you may have read in the past about the turbocharged performance models from the Eighties with problems like turbo lag or weak low-end torque. Modern turbos aren't just crude bolt-on jobs; engines are often designed from the start with turbocharging in mind and deliver the turbo performance edge in a much more even and civilised way.

The only small snag I can see is that Seat may have a bit of a struggle convincing mainstream buyers, who are accustomed to using engine size as a guide to performance, that the 1.2 TSI really can be so much better than the old 1.6, but that's a problem all manufacturers face as the engine downsizing trend accelerates. If you are wavering, I can only suggest that you give it a try - you are unlikely to be disappointed.

Seat is also offering the 1.2. TSI with the Volkswagen group's impressive DSG gearbox at just £450. DSG is one of the really big technical milestones of the last ten years and pairs superbly well with the 1.2 TSI. First seen in the Audi TT, DSG is a dual-clutch “best of both worlds” transmission that offers the performance and lively feel of a car with a manual gearbox while matching the self-shifting convenience of an automatic. The DSG used here is the second-generation dry-clutch version, which has seven gears, rather than the six of the first DSGs. Gear changes, especially down-shifts, are brilliantly well judged and extremely smooth; even the best driver would struggle to improve upon them.

At the price Seat is charging, the DSG gearbox on the 1.2 TSI must count as one of the biggest bargains to be found on any manufacturer's option list at the moment, The only small drawback is that fuel consumption and CO2 emissions are a shade worse than those for the manual, which has a fuel-saving stop-start system.

For the rest, the Ibiza is much as before. Still a fresh design (the current model was introduced in 2008), it's a good all-rounder as well as being the prettiest of the small VW group cars - and probably the prettiest Seat too.

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