Seat Ibiza (Revised 2012) - First Drive

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Engine: 1.2-litre four-cylinder petrol, turbo-charged

Transmission: five-speed manual, seven-speed dual-clutch DSG available as an option

Power: 105 PS

Fuel consumption (combined cycle): 55.4 mpg

CO2 emissions: 119 g/km

Top speed: 119 mph

Acceleration (0-62 mph): 9.8 seconds

Price: 1.2 TSI models from £13,700, revised Ibiza range from £9,995 to £16,840

The Seat Ibiza’s mid-life face-lift is a bit of a spot the difference job – and that’s a thoroughly good thing too. The front end has been tweaked a bit in line with the recent design direction shown by the IBE, IBX and IBL concept cars; there are altered headlamps and a slightly modified grille, and the bonnet creases are a bit different too. Mercifully, though, Seat has mostly left well alone and there is nothing to disturb the Ibiza’s status as the prettiest of the Volkswagen group’s Polo-sized cars.

Not much has changed under the bonnet either, with a very wide choice of engines, all old friends from the pre-facelift Ibiza and any number of other small and medium-sized Volkswagen group cars. They include 1.2-litre and 1.6-litre diesels providing 75 and 105 horsepower respectively, and for the sportier FR models a 150 horsepower 2.0. On the petrol side, there are 60 and 70 horsepower normally aspirated 1.2-litres and a turbo-charged 1.2 TSI producing 105 PS. The FR gets a 150 PS 1.4-litre TSI power unit. Volkswagen’s excellent seven-speed self-shifting dual-clutch gearbox is also available with some engines.

And the Ibiza doesn’t just offer an extensive range of drivetrain options – there are three distinct body shells as well. Besides the usual three and five-door hatches there is, unusually for a car of this size, a five-door estate, badged ST. With that degree of engine and body choice, as well as the usual range of Seat trim levels (also mainly carried over), there should really be an Ibiza for everyone.

Out on the road, there are no surprises. I tried 1.2 TSI petrol and the 1.6-litre diesel cars and they behaved exactly as expected. The 1.2 TSI is much smoother than the old 1.6-litre non-turbo engines which it is edging out across the Volkswagen group brands, but faces a strong threat from Renault’s new 1.2-litre TCe and Ford’s 1.0-litre three-cylinder EcoBoost engines. The 1.6-litre diesel performs well even in much bigger cars such as the Skoda Superb, so it has an easy life in the Ibiza, where it should provide more than enough go for most drivers in UK conditions.

It’s a similar – mostly unchanged - story inside, with modest tweaks to stuff like the instrument graphics and, somewhat oddly, a much bigger glovebox. I say oddly because I’ve never heard anyone grumble about the size of the Ibiza’s glovebox before, and because in-dash space is at such a premium with all of the technology that manufacturers are expected to cram behind cars’ fascias these days. It’s a welcome change, though. I think Seat could perhaps try harder to give the cabin a bit of a lift – it’s neat enough but it doesn’t have quite the same appeal as the Ibiza’s cool exterior.

The mid-life changes to the Ibiza may be relatively modest, but Seat is making up for that with a lot of small car action elsewhere in its range. First, there is the imminent UK arrival of the Mii, the Spanish company’s take on the brilliant Volkswagen Up. I think the Mii actually looks slightly better than the Up, but even those who don’t may still find themselves making their way to a Seat rather than a Volkswagen showroom, swayed by the Mii’s keener pricing.

And then there’s the new Toledo, seen in concept form at last month’s Geneva Motor Show. The first Toledo was also Seat’s first car based on a Volkswagen (Golf) platform and was a great success. The most recent, third-generation model, a bulky MPV, didn’t really hit the target, but the next one returns to the “saloon-shaped hatchback” formula that worked so well for the first Toledo, although, like the Ibiza, the new car will be a sister of the Polo, rather than the Golf.

Prices of the revised Ibiza start at £9,995 for the most basic 1.2-litre 60 horsepower petrol; that’s the same as for the previous entry-level model, and pretty good compared with the direct competition but makes the cheapest Mii, which has a similarly powerful but more modern engine, look like conspicuously good value at an expected £7,500. Most other prices are unchanged or are lower than before – by £1,000 in the case of the sporty FR version, which becomes available with the ST estate body for the first time. Overall, the Ibiza is still one of the stronger offerings in its class - and probably the prettiest too.

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