SEAT Ibiza

5 Apr, 2006 12:31pm Ross Pinnock

Rivals brought big changes to the supermini market, so SEAT had a rethink - meet the all-new Ibiza


The Ibiza range has been given a welcome boost. But compared with the Fiat Punto, Renault Clio and Peugeot 207, the SEAT is still showing its age. Changes to the styling can't hide its dated design, while rivals now provide more space and are better to drive. Yet with its broad engine line-up and solid build, the Ibiza is good value.

There are big changes going on in the supermini market, with a succession of super-sized new models hitting the showrooms. So, to face the challenges from the Fiat Grande Punto, Renault Clio and Peugeot 207 - to name just three - SEAT has given its Ibiza a makeover. To find out how the result measures up, Auto Express got behind the wheel of the top-selling diesel: the 98bhp 1.9 TDI.

Visual upgrades give the entire range a fresher appearance, and bring the little SEAT into line with its Leon and Altea stablemates. A bold new front bumper includes three air vents, and the smart twin headlamps - previously reserved for the sporty Cupra models - are now adopted across the range.

The hot hatch styling cues continue at the back, where there's a diffuser-inspired rear-bumper design. Revised light clusters have been fitted and, as with SEAT's other cars, the Ibiza badge is now displayed across the centre of the tailgate. New alloy wheels complete the external changes, but overall, the Ibiza retains its high-waisted, wedgy stance - especially in five-door form.

Inside, the car has received a mild makeover, with a new steering wheel and gearknob the most noticeable modifications. The neatly styled dashboard and centre console are unchanged... and sadly so are the hard, bland plastics used in their construction.

Still, the height and reach-adjustable steering column makes it easy to get comfortable behind the wheel, and our Sport-spec model was fitted with air-conditioning as standard.

A range of new fabrics in the cabin can't disguise the fact that the Ibiza has an ageing design and, despite its large exterior dimensions, it feels less spacious inside than its newer rivals.

Of the three 1.9-litre oil-burners on offer, the 98bhp variant is the least powerful - but it's also the cheapest. And with 240Nm of torque, in-gear performance is still impressive, as is fuel economy, at 56mpg. Refinement is a further Ibiza strong suit, and although the diesel engine note is vocal, motorway speeds are easy to reach and comfortable to maintain. Enthusiasts will undoubtedly prefer the hotter FR and Cupra versions, but even the lesser models cope well through the corners, while the speed-sensitive steering is accurate.

The five-speed manual gearbox is slick and precise, but throw the car into a corner and there's plenty of body roll. Yet the trade-off is a smoother ride than on more performance-oriented variants. The fresh Ibiza line-up arrives in showrooms later this month and, with price cuts of up to £980 on FRs, it represents a lot of car for the money.

Key specs

* SEAT recognises styling changes alone won't be enough for its supermini - so it's cut the price, too. Savings focus on hot models, with £980 off the FR and a £1,080 reduction on the Cupra petrol.
* Engine: 1.9-litre 4cyl, 98bhp
* 0-62mph: 10.8 seconds
* Econ/CO256.5mpg/135g/km
* Price: £11,390