Seat Ibiza ST 1.6 TDI Sport

Spanish flier aims to give sportiness and practicality equal billing. Does it succeed?

If three is a crowd, things must be pretty congested in the SEAT garage! The new ST is the third Ibiza variant in the line-up, where it joins the five-door hatch and sporty three-door SC. The extra space hasn’t really affected the model’s visual appeal, though. 

While the newcomer measures 18 centimetres longer than its brother, it shares the hatch’s sharp looks. And in profile, the estate’s extended roofline adds to the sporty appearance.

Only from the back does the ST fail to excite. In particular, we think its rear plate should be either directly between the light clusters or much lower down on the bumper, as it looks lost in its central position on the tailgate. 

Still, the rest of the exterior shows real panache. Our test car’s smart Tribu paintjob only adds to this impression – it’s from SEAT’s custom palette and costs £550. Sport trim also includes tinted rear side windows and attractive 16-inch alloys. The cabin will be familiar to any existing Ibiza owner, although we’re not huge fans of the optional two-tone dash. The light-colour material fitted to our test example both looks and feels cheap.

The fussy stereo buttons are also needlessly complicated. However, both the radio and the high-gloss panel for the ventilation settings look great, and a separate column provides fingertip radio controls. You get plenty of stowage inside, but the optional Design Pack provides extra underseat and boot cubbies, plus a front armrest – all for an additional £160. Sport trim includes sports front seats as standard, and a leather-trimmed steering wheel and gearlever.

What it doesn’t allow the Ibiza to do, though, is match its Skoda rival for space. There’s not as much kneeroom in the back, so adults will be slightly less comfortable and child seats are a tighter fit than in the Fabia. It’s the same in the boot, where there’s a capacity shortfall of 50 litres with the rear seats in place. 

The pair of moulded storage hooks on either side of the load bay come in handy, although we’re less convinced by the Ibiza ST’s rigid parcel shelf. It owes more to a conventional hatch than it does an estate car.

The Spanish machine delivers a very different driving experience to its rival, as Sport trim includes lower and stiffer suspension, plus thicker front anti-roll bars. As a result, the Ibiza has more alert responses, sharper body control in bends and extra composure under heavy braking. 

However, the precise steering provides no more feel than the Skoda’s well weighted set-up. And that extra agility comes at a price, because the SEAT fidgets over all but the smoothest surfaces, and the firm ride highlights even small imperfections. For family buyers it could prove a step too far after the comfort of the softer Fabia.

And one surprising omission for such a sporty model is ESP. The important safety feature, which is standard on the Skoda, is a £290 option here. The Ibiza’s more powerful engine isn’t as clean as the Fabia’s unit, either, and while it emits only 3g/km more CO2 than its rival, that’s enough to push the ST into a higher road tax banding. It’ll add a mere £10 to the cost, though, so it’s hardly a deal breaker.

Performance is lively, and while the diesel is noisy at start-up, it quietens down on the move, where it delivers reasonable cruising refinement and relaxed motorway pace. But the less powerful Skoda can tow more weight; 1,200kg versus 1,000kg.

Official claims suggest the SEAT isn’t as efficient as its rival, and so it proved. However, we didn’t have it on test for as long as the Skoda and so covered a shorter distance, which partly explains the exaggerated difference in the returns – the SEAT did 35.5mpg, the Fabia 42.7mpg.

We’d expect the figures to be closer over the same journey. But the more economical Skoda’s extra load capacity is what really spells trouble for the Ibiza ST..

Details

Chart position: 2WHY: The Spanish maker has torn up the small estate car rulebook. After all, who said supermini-based load-carriers couldn’t look good?

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