SEAT Ibiza FR 2004 review

Sporty SEAT's have acquired a cult following over recent years, with the Cupra badge a byword for performance and value.

It's difficult to judge where SEAT sees the FR in the market. The chassis hasn't the hard edge of the previous Ibiza Cupra - instead, it offers a rewarding drive without drama. For more thrills, we'd buy the Cupra due later in the year. But for discreet fun, the FR makes a great value package.

Sporty SEAT's have acquired a cult following over recent years, with the Cupra badge a byword for performance and value.

And here, at last, is the beefed-up version of the latest Ibiza. It's been a long time coming, but now welcome the FR, which the Spanish firm says will be the first in a long line of superminis which live life in the fast lane.

For the time being, the £13,500 FR is the only hot Ibiza on offer - and it's expected to represent the best value for money in the model's performance portfolio. Quicker versions and hot diesels will follow later in the year, and will be badged Cupra, while the Cupra R name will lie dormant for now - suggesting SEAT has an even more extreme Ibiza waiting in the wings.

Until then, only the 150bhp FR is on offer. The letters stand for 'Formula Racing' and represent the new entry-level in performance SEAT ownership. Here, you get the proven 1.8-litre 20-valve turbo engine that has powered countless VWs, Audis, SEATs and Skodas since it debuted in 1998.

But while it may be old, the unit is still more than capable. In the lightweight Ibiza, it delivers the kind of punch that would embarrass many a bigger and more powerful car. Peak torque of 220Nm is produced at only 2,000rpm, meaning it pulls well from low revs.

The chassis is impressive, too. Its coil springs are 25 per cent stiffer than the standard model's, while thicker anti-roll bars and heavy-duty bushes give a much greater feeling of security when driving hard. But the mods don't upset the car's ride, which is surprisingly absorbent for a sporting model.

The steering is precise and accurate, but lacks weight when pressing on, while the brakes offer a firm pedal and progressive action. So the FR is an impressive package, but one that feels a bit too soft to be a true hot hatch.

It doesn't look that sporting, either. The 16-inch titanium-coloured wheels, a few badges, twin exhausts and mesh grille are the only external indications that this is the raciest Ibiza in the range.

Subtlety is the order of the day inside, too. The seats are supportive and smartly trimmed, while the steering wheel and gearknob are finished in leather with red stitching. The instrument surround and centre console have a shiny titanium-effect plastic, which cheapens the cabin and ruins the quality of the rest of the trim.

Otherwise, the FR is a fine effort and a promising sign of things to come from SEAT. While it might not be the last word in hot hatch thrills, the chassis ability and strong-willed performance will doubtless win over buyers who prefer to go about their business swiftly, but with style.

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