Recent facelift and new engines make Ibiza a tempting proposition

This entry-level FR model is the pick of Ibiza line-up. Slick looks, a punchy engine and grippy chassis help deliver hot hatch thrills without the big bills. The car can’t match the Honda for practicality, while some of the cabin materials feel a little cheap, but these niggles aside the SEAT makes a lot of sense as a stylish and low-cost pocket-rocket.

The stylish SEAT Ibiza has never struggled for kerb appeal, particularly in FR guise. Better still, a recent mid-life refresh means it looks better than ever, while a range of new engines promises even more performance with lower running costs. Pick of the bunch is the punchy turbocharged 1.2-litre TSI, which appears in the FR for the first time.

With a healthy 104bhp power output and CO2 emissions of 119g/km, it promises to be faster and more efficient than the Honda, while a price tag of £13,965 also gives the car a financial advantage. The rakish SEAT certainly doesn’t seem like a bargain-basement option.

Even in practical five-door form it appears sleeker and sportier than the upright Jazz, while the sharp new nose and distinctive LED tail-lights help keep the Ibiza looking fresh. Subtle FR badges and a twin-exit exhaust hint at its pocket-rocket credentials, while our test car also benefited from the £765 xenon headlamps and LED running lights package, plus eye-catching £150 17-inch alloys.

However, all these hot hatch styling cues would be for nothing if the SEAT didn’t have the performance to match – and it doesn’t disappoint. At the track it streaked from 0-60mph in only 9.2 seconds, a full 1.8 seconds faster than the Jazz. The FR stretched its advantage in our in-gear tests, where it was 1.9 seconds faster in the sprint from 30-50mph in fourth, taking only eight seconds.

It also boasted much stronger brakes, coming to a standstill from 70mph in 46.1 metres – a huge 10.6 metres sooner than the Honda. In the real world, the SEAT feels even stronger than the figures suggest. With 175Nm of torque at only 1,500rpm – the Honda can muster just 127Nm at 4,800rpm – the Ibiza is much more responsive than its rival, while at high revs the engine emits a rorty growl.

As with the Honda, the FR gets uprated sports suspension designed to deliver a sharper driving experience. On a twisting back road, the Ibiza feels more agile than the Jazz, despite the major controls having a slightly rubbery feeling. Quicker steering and stronger grip provide the driver with greater confidence, while the XDS electronic front differential helps boost traction out of slower corners. And although the ride is firmer than the standard car’s, it’s far from uncomfortable.

When it comes to space, the Ibiza is soundly beaten. Rear occupants get a decent amount of head and legroom, but the 292-litre boot trails the Honda by 107 litres. And while the Ibiza’s cabin is more distinctively designed and boasts a decent haul of kit, it’s not as robustly built and lacks the storage of its rival.

Will this reduced practicality cost the SEAT in the final reckoning, or will the lower price, stronger performance and sharper handling take the car to victory?

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