Car and phone in near-perfect harmony
Good range of engines
Fun to drive yet now smoother too
Seamless connectivity with smartphones
Starting to feel a little dated
Interior space not class-leading
Confusing trim levels

First Drive review: Seat Ibiza (2015)

The social network takes to four wheels

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Seat Ibiza 2015

Seat Ibiza, £11,550

THE LAUNCH of this revised Seat Ibiza is not about a stylish new look or a radical line-up of engines that will go easy on the planet and a driver’s wallet. No, the thinking is to add a stack of new technology intended to elevate the Ibiza from a car in which an aux socket for your iPhone is the height of sophistication to the very model of smartphone-connected, social-media-embracing  hi-tech automobile design.

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The press launch, held in trendy Barcelona (where the Ibiza is made), was a weird event for an old-school motoring reviewer like me, mainly because most of the journalists were more interested in the social media than whether the new car could start, turn and stop. When asking about the new engines that power the revamped Ibiza – excellent engines, shared, as usual, with other cars in the Volkswagen Group – I felt like a dinosaur. Like, er, who cares about that stuff?

The car as mobile portal for your mobile phone. It has come to this, and the younger you are, the cooler it is. Various car makers have declared their loyalty to one or other of the systems, such as Apple Car Play, Android Auto and Mirror Link, which show your phone’s screen on the car’s own touchscreen. The Ibiza, however – like other Seats to come – can handle them all, provided you buy the version with the Connect trim level.

Do that, and you will apparently get with your new car with a free Samsung A3 smartphone ready with a Seat ConnectApp. You don’t have to use the A3, and anyway it will doubtless be obsolete before the Ibiza’s first service is due.

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And then what? You can read and write (or, rather, dictate) emails, interact with social media sites such as  Facebook, have your heartbeat monitored “as you experience the thrill of driving a Seat” and use finger gestures to, say, call a particular person (the car will learn your moves). You want your mother represented by a smile? Done.

I didn’t try that well-known gesture involving two fingers, because I suspect Seat  ConnectApp is too polite to understand. Actually there were quite a lot of things I didn’t try, because I couldn’t get them to work and neither could a Seat technician. But they looked good in the film shown to journalists.

SEAT Ibiza 2015 interior

Now, the car itself. The Ibiza is available as a three-door coupé, a five-door hatchback and a slope-tailed estate car, and competes with the Ford Fiesta, VW Polo and Vauxhall Corsa. It looks identical to the Seat Ibiza that’s been in showrooms since 2012, except that all except the base model now have LED daytime running lights around the headlights’ edges.

Given that this shape of Ibiza has been around since 2008, gaining little more than a little rhinoplasty along the way, an all-new model surely can’t be far away. Seat’s chief executive, Jürgen Stackmann, however, says not.

The Ibiza has always appealed to young customers. “They were complaining about the connectivity,” Stackmann says, “and we also needed to improve the interior.” To this end, there are new personalisation options, and more interior colours to make the Ibiza seem more, well, Spanish. The engineers have fine-tuned the suspension as well.

That sounds a brilliant move to me. Far too many modern cars feel stiff and bumpy, shaking driver and passengers on our pockmarked roads. The Ibiza now has softer springs and dampers, and the steering is assisted by electric motor instead of an electro-hydraulic pump.

Result? A car with quick, precise steering, a smooth, stable ride and an enjoyable keenness to be pointed into a corner and powered through it. This is an agile car, light on its feet and tenacious in its grip.

Seat’s engineers have tweaked the settings. Result? A car with quick, precise steering, a smooth, stable ride and an enjoyable keenness. It is agile, light on its feet and tenacious in its grip

Then there’s the new engine, range, which includes all three versions of VW’s tiny 1-litre 3-cylinder unit. The base version lacks a turbo and releases 74bhp; the other two are turbocharged (as are all other Ibiza engines) and offer 94 and 108bhp. Curiously, the old range’s 1.2-litre four-cylinder turbo engines, with similar power outputs but less torque, continue, their lower prices justifying their existence.

Three power levels of three-cylinder 1.4-litre turbodiesel are also offered, one of them emitting just 88g/km of CO2, and the sporty-looking FR model can be had with a 148bhp 1.4-litre motor with the ability to switch off two of its four cylinders when running gently. There will be a new Cupra hot-hatchback version in September, with a 1.8-litre engine and, probably, the old-fashioned joy of a manual transmission.

The most powerful 1-litre unit is the most interesting of the new engine wave. It’s smooth, tuneful and big-hearted, and it brings into focus a curious blind spot peculiar to Ibizas sold to British drivers. Which is that this 108bhp unit can be had here only with a seven-speed, double-clutch automatic gearbox and FR trim. And also that the Connect model, with the greatest number of gizmos, can be had here only with the old 89bhp 1.2-litre engine. What on earth was Seat thinking?

Seat’s new Ibiza is a very good compact car, well made, fun to drive and, depending on your phone, well connected. And you can’t say that about the Corsa, Fiesta and Polo. Oh, hold, on – you can …?

2015 Seat Ibiza FR 1.0 TSI 5dr specifications
  • Price: £16,140
  • Engine: 999cc, 3 cylinders, turbo, petrol
  • Power: 108bhp @ 5000rpm
  • Torque: 148 lb ft @ 2000rpm
  • Transmission: 7-speed automatic
  • Performance: 0-62mph: 9.3sec
  • Top speed: 122mph
  • Fuel: 64.2mpg (combined)
  • CO2: 102g/km
  • Road tax band: B (free for the first year; £20 thereafter)
  • Release date: On sale now

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Seat Ibiza rivals

Ford Fiesta 1.0 EcoBoost 125 Titanium 5dr (view cars for sale)

  • For Still looks sharp on outside; keen engine; great fun to drive
  • Against Cabin getting dated now

Mazda2 1.5 Sport 115 (view cars for sale)

  • For All-new car; clever lightweight construction; roomy; great to drive
  • Against Not to everyone’s taste