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What - SEAT Ibiza FR TDI
Where - Barcelona, Spain
Date - February 2010
Price - £16,495 - £16,875
Available - buy now, arrives March
Key rivals - SEAT claims none, we say Ford Fiesta Zetec S TDCI, Renault Clio GT dCi, Fiat Punto Evo Sporting MultiJet
Producing 143hp from a 2.0-litre turbodiesel the SEAT Ibiza FR TDI promises to be both fast and super frugal. But can it really deliver?
We like - low-end to mid-range poke £35/year tax, smart looks, well equipped, available as five-door
We don't like - steering way too light and devoid of feedback, daft gearshift indicator, patchy build quality, tiring to drive
Gallery: SEAT Ibiza FR TDi
The SEAT Ibiza FR TDI is like one of those televangelists that claim they can heal you through the tv - it's promising miracles. It's promising more than it can deliver.
Check the on-paper statistics: 2.0-litre turbodiesel engine, 0-62mph in just 8.2 seconds, 130mph top speed - and yet just 119g/km CO2 emissions.
To get all that and an authentic hot hatch driving experience really would be miraculous; something, as the saying goes, has got to give. Quite a few things, as it happens.
The FR TDI is rapid, sure. It's also relatively comfortable, looks pretty good, and really will cost you just £35 a year to tax (at current VED rates). But it isn't really a hot hatch.
Compare rivals to the SEAT Ibiza FR TDI with Car Guide
So what's the problem? It's not the engine, as such - a 143hp version of the latest Volkswagen Group common rail unit means the FR TDI's outright performance is never in doubt.
The 0-62mph time even compares well with the petrol-powered Ibiza FR - out by just 0.6 of a second compared to that car's 7.6 second benchmark dispatch.
And when it comes to torque - the stuff that really gets you moving - the FR TDI is totally triumphant: 236lb ft isn't just impressive for a supermini, it's more than a 2.9-litre Porsche Cayman can muster.
Another great stat. But although this peaks at just 1,750rpm, it's already falling away again by the time you pass 2.5k on the tacho - leaving you with, by hot hatch standards, not much.
This isn't to say the Ibiza FR TDI isn't rapid. For covering ground quickly without - for example - upsetting your other half, it might just be ideal.
There's no screaming to the redline (which is set 500rpm to high in any case), just decent aural refinement and pokey mid-range response. Stealthly performance, yes. Adrenalysing? Sadly, no.
Ride and handling
It's a similar story with the Ibiza FR TDI's handling - giving its best when driven smoothly at, say, five or six tenths, rather than hurled down the road by the scruff of its neck.
Stiffer suspension, thicker anti-rollbars, a 15mm height reduction and 17-inch alloys ought to conspire to ruin the ride quality, but take it relatively easy and impressively they don't.
This is a reasonably comfortable performance car. But the softness here isn't true suppleness - the FR TDI still crashes over sudden surfaces imperfections and struggles to control its big wheels over mid-corner bumps.
Change direction keenly, and the Ibiza lurches with the weight transfer. And that big 2.0-litre diesel lump over the front axle means there is certainly plenty of mass moving around.
Compared to the petrol FR, this tips the weight distribution forward slightly, and even with the standard fit XDS electronics managing the torque the TDI still washes into early understeer.
But by far the worst thing about the Ibiza FR TDI is the steering itself - which is too light and too vague to give you any meaningful feedback, at any speed.
Delicacy is one thing, but there's no scaling in the resistance as you turn in, no hint at the grip levels, and so much play in the straight-ahead position that motorway driving quickly tires.
The petrol-powered Ibiza FR is only available in the three-door SC bodystyle. But SEAT is also making the FR TDI as a five-door hatchback, hoping to further broaden its appeal.
This makes sense with the more sensible engine, and only compromises performance very slightly - 0-62mph dropping to 8.3 seconds, top speed falling just 1mph to 129.
With the five-door, practicality is obviously improved, with better access to the rear seats (which offer decent legroom for the class), and slightly better visibility.
However, regardless of bodyshape we still have reservations about the Ibiza's cabin quality - the test car's dashboard was already badly scratched - even if the control layout is fine.
And not only does the stand for the optional satnav rattle infuriatingly, for the brief moment we had the it switched on it fed us three incorrect, illegal and dangerous rerouting options in a row.
Fine, it was in Spain rather than the UK. But SEAT is Spanish. We found that thumping it worked well for both issues. Promptly followed by switching it back off.
Economy and safety
We've already touched on the Ibiza FR TDI's commendable CO2 emissions of 119g/km; this is matched by an official combined fuel consumption figure of 61.4mpg - high-fives all round.
In order to achieve such awesome feats of economy, SEAT has fitted a six-speed manual gearbox for the first time in any current Ibiza. A vast improvement over the petrol FR's seven-speed DSG auto.
But it isn't perfect. The ratios seem strangely spaced, and the gearshift indicator will encourage you to use the ultra-long sixth cog at engine speeds as low as 1,200rpm.
This leads to a lot more in-cabin vibration - the steering wheel tingles slightly at any speed - and an inevitable downshift or two whenever you actually need to accelerate.
As for safety, ESP, hill hold assist and four airbags are standard, and the Ibiza has a five-star Euro NCAP rating (albeit from 2008, pre-dating current testing standards).
XDS is part of the ESP system, and functions like an electronic limited slip differential. Not as effective here as it is in the Leon Cupra R, and you can never entirely tell what it's doing.
MSN Cars Verdict
To be fair to the SEAT Ibiza FR TDI, it is not intended to sit at the top of the hot hatch food chain - it's the Ibiza Cupra that takes on Renaultsport, not the FR.
Trouble is, even if we dial back our expectations to 'mildly warm' hatch, rather than hot one, there are still too many things at issue to make this a really fun car.
It's fine if you want a good-looking, frugal diesel that offers reasonable performance and value for money. But the steering and chassis both get a 'could have tried harder' mark on their report card.
No doubt we're amongst the most disappointed. But if you're looking for a small fast-ish diesel you'd better try the Renault Clio GT dCi - or even the Ford Fiesta Zetec S TDCi.
Compare rivals to the SEAT Ibiza FR TDI with Car Guide
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|Need to know|
|Engines - petrol||n/a|
|Engines - diesel||2.0|
|Torque (lb ft)||236|
|Top speed (mph)||129-130|
|Rating||SEAT Ibiza FR TDI SC|
|Ride and handling||***|
|MSN Cars verdict||***|
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