SEAT Ibiza review (2012 onwards)
What: SEAT Ibiza facelift (2012 onwards)
Where: Barcelona, Spain
Date: March 2012
Price: £9,995 - £16,840
Available: On sale now, arriving late April
Key rivals: Ford Fiesta, Kia Rio, Peugeot 208, Skoda Fabia, Vauxhall Corsa, Volkswagen Polo
Summary: Glance and you might miss it, look twice and you might love it - the popular SEAT Ibiza supermini has a sharp new look for 2012
We like: a facelift that actually improves on the original, well priced, good balance of performance and economy, FR now available as estate
We don't like: interior still dull, not as fun to drive as some rivals, standard of safety kit could be higher
Glance at the 2012 version of the SEAT Ibiza and you'll probably twig that something's changed even if you're not sure exactly what. The popular Spanish supermini has been treated to a facelift, but the overhaul is a subtle and sympathetic one.
Too subtle? Only if you didn't like the Ibiza in the first place, we reckon. Changes to the bumpers, the grille and the bonnet successfully emphasise the Ibiza's existing crease lines and bold surfaces. The bumpers also create the illusion of extra width.
New headlights draw a clear path between the Ibiza and the Mii city car, and together these two cars define SEAT's new design direction. From this point onwards all of its models will share a closer family resemblance, as SEAT looks to emulate Audi's lucrative face-sharing strategy.
Cheaper than the model it replaces
New alloy wheels, new paint choices and v-shaped LED highlighting on some models complete the exterior alterations. On the inside there's a new set of dials, a new climate control interface, different upholstery and a bigger glovebox.
Under the skin there are fewer modifications. However, buyers looking for the nippy and the practical will be pleased to discover the sporty FR trim-line is now available as an ST - that's the compact estate - as well as the SC 'coupé' and five-door hatch.
Best news of all is that the new 2012 Ibiza is cheaper than the model it replaces. There's an average reduction of around £300 on most models and up to £1,100 off the sporty FR. Entry-level pricing remains at £9,995.
Bar some detail changes to make the turbo petrols more efficient, the engine line-up carries over exactly as before. This means you can pick from a standard range that stretches from 60hp to 150hp - with a more powerful Cupra hot hatch variant waiting in the wings for a separate debut in the summer.
A hot hatch variant is waiting in the wings
Our launch drives were limited to the 1.2 TSI and 1.4 TSI petrols, plus the 105hp 1.6-litre TDI turbodiesel. This last is a little noisy, but it drags the front-wheel drive Ibiza along with a great deal of conviction, performance that makes it fun in the twisties as well as economical on the motorway.
The 1.2 TSI is a turbo unit that always feels far feistier that its 105hp statistics would suggest. That said, we were only able to drive it with the optional seven-speed DSG semi-automatic transmission, which somehow contrives to take the edge off. Give us the regular six-speed manual gearbox any day.
Sadly, you don't get a choice on the 1.4 TSI, which comes with DSG only. This engine is limited to FR spec (although FR in general is now available with a wider engine selection), and deploys both a supercharger and a turbocharger to achieve its 150hp.
Ride and handling
We find the DSG always inhibits our enjoyment of the 1.4 TSI. Fitted as a kind of technological carrot to buyers, the reality is simply not as involving as a good manual gearbox would certainly be in combination with the Ibiza's keen chassis. Making matters worse, for 2012 SEAT has deleted the FR's paddleshifters.
This is intended to make the forthcoming Cupra seem more special, since that will still get the steering wheel-mounted flappers. But now you're reduced to using the gear selector if you want to swap cogs yourself, making life with an already occasionally frustrating gearbox that bit harder.
We can think of rivals that offer more fun
Apparently customers mostly use the auto mode, so it won't matter. But this situation does go some way towards explaining why we actually enjoyed driving the lowly five-speed manual diesel more than either of the pokey DSG petrols.
FR spec includes stiffer springs and a thicker anti-roll bar to deliver extra grip and less body roll in the turns. But the non-FR 1.6-litre TDI's greater compliance made it more comfortable over rougher surfaces - and even if it does push into understeer a little earlier, the limit is predictable and the Ibiza always composed.
We can think of several rivals that offer more fun, though, regardless of trim level - including the Ford Fiesta, the Volkswagen Polo and the new Peugeot 208.
Major news here: the glovebox has more than doubled in capacity, going from 4.7 litres to a whopping 10.7 litres. So you can now store more gloves. Very handy. Joking aside, additional in-car practicality is always welcome.
Elsewhere, the new instrument panel looks sharp, but we can't remember being particularly disappointed with the old one - ditto the new climate control panel.
Changes to the upholstery haven't reduced the overwhelming ambience of black plastic, however. SEAT's emphasis on exterior design always seems to leave it lagging behind its Volkswagen and Skoda compadres in this department.
As for equipment, air conditioning is standard from the second-tier S a/c trim upwards - which is good. But you will have to pay extra for useful items including Bluetooth and full iPod connectivity.
Economy and safety
The Ibiza's economy is largely unchanged, but the 1.2-litre TSI manual now benefits from a stop-start system, reducing its CO2 emissions from 124g/km to 119g/km, while the 1.4 TSI DSG also improves, from 146g/km to 139g/km.
The 1.2 will now cost just £30 in road tax
This means both models drop a tax band - saving you £70 a year in the case of the 1.2 as it will now cost just £30 in annual road tax. Claimed combined economy for this car is 55.4mpg, but as with any of these modern turbo engines, exactly what you return on the road largely depends on how you drive.
Those looking for a particularly frugal solution can always turn to the 1.2-litre TDI Ecomotive diesel, which emits just 92g/km, returns over 80mpg (claimed) and is road-tax exempt. The 1.6-litre TDI tested here claims 112g/km with 65.7mpg - and also costs just £30 a year to tax.
ESP and an electronic limited slip differential system called XDS increase cornering control on more powerful variants, but the existing Ibiza's five-star Euro NCAP crash safety rating dates back to 2008. Euro NCAP's standards are now more stringent, so we await the results of any re-test.
The MSN Cars verdict
As you were. The new Ibiza is like the old Ibiza: a cheerful supermini that offers good value and a strong selection of engines. The interior interest still lags behind the best in class, but we think it now looks better than ever on the outside.
Although competition in this sector of the market is particularly fierce right now, SEAT's sporty image and the Ibiza's reduced pricing should ensure it remains a popular choice in the UK.
Need to know:
Engines, petrol: 1.2 (60hp, 70hp) 1.4, 1.2 TSI, 1.4 TSI
Engines, diesel: 1.2, 1.6, 2.0
Power: 60 - 150hp
Torque: 80 - 256lb ft
0-62mph: 7.6 - 15.9 seconds
Top speed: 96 - 132mph
Mpg combined: 44.8 - 80.7mpg
CO2 / tax: 92 - 139g/km / 13 - 17%