First introduced in 1984, the SEAT Ibiza remains one of the best-selling superminis in Europe. The Spanish-made motor has a vibe of youth about it. Indeed, the average age of Ibiza buyers remains easily the youngest in its market category, underlining the fact that SEAT is truly young spirited.
Nevertheless, it’s far from being a boy-racer-mobile. It has too much quality exuding from its Volkswagen underpinnings to ever be accused of that.
The Ibiza, especially in sporty, yet affordable, FR guise, offers impressive performance at every turn. The drive is engaging and pace is in ready supply from the commanding 2.0 turbo diesel engine.
Just as progressive as the engine in the Ibiza is the transmission - a perfectly spaced six-speed manual gearbox with a very slick action. The Ibiza isn’t just about form and driving dynamics. The model has a really respectable range of fuel efficient engines to cater for everyone’s needs.
Ride and handling
The Ibiza has a firm ride and, especially in athletic FR guise, can give you a numb backside. The rigid drive goes hand in hand with the energetic orientation of the car. So, in some ways you can forgive it when it crashes and bangs over Britain’s rather pothole-ridden roads.
However, a little bit more cushioning on the seats wouldn’t go amiss. But everything else is hard to fault. The seats are moulded in a very sporty, hip-hugging way, but they do have a practical purpose too - they hold you firmly in position should you decide to push the SEAT to its limits around corners.
With its squat, purposeful stance, the Ibiza is more than capable of gluing itself to the road, especially when equipped with low profile tyres on 17 inch rims. But the handling characteristics are as sporty as they are safe. The accurate steering and the perfectly tuned stability control, deliver safety even in challenging driving conditions. A powerful and very safe anti-lock braking system on more recent Ibizas is a case in point.
Inside, the solid “thunk” of the doors when you close them and the sophisticated feel of the steering wheel and switchgear, instantly signal that you’re in a fully-grown, well-made, car. The focus, however, always remains on functionality. The instrument binnacle with its clear display is one example, and the large glove compartment, another.
For a small car, the Ibiza also has a relatively convenient cabin. You can shoehorn two adult passengers into the rear, but two children will make the most of the space. Your front seat passenger will have more than enough room to stretch out their legs too.
Alas, the SEAT’s small boot isn’t going to win any prizes for gobbling up everything but the kitchen sink. A couple of suitcases or a buggy are probably more realistic, but there is always the convenient split/folding rear bench to boost luggage space.
What to know before you buy
On older, pre 2006 SEAT Ibizas, the suspension is the biggest problem. You can tell if your test drive motor is dodgy because it will emit clunking noises, and the handling will be slovenly. The door handles can stop working and windows can also get stuck. Quite a few electric issues crop up, too - the most common being defective central locking.
The 1.2-litre engine can also experience a problem with its exhaust values. This will reduce performance and a warning light will illuminate on the dashboard. Other glitches include headlamps filling with moisture, boot and trim rattles and water leaks into the cabin.
All are easy to find on the secondhand market and make fine small-family cars. They are especially convenient for the school run and for coping with the urban jungle, due to their manoeuvrability and easy-to-park, compact, size.
The SEAT Ibiza is light years further down the excitement road than the Volkswagen Polo. It is good looking, it is a buzz to drive, and big enough for a small family. The boot isn’t the largest and the ride can be too firm, but the car’s excellent, energetic, handling and easy to use size helps gloss over these elements.