SEAT Ibiza FR 1.4 EcoTSI 150PS review

SEAT's Ibiza FR 1.4 EcoTSI 150PS model offers a decent amount of poke, yet has a clever fuel-saving trick up its sleeve. Jonathan Crouch reports.

Ten Second Review

Top petrol SEAT Ibiza FR variants are now fitted with the 1.4 EcoTSI 150PS engine - and a very good one it is too. With the ability to cut to two cylinders when cruising, the efficiency of this car is impressive. It's pretty quick, but this supermini is also impressively cost-effective to own.

Background

Right. We've got to start by wading through that sea of acronyms if you're going to understand what this car is about the (deep breath) 'Ibiza 1.4 EcoTSI ACT FR 150PS'. The FR badge on the back of a SEAT Ibiza signifies that it's a slightly sporty version. Not as hot as a Cupra, true, but still capable of delivering some payback if you point it at a twisty road. The 1.4 EcoTSI part is the engine, in this case a turbocharged 1.4-litre four-cylinder unit, with stratified injection which develops an output of 150PS. The ACT bit though, is probably most important: it's what makes that powerplant a little bit special. 'ACT' stands for 'Active Cylinder Technology'. This alternates between two and four cylinder modes, depending on the power required, in less than 40 milliseconds, making the transition between the two seamless. We'll have a look at what that means in real terms later. You're probably used to this shape Ibiza by now. It's the facelifted version of the fourth generation car, launched in 2008. The revisions to the styling came in September 2015 and the sharply creased exterior still looks crisp and fresh. If you're looking for value from a Volkswagen Group product, here's a good place to start.

Driving Experience

If you know your cars, you'll be forgiven if you get a sense of deja vu here, because SEAT has offered a 1.4-litre TSI 150PS version of the Ibiza before, but that model featured a 150PS motor supplemented by both a turbocharger and a supercharger. As technically intriguing as that engine was, it didn't really make the efficiency numbers that today's buyers have come to expect, hence the availability of this much cleaner 150PS 'EcoTSI' unit. It's still pretty zippy, getting to 62mph in 7.6 seconds and running onto 137mph, so it doesn't cede much in terms of performance to the old 150PS unit. We've seen this engine in a whole host of Volkswagen Group products including the Golf, the Audi A3 and SEAT's own Leon and it never ceases to impress with its smoothness and tractability. The turbocharged engine is virtually inaudible for the most part and revs cleanly to well over 6,000rpm, but you won't really need to do that, with peak torque of 250Nm arriving at just 1,500rpm. The cylinder cut technology is particularly impressive. When you're cruising on part throttle, the powerplant shuts down two of the four cylinders. A small light illuminates on the dash to let you know when this is happening. Prod the throttle once again and all four combustion chambers come into play. You expect a slight jerk or change in engine note when this happens but if you can notice it, your senses are more finely attuned than ours. The sole transmission available is a six-speed manual gearbox, but that is certainly no black mark.

Design and Build

Today's Ibiza doesn't look too different from the 2012 car, which in turn wasn't radically changed from Luc Donckerwolke's original. As before, it's available in three body styles - five-door, 'SC' three-door and 'ST' compact estate. SEAT has belatedly jumped onto the personalisation bandwagon and now offers the Ibiza with 'Colour Packs'. 'Bismuth' (an elegant shade of brown) is among them, as is 'Velvet' (a rich purple). Each Colour Pack comes with a wide range of trim elements in the respective colour. On the outside, the rim of the radiator grille and the door mirror housings are finished in the chosen colour. Inside, the air vent bezels and the detailing on the steering wheel and gear lever are part of the colour package, as are the coloured stripes set into the seat backrests. One characteristic element is the two-colour 16- or 17 inch alloy wheels. There are a large number of possible combinations between the Ibiza's paint colour and the Colour Pack. Other changes to the exterior of the car include revised lights, wheels and standard colours. The Easy Connect infotainment system has been updated with an interface designed to highlight the relationship between the driver and technology by creating character lines that add functionality. The interior plastics are now of a higher grade, helping bolster SEAT's growing reputation for quality.

Market and Model

Prices open at just over £16,000 for the three-door Ibiza SC FR, with around £450 more netting you the five-door version. It's an interesting alternative to shopping rockets like Ford's Fiesta ST if you can cope with slightly less power but still want a quick supermini. There's also an ST estate model. Equipment levels are extremely good. Expect to find LED tail lights, height-adjustable front seats, sports suspension, an electronic diff lock, cruise control, coming home lights and best of all, a SEAT Portable sat nav and Bluetooth system. This touch screen combines the functions of a navigation system, on-board computer, audio system and hands-free device. While it is fully integrated into the Ibiza's on-board electronics, it's also removable for use on the go. Like all Ibizas, this one also gets front electric windows, tinted glass, a four-speaker MP3-compatible CD stereo with AUX-in point and steering wheel controls, remote central locking, a 12v power socket and a height-adjustable driver's seat.

Cost of Ownership

The big reason for the introduction of this clever cylinder deactivation technology is to improve the Ibiza's efficiency. If we take the old 150PS 1.4 TSI unit as a benchmark, that returned 44.8mpg and emitted 146g/km, numbers that don't really make the grade for a warm supermini today. By contrast, this 1.4 EcoTSI ACT 150PS engine returns 58.9mpg and emits just 110g/km. That's a massive 35 per cent improvement in economy for virtually no penalty in performance. As well as utilising the Active Cylinder Technology, this Ibiza also features Start Stop to save fuel in traffic and also advanced energy recovery systems to recharge the battery when you brake and or decelerate, which means that your alternator has less work to do and put less drag on the powertrain. It's all very clever stuff.

Summary

The SEAT Ibiza is a car that seems to refuse to age. Even the earliest of the fourth generation cars still look crisp and fresh but in terms of engine technology, the Spanish brand needed to do more. EcoTSI engines like this 1.4-litre 150PS ACT petrol unit answer that call. Here, you get near-warm hatch performance that suits the sporty FR trim and it's allied to nearly 60mpg on the combined cycle and 110g/km of CO2 - a tempting combination. Despite its sharp suit, don't choose this car if you're after a pin-sharp driving experience. Yes, it can deliver some jollies but you'll need to step up a grade to something more focused if you're a bit of a demon behind the wheel. Instead, the FR recipe is just a little more relaxed, which makes a lot of sense for most people on our notoriously poor roads. It's a well-judged package that's worth seeking out.