Not the hottest SEAT Ibiza, the FR 1.4 TDI version could nevertheless be the best value for buyers seeking performance without the penalties. Jonathan Crouch reports.
Ten Second Review
Customers without the stomach or the finances for a hardcore hot hatchback might find the fast but sensible Ibiza FR 1.4 TDI a desirable option, especially in this improved guise. Its 105PS diesel engine delivers lively, torque-laden performance with the fuel economy and emissions of a common or garden shopping hatch. The Ibiza's recently refreshed sporty looks will help convince the image conscious.
The Ibiza FR model line has been a massive success for SEAT by offering customers a lighter alternative to its flagship Cupra hot hatch models. Typically, the FR has very similar looks and a good proportion of the pace of the range-topping car but it's cheaper to buy, run and insure. The FR TDI is the diesel variation on the theme and in many ways, oil-burning engines are a great fit for a car with this remit. In SEAT's larger Leon, the FR TDI derivatives have been the top sellers in the entire range and this trim and engine combination has proved to be popular with this lately much improved Ibiza too.
The 1.4-litre TDI engine doesn't produce a massive amount of power - just 105PS but you get a healthy 250Nm of torque with it that fires you through the gears with the thrust of a much bigger engine. It's this low-down muscle that will have the greater impact on the FR TDI's performance, making it feel quicker in real world driving than even the 9.9s 0-62mph time would suggest. The top speed, where conditions allow, is 119mph. As for the recent dynamic model changes, well there's now a speed sensitive electric steering system fitted, while ride and handling has been improved, with springs, dampers and anti-roll bars being completely re-tuned. The optional SEAT Drive Profile system offers adaptive damping with two modes - comfort or sports-oriented. The Comfort/Sport selector switch also influences the feeling of the power steering.
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
Expect to pay around £17,000 for this Ibiza FR 1.4 TDI in three-door SC form and there's a £500 premium to pay if you want the five-door bodystyle. For the ST estate version, you'd be needing to find around £18,000. Bringing a welcome dose of technology to the Ibiza is sure to help its showroom appeal. The 'MediaSystem plus' and sat nav system can be enhanced with the 'MirrorLink' function, which provides seamless smartphone integration into the car infotainment system. In other words, you see the icons from your Android phone on the infotainment screen in the car. If you're a scion of Steve Jobs (or, to put it another way, if you've got an iPhone), you'll need 'The Full Link' option that'll give you the 'Apple CarPlay' system that does much the same thing as MirrorLink. SEAT also debuts a Tiredness Recognition System with this Ibiza, plus their Multi-Collision Brake system.
Cost of Ownership
For a hot hatchback, the Ibiza FR 1.4 TDI should prove agreeably affordable to run. It wasn't that long ago when car buyers had to settle for some tiny citycar with a power output equivalent to their kitchen blender in order to benefit from 80mpg economy. Today, the SEAT Ibiza FR 1.4 TDI returns 78.5mpg and 95g/km emissions while also harbouring the performance to harry more familiar supermini hot hatches on a twisty road. The car company car drivers who thought a little shopping rocket would equate to the mother of all tax bills might like to reconsider in the light of this SEAT.
The diesel hot hatch has only caught on in a big way relatively recently as engine technology has let diesel engines grow lightweight, powerful and affordable enough to drive small performance cars. SEAT is one of the manufacturers that has grasped the opportunity and led the way with models like the Ibiza FR 1.4 TDI. Buyers with hearts yearning for hot hatch thrills and heads warning against the hot hatch bills may find the SEAT an appealing compromise. The FR 1.4 TDI isn't one of the quickest hot hatchbacks around but it can certainly shift when prompted and it looks like it means business, making the most of the Ibiza's attractive styling. With economy of nearly 80mpg, it should be refreshingly affordable to run and its availability with the three-door, five door or ST estate Ibiza bodystyles means buyers can go for extra visual impact or practicality, as they prefer.