Can SEAT's reputation for sportiness extend to the functional supermini estate market? Jonathan Crouch checks out the Ibiza ST.
Ten Second Review
The small estate isn't the trendiest category of car but for some buyers, they're just the ticket. SEAT's Ibiza ST manages to avoid the distended rear end look that plagues some of its rivals while offering a big boot and modern engines.
Most superminis aren't available in estate form, maybe because the manufacturer can't be bothered, maybe because it already has a supermini-MPV to cater for people wanting a more practical car with a small footprint. For buyers, the estates that are available offer a level of utility somewhere between a five-door supermini and a full-blown MPV with all the folding seats and clever storage solutions. They're superminis with an extension to the rear and in some cases, you can't work out how the designers managed to get planning permission. Is the Ibiza ST any different?
This is the second update of the Ibiza Mk4, a car originally launched in 2008 and then updated in 2012. Back in '08, it was the first to use the PQ25 chassis that now underpins the Audi A1 and the VW Polo, so it still has a classy set of underpinnings. This time round, SEAT has had a good look at the engine range. The entry-level 1.0-litre petrol unit is a three-cylinder which produces 75PS in naturally aspirated format and 95PS or 110PS in 'Eco TSI' turbocharged guise. The four-cylinder 1.4 Eco TSI with active cylinder management (ACT) develops 150PS while its cylinder deactivation under partial load leads to impressive fuel economy. There's also a 1.4 TDI with 75PS and two other TDI powertrains, offering either 90 or 105PS. The 110PS TSI petrol version and the 90PS TDI diesel variant are both available with a dual-clutch gearbox. 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 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
This estate version of the SEAT Ibiza had a head start because the Ibiza hatch on which it is based is one of the better-looking superminis currently on sale. The estate retains sharp front end with its smeared back headlights as well as the distinctive sculpted flanks. Around at the business end, the usual growth is apparent but it's been well managed with the prominent shoulder line and raked rear screen aiding its integration. Visually, the Ibiza is certainly one of the best resolved small estates around at the moment. What's really important is how much extra boot space you actually get. The estate has an extra 18cm of overhang compared to the 5-door hatchback and it puts that to use in generating an extra 138 litres of load carrying space. That gives a 430-litre total. The interior forward of the boot is identical to the standard Ibiza which means neat, unfussy design and decent build quality. It's not the most roomy supermini you'll encounter and space in the rear will be tight for taller occupants. The rear bench splits 60:40 and folds down so the boot can be enlarged further.
Market and Model
Most of the usual Ibiza trim levels are offered but there are no fast Cupra versions, which is somehow a pity. S, SE, Connect and FR models are available, with all cars getting climate control air-conditioning, heated folding mirrors, electric windows and front fog lights with a cornering function to help illuminate bends. There aren't a huge number of supermini estates around but there are lots of supermini-MPVs which do a similar job with more emphasis on versatility. In terms of direct rivals, the Skoda Fabia Estate and even MINI's Clubman would count and the Ibiza ST is an attractive option in that company. Only the MINI has a real edge in terms of desirability but it's less practical than an Ibiza 5-door and priced at a big premium.
Cost of Ownership
Being able to dip into the Volkswagen Group parts bin for the niftiest tech usually means a very low overall cost of ownership and that's certainly the case here. The four cylinder 1.4-litre Eco TSI petrol variant with 'ACT' active cylinder management manages a diesel-like 58.9 mpg on the combined cycle and both three and four-cylinder units fulfil all the latest EU6 emissions standards. The entry-level 1.0-litre Eco TSI Ecomotive petrol model delivers a combined fuel economy of 68.9 mpg, which equates to a CO2 figure of 94g/km. Among the three-cylinder diesel engines, the 1.4-litre TDI with 75PS achieves fuel consumption of 80.7 mpg, which equates to an emissions figure of just 90g/km. A start/stop system, which switches off the engine when the vehicle is at a standstill, is available across all current SEAT Ibizas.
The styling compromise brought by small estate cars can seem a big price to pay for the few litres of extra carrying capacity that's gained but the SEAT Ibiza ST manages to retain much of the visual sharpness of the five-door car despite its bulbous rear. Better still is a competitive carrying capacity that's far larger than the Ibiza hatch and a line-up of economical modern engines. Buyers wanting a supermini with an extra injection of practicality should give it a chance.