SEAT's Mii is a citycar you can't ignore if you're in search of an efficient but sparky urban runabout. Jonathan Crouch tries it.
Ten Second Review
A superior sort of citycar, SEAT's little Mii offers its Spanish brand a leading role in a sub-supermini segment already heavily influenced by its Volkswagen and Skoda design stablemates. The Iberian maker has added a thoughtful value proposition to a car that's undoubtedly spacious, frugal and clever. It makes an awful lot of sense.
The Mii, if you didn't already know, is the SEAT-branded version of what is arguably the cleverest tiny runabout on the planet, sharing almost everything with a Volkswagen version of this same design, badged as the up! Nothing wrong with that. Today, most sub-supermini city runabouts are built around brand-sharing principles, something SEAT's well familiar with as its previous - and very successful - entrant in this segment, the Arosa, was another Volkswagen clone. You might expect things to be a bit more difficult this time around though, for in the modern era, the Volkswagen Group's citycar offering has also to be made available to Skoda, who badge it as the Citigo. So can this SEAT stand out? The Spaniards reckon so. They've carefully pitched this Mii's value proposition to appeal to their traditional buyers, people who don't want a budget brand but like the technology of a smart badge without the expense that usually goes with it. People who, in this model, are going to be buying into what, on paper at least, is citycar state-of-the-art. Let's put it to the test.
This SEAT's chirpy three cylinder 1.0-litre petrol powerplant suits it perfectly - which is just as well as it's the only engine choice on offer, though with a choice of either 60 or 75PS outputs. Three cylinder engines are, by their inherent nature, fun little things, cheeky and a little bit vocal, with busy, buzzy demeanour that plays with your subconscious and makes the car feel more alive. That's quite a task for a car that only packs a modest amount of punch. Personally, I'd think twice about paying extra for the 75PS version, unless you particularly want the auto gearbox you can specify with it: subjectively, after all, it hardly feels any faster, even if on paper, the 0-60 time improves from 14.4s to 13.2s and the top speed rises from as little as 99 to 108mph. And the discussion's a pretty pointless one anyway, since no one bases their citycar decision on how quickly they'll be able to flog the thing from rest to sixty. All that really matters is whether this car has enough about it beneath the bonnet to jink around in the traffic light Grand Prix that is modernday city motoring. It does - just about. The engine has just enough torque - a hardly rippling 95Nm - to mean that you're not always bothering the gearbox.
Design and Build
The exterior design of this Mii follows a theme pioneered by the Peugeot 107/Citroen C1/Toyota Aygo model we first saw way back in 2006. So here again, you get a cheeky face with big headlights, a gently rising waistline and a glass rear tailgate. Differentiation over this model's Volkswagen and Skoda clones is limited to restyling of the C-pillar, the bonnet and the boot. Just enough to give this SEAT its own identity. What's important here though is the space efficiency on offer. You've a total vehicle length of around 3.5-metres, yet a wheelbase that takes up nearly 2.5-metres of that. Which is why, though a Mii is no longer than a Fiat 500, it offers far more room inside, space in fact for the four fully-sized adults who could never comfortably fit in the apparently space-efficient Italian car. Those destined for the back seat will of course much prefer it if you've specified your SEAT in five-door form. Access to the back in the three-door variant isn't actually too awkward, but the five-door will be miles better if you're lugging a baby seat or such like. That only leaves luggage space. Which gives me another chance to underline the packaging genius of this design - with a stat that perfectly sums it up. This Mii is only 2mm longer than SEAT's previous Arosa citycar. Yet its 251-litre boot is double the size. That's nearly twice as much space as you'd get in something like a Peugeot 107 or a MINI.
Market and Model
Expect to pay somewhere in the £8,000 to £11,000 bracket for this Mii, with a £350 premium model-for-model, if you want five-doors rather than three. Whichever version you decide upon - 60 or 75PS, manual or automatic - you're likely to get most of the basic features you'd expect to find at this level. So there's an MP3-compatible CD stereo with an AUX-in socket, body-coloured bumpers, daytime running lights and a 12V powerpoint. If that's a bit hair shirt for you, you'll be far better served by the air conditioned 'SE' level. In this case, there's less of the penny-pinching meanness. So as well as a cooler cabin, you get remote control locking, a rear seat that splits 60/40, body colour for the mirrors and door handles and windows you don't have to wind up yourself, Seventies style. More important than any of that though is the need to spend a couple of hundred pounds extra on the potentially life-saving ESP stability control system. Apart from anything else, doing this will also give you access to what is arguably this car's cleverest option - the accident-saving 'City Safety Assist' system. Using a laser sensor in the windscreen, this which will warn you of impending collisions at urban speeds and if necessary, at under 19mph, even brake the car for you.
Cost of Ownership
You'd need to be dragging an anchor around behind your SEAT Mii for it to be anything other than hilariously economical. A kerb weight of below 900kgs helps here, as does clever engineering of the sort you'll best appreciate with the economy champion of the line-up, the 60PS Ecomotive variant. In its standard form, this engine is already pretty economical, delivering 62.8mpg on the combined cycle and 105g/km of CO2 but this Ecomotive model goes further, adding battery regeneration to reduce alternator drag, ultra-low friction ancillary components and most importantly, a start-stop system to cut the engine when you're stuck in traffic or waiting at the lights. As a result, a Mii in this form can deliver 68.9mpg on the combined cycle and 96g/km of CO2. There are a few caveats I should mention though. Like the fact that, unlike the Skoda and Volkswagen versions of this design, you can't have the start-stop and eco-driving package I've just mentioned if you're looking to choose the pokier 75PS model. Which means that as a result, its returns (60.1mpg on the combined cycle and 108g/km of CO2) don't look as good. Another difference against the Citigo and the up! is that with this SEAT, you can't specify an automatic gearbox on the 60PS variant. Still, where you do get it, on the 75PS model, it makes a good case for itself, delivering fuel and CO2 returns that are actually slightly better than the equivalent manual version.
So, SEAT at last has a class-leading citycar: the brand has waited long enough for one. True, it's a model that may not be uniquely Spanish, but then, nothing SEAT makes ever is. What matters is that it ticks all the important citycar boxes. As do, you could argue, the Volkswagen and Skoda versions of this same design. Which means your choice could come down to the value proposition on offer. SEAT feels confident here. Look beyond the list pricing and you start to see why. Specify this car as many will want to and it makes a strong case for itself against its in-house design rivals. And an even better one if you're comparing against something else entirely in the citycar segment. Ultimately, it'll come down to personal preference of course: your Mii always should reflect your personality. And you'll find this one ready to do just that.