Do you need a car that’s fast and good looking yet is also cheap to run and suitable for a family and its clutter? Have you considered the SEAT Ibiza FR TDI?
On the face of it a powerful engine in a small hatchback is an enticing prospect, particularly if it offers the low running costs of a diesel. It just so happens that is exactly what the SEAT Ibiza FR is offering with the 142bhp of its 2.0-litre derv-fuelled engine. The 0-62mph time of 8.2 seconds and top speed of 130mph give it some credibility in the performance stakes while cheap road tax and a promise of over 60mpg soften the blow on the finances.
The model I’m driving is the 5-door FR spec, making this not just a fast supermini but also a practical one. The five-door shares the same nose as the 3-door Ibiza SC but the rear is subtly revised to fit the extra doors, with a slightly higher roofline to improve headroom for rear passengers and offer fractionally more space in the boot.
At the front the Ibiza FR combines sharp creases, large air vents and a unique front bumper to give an air of subtle aggression. Sadly its rump is rather plain, bearing no more than a pair of chromed exhausts and a single FR badge. There isn’t even a spoiler at the back, something I thought was a must-have these days.
There are a few other enhancements to help it stand out from the run-of-the-mill models. The silver door mirrors are an FR trademark so SEAT spotters will immediately know what you’re driving, while a set of 17-inch ‘Aera’ alloys are nestled under the wheelarches. The final flourish is the gorgeous ‘Speed’ blue metallic paintwork, one of two shades available from SEAT’s custom palette (a £560 option).
Step inside the Ibiza and you’re greeted by sports seats bearing the ‘FR’ logo and a leather-covered, flat-bottomed steering wheel that carries the same badge. Sadly they’re the only highlights in the interior as the dash and door panels are covered in swathes of black plastic. The only reprieve is the red-on-black displays for the radio and climate control and the white-on-black trip computer.
There’s no suggestion of flimsiness about the fixtures and fittings but it’s all rather sombre, which is a shame for a car with such sporty aspirations. Are SEAT being held back in this area by their German owners to avoid the Ibiza encroaching too far into Polo territory? Maybe.
While the FR’s cabin might be lacking any ‘wow’ factor it is a comfortable place to sit. The seats are supportive and comfortable for long drives while the side bolsters provide enough grip to hold you in the seat as the g-forces increase. The wheel adjusts for reach and rake and the driver’s seat has all of the movement you’d expect, including height – if you can’t find a comfortable driving position in here you must have some unusual physiology.
All controls are within easy reach, thanks in part to the column mounted radio controls. The trip computer and cruise control buttons are mounted on the stalks, which might sound like a recipe for confusion but they quickly became second nature to use.
The only options this Ibiza doesn’t seem to have are a mini-bar and Corby trouser press. It’s loaded to the gunwales with gadgets, some of it standard kit, some optional. The highlights of the standard spec include cruise control, climate control, MP3 compatible stereo, trip computer, electric windows all round, extra-tinted rear windows and front and side airbags.
The optional extras include bi-xenon headlights with adaptive front lighting and washers (£700), Winter Pack (heated seats, washer jets, £320), Convenience Pack (rear parking sensors, automatic lights and wipers, auto-dimming rear view mirror, £300), Bluetooth Pack (with hands-free phone connection, voice control and two extra speakers, £400), hill-hold control (HHC) with tyre pressure monitor (£50), Tom-Tom pre-installation (£40) and centre rear headrest (£30). The ‘Speed’ paint is also an option at £560, which sounds like a lot but its only £120 more than standard metallic paint.
While there is enough headroom for all but the tallest of passengers to sit comfortably in the rear, the same cannot be said of legroom. Adults may find their lower limbs restricted but there is plenty of space for children, making the Ibiza a perfactly suitable family car.
Is The Ibiza FR Fast?
Oh yes, it’s certainly fast. Not in a way that will have your passengers frantically clinging on to the plastic trim but it’s several rungs up the high street pecking order thanks to the punchy engine lurking under the bonnet. While diesel might not be to everyone’s taste in a performance car, there’s no arguing with the pace that this engine delivers.
The 2.0-litre four-cylinder motor is one of the latest common-rail injected units from the Volkswagen group and it really is quite good. At low revs it is quiet and refined but push it further up the scale and the engine note could almost be described as sporty. There’s no mistaking its diesel roots but it does at least put on a good show.
The engine is keen to rev all the way to the 5,000rpm redline, although it’s best work is done between 2k and 4k rpm where you’ll find a peak of 236lb/ft of torque to hustle the Ibiza along. Once you’re in that sweet spot the Ibiza lifts its skirts and sprints for the horizon, requiring rapid gear changes to keep the engine within that narrow rev range.
Fortunately the manual gearshift is light and direct and the first four gears are great for rapid acceleration and overtaking. Fifth and sixth gears spoil the party with their longer ratios, but then they allow the Ibiza to achieve its excellent economy figures.
For some reason SEAT only offer the five-door Ibiza FR with the diesel engine, denying it the superb TSI petrol engine that is available in the three-door FR. That is a shame because the 1.4 twin-charged engine is a rev-happy unit that combines power and torque with a modicum of economy and costs £965 less to buy than the 3-door diesel.
Does It Handle Well?
The FR features lowered suspension and a firmer setup than standard models and as long as you rate handling above comfort then you’ll be happy with that. At slow speeds rough surfaces and potholes can send thumps and vibrations through the Ibiza’s cabin but it’s not so bad that it could be called uncomfortable.
Once up to speed things start to improve considerably and you find that the Ibiza FR can be hustled along at an amusing pace. Where the ride was firm while pottering around town it is now taut and responsive, granting the Ibiza a nimble feel that encourages you to chuck it into bends.
Turn the wheel and the nose tucks immediately into corners with very little body roll and a surprising resistance to understeer. Get a bit sloppy on the throttle and the nose will run wide, particularly in the damp, but keep things tidy and you will find that there is bags of grip on offer from the Bridgestone Potenza tyres.
Should you make a complete hash of things the Ibiza’s various electronic systems will come in to play. There’s ABS and EBD for safer braking, ESP to counteract understeer and SEAT’s XDS electronic differential. This helps improve traction out of corners by tweaking the brakes on the front wheels if it senses them spinning too much. It’s not as progressive as a mechanical diff, but it is much cheaper and lighter and really does help to keep the Ibiza on the right track.
What About The Economy?
According to the EU offical tests the Ibiza FR is capable of 60.1mpg on the combined cycle. Impressive, but guess what? I beat that! On my first day’s commuting with the Ibiza I followed the gear change indicator to the letter and managed an amazing 63.3mpg (according to the trip computer). Yes, the pace was almost pedestrian but it does prove that the Ibiza is capable of excellent economy.
The gearshift indicator recommends upshifts much earler than you might think is sensible. For the most part it works and you will be rewarded with excellent MPG figures, but if you follow it too closely it often means that you’re running at several hundred revs below the useful power band. Try to accelerate at that point and the engine will grumble its annoyance, prompting a quick downchange to pick up the revs again.
Having established that the FR could be economical I ignored that little arrow and drove how I wanted to. Even when really pushing on the Ibiza refused to dip much below 45mpg and in mixed driving it could easily achive over 50mpg. After five days and 379 miles of mixed driving the Ibiza managed a very respectable average of 54.7 mpg.
Is the Ibiza FR Cheap To Buy?
Um, no, not really. The retail price starts at £17,980 and with this car’s extras that increases to £20,380*. Ouch.
Before you turn away in shock just stop for a moment and take a look at the competition. There’s very little else in the supermini sector that comes close to the Ibiza FR. None of the Ibiza’s stable mates (Polo, A1 or Fabia) use the same engine and the likes of Ford, Vauxhall, Renault and Citroen fail to offer a rival that comes close to the Ibiza’s power output. The closest five-door match you will find is the 143bhp Mini Clubman Cooper SD but that starts at £19,790* and comes with less kit as standard – you’ll need to spend over £22,000 to match the Ibiza.
With only £20 change from £18,000 SEAT are asking a lot for a supermini, even one as well equipped as the Ibiza FR, but if you do enough mileage you will eventually claw back that surplus thanks to the superb economy. You will also enjoy better residuals than a petrol-engined model when it comes to resale, thanks to the growing demand for fuel-sipping diesels on the second-hand market.
Yes, there are hot hatches available that offer more performance for less money but they won’t come anywhere close to the Ibiza’s economy figures or low road tax. With just 123 g/km of CO2 being pumped out of the exhaust the Ibiza fits into Band D, meaning free road tax in the first year and from there on just £90 a year for the tax disc.
The Final Reckoning
Ultimately the Ibiza FR’s diesel engine is its defining characteristic, its greatest strength and biggest weakness. It is an engine that is gutsy, refined and economical but one that won’t immediately appeal to the die-hard petrolheads. Just give it a chance and you will find that the compromise between performance and economy is not as great as you might think.
This is very much a head-beats-heart purchase. Your heart will be telling you to buy something feisty while your head will be saying you need something that won’t cost a fortune at the pumps every month. What the Ibiza FR allows you to do is satisfy the nagging in your head while giving your heart a little something to feel happy about. It won’t be singing as loudly as it might have wanted to, but it will be humming a happy tune.
SEAT Ibiza FR TDI Specifications
|Top Speed:||130 mph|
|CO2 Emissions:||123 g/km (Band D)|
|Price (as tested):||£20,380|
SEAT Ibiza FR TDI Scores
|PERFORMANCE||Plenty of grunt but diesel lacks excitement||7|
|HANDLING||Tidy handling and good grip||7|
|AFFORDABILITY||Low running costs, good residuals offset high price||8|
|DESIRABILITY||Sporty looks, rear needs more sparkle||7|
|DRIVING SPIRIT||Quick and capable but lacks sparkle||7|
[flickr-gallery mode=”photoset” photoset=”72157627763039867″]