I am thinking of starting up my own church, for I was blind and now I can see, and I invite you, my fleet brothers and sisters, to rise and praise with me. For I have seen the light, and it is the diesel hot hatch. No longer a screaming little petrol motor. Give me a large cylinder pumpe duse diesel mated to a six-speed gearbox in a little car – it is a joy.
My evangelical tone comes from a week in the SEAT Ibiza 1.9 TDI PD 130 Sport. For not only did every stamp on the accelerator in any gear provoke a huge surge forward, anytime, anyplace, anywhere, but also the Ibiza returned a thrifty 52 mpg. The little Ibiza really lets you have your cake and eat it.
But that is in ownership terms, and the buying public has yet to cotton on to the advantages of small car/big diesel engine. In the second- hand market, there is not really much of a demand for these cars yet, which is a real shame. CAP puts the residual value for the Ibiza 130 at 35%/£4,675 of its new price after three years and 60,000 miles.
However, three years is a long time in motoring and who knows what the fuel market will be like then?
The incentive to go for a secondhand supermini diesel could be much stronger than it is now.
As a model, the Ibiza should certainly attract buyers with its looks. It is a baby Alfa Romeo 147 – not surprising as they share the same designer in Walter da Silva – but it also benefits from earnest and substantial Volkswagen build, plastics, electronics and engineering, unlike the Alfa.
The 1.9 TDI PD engine, which finds its way into all sorts of Volkswagen Group cars including the Polo, Golf, Passat, A4, A6, Superb and Leon to name a few, is shoehorned under its tiniest bonnet here, and the six-speed 'box makes the most of 130bhp and the sort of torque that would pull a battleship: 230lb-ft at 1,900rpm. Under acceleration, it is pretty obvious that there has not been much room for sound proofing as the Ibiza is very noisy, but it's a hot hatch, and wafty cruising is not its thing.
From standstill the Ibiza takes 9.4 seconds to reach 62mph, although in most situations the traction control would put a stop to that. Initial acceleration does not illustrate the Ibiza's pace well, because it is in the mid-range where it really shows off.
The ride is firm, although not uncomfortable and the steering is sharp and communicative. Because of the weighty engine in the front though, and the enormous torque raging through the front wheels, understeer (where the front of the car runs wide on bends) if you get on the power too early is huge.
Lift off the gas and it calms down nicely though. This is a fun car, although the front tyres will have to really work hard, so allow for tyre replacement bills in your maintenance forecasts.
The Ibiza has plenty of kit on it and so it should for its price. Standard specification includes the necessary traction control, sports seats, Climatronic air conditioning, front and side side airbags, leather steering wheel, CD player, remote controlled central locking and 16-inch alloy wheels.
As with all Volkswagen Group cars, the driving position is lovely and despite the stiff ride, a couple of long distance drives proved very comfortable and great fun. This car is a hoot. It's time to spread the word.
Delivered price, standard car (P11D value): £13,360
CO2 emissions (g/km): 138
BIK % of P11D in 2002: 18%
Graduated VED rate: £110
Insurance group: 7
Combined mpg: 55.4
CAP Monitor residual value: £4,675/35%
Depreciation (13.36 pence per mile x 60,000): £8,016
Maintenance (2.20 pence per mile x 60,000): £1,320
Fuel (6.99 pence per mile x 60,000): £4,194
Wholelife cost (22.55 pence per mile x 60,000): £13,530
Typical contract hire rate: £286 per month
All figures based on 3yrs/60,000 miles. Monthly rental quote from HSBC Vehicle Finance.
Three rivals to consider
The major flaw of the Ibiza is its front-end price. While it has a decent level of standard specification, finding competitors from the sector in its high price band is difficult. All these cars are nippy, with the Ibiza genuinely 'hot', but the MINI Cooper stands out for being almost £2,000 cheaper. The average MINI Cooper has about £2,000's worth of optional extras and by the time all the options are ticked, it is at least as well specified as the Ibiza.
For service, maintenance and repair costs, the MINI would cost £400 a year to service thanks to its all-in-one TLC package which is available for £100 (this doesn't include items such as tyres). The Ibiza sits in comfortable mid-table with the Peugeot, so there really is very little between these three. But the most expensive – £100 a year more than the MINI – is the MG and the company has also been having a hard time with spare parts availability recently.
Peugeot's HDi engines are famously frugal and this one is no different in terms of fuel economy. The Ibiza is also good and considering its performance, 50-plus mpg on the combined cycle makes for fun on a fuel shoestring. The MG would cost only a couple of hundred pounds more in fuel bills over three years and 60,000 miles than the others, but the petrol MINI is way behind as expected: over 60,000 miles it would face a larger fuel bill by more than £1,000.
In three years' time the SEAT will be a cracking second-hand car, but it really ought to do better than this for its first time owners, as it loses more than £8,000 in depreciation. Its build quality is absolutely no problem, so does this mean SEAT still has much work to do on its image? By contrast, the MINI depreciates by just £6,500 over 60,000 miles. Although the Rover 25 is an old car, the ZR's residual value shows the MG makeover's effectiveness in bringing new life to the car.
Emissions and BIK tax rates
The vagaries of the benefit-in-kind tax system and its cheaper P11D price mean the MINI is by far the lowest taxed of the four cars. It doesn't carry the 3% diesel surcharge as a petrol, and will cost a 22% taxpayer £378 in 2002/2003. The MINI will still be £60 cheaper than the Ibiza in 2004/2005, despite the SEAT's impressive CO2 emissions of 138g/km. The MG's older engine produces high emissions, while the 206 reinforces Peugeot's excellent record of cleanliness.
I loved the Ibiza. It has loads of power and is great fun, but put it against the MINI and from a fleet perspective, it takes a real beating. Despite fuel costs, the MINI wins easily: cheaper on tax, better on depreciation and excellent on SMR. It wins even before you get to issues of style and flair and it is also a great drive.