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SEAT Ibiza

SEAT

Review

A DECADE or so ago, Ibiza meant cheap 'n' cheerful package holidays, teenage raves and sangria-induced oblivion. Nowadays it is the dance destination for sophisticated, twenty-something urban warriors looking for a more mature experience.

SEAT hopes its new Ibiza supermini will enjoy a similar shift in perception as it prepares to move upmarket to court a more discerning audience.

The Volkswagen-owned Spanish car marker wants to reinforce its growing reputation for performance - gained by building sporty models like the 180bhp Cupra R - and build further on areas like style, quality and design.

It is all part of a wider process to create clear distinctions between the VW stable of auto brands, which will see SEAT aligned with Lamborghini and Audi in the new set-up's sporty, Southern European division.

The Ibiza is SEAT's best-selling model and the reception this new version gets will be seen as a bellweather for the brand's longer-term aspirations. Exciting times then, for a manufacturer that was struggling for any sort of credibility outside its domestic market less than 10 years ago.

Based on the same platform as the Volkswagen Polo and Skoda Fabia, the Ibiza has been tweaked to hone its handling characteristics to reflect the sporting aspirations of the SEAT brand.

We have yet to drive the Ibiza, but SEAT calls its special handling package the 'agile chassis' and is creating a fair deal of expectation that it will offer a significantly different driving experience to other VW Group stablemates.

This is achieved by using new power steering software, new tyres and suspension bushings and improved springs and dampers.

Available in three- and five-door versions, the newcomer is 77mm longer, 58mm wider and 19mm taller than its predecessor. These increased dimensions create significantly more interior space for people and luggage as well as giving the new Ibiza more presence on the road.

A much wider choice of engines will be available - ranging from a frugal three-cylinder petrol unit to VW's acclaimed 130bhp TDI PD and SEAT is predicting lower insurance ratings and servicing, maintenance and repair rates.

Three badging designations: Stella, Sport and Signo, will equate to volume, sporty and luxury trim levels and double airbags, an immobiliser, low-profile tyres, power steering and adjustable steering wheel will all be standard across the range.

In the flesh, the similarities to some established Alfa Romeo design touches are immediately obvious. From the 147, there's the aggressively raised central section on the bonnet which sweeps forward to emphasise a reworked SEAT grille, while the rear light clusters resemble those found on the 156, but with more modern multiple lenses and the interior ventilation vents are pure Alfa retro. Some industry commentators are predicting that SEAT will start to depict itself as an alternative to the temperamental Italian marque without the tears - a happy combination of Latin flair with Teutonic engineering excellence.

Head of research and design Dr Winfried Burgert accepted that Alfa Romeo was the new SEAT's natural competition in terms of image and market position - but not in terms of sales volumes.

He said: 'Both SEAT and Alfa are southern European marques, but where Alfa is considered a 'Latin' brand, we think of SEAT as a 'Mediterranean' brand - and there is a difference. Design and sportiness are key values. The Ibiza will be the bridge between the old SEAT and the new image and range. In five years' time, we will have the same improvements across the range as a whole.'

CO2 emissions and fuel consumption data correct at time of writing. The latest figures are available in the Fleet News fuel cost calculator and the company car tax calculator.

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