Last year, UK sales of the Ibiza reached record levels with just over 10,200 units sold. This year it expects to shift 10,700 units as both old and new models sit side-by-side on garage forecourts. Next year SEAT wants to sell 12,000.
However, the manufacturer remains tight-lipped about projected fleet sales for the new Ibiza, saying it has not set any targets.
Compared to its predecessor, new Ibiza is 77mm longer, 58mm wider and 19mm taller. This growth gives the new model more interior space and more on-the-road presence.
The new Ibiza builds on the success of other members of the Volkswagen Group. It shares its platform with Volkswagen's new Polo and the Skoda Fabia. But new Ibiza is definitely the family tearaway. It's more sporty and a lot more fun.
New Ibiza offers company car drivers plenty of choice. Five engines will be available from launch in May, two diesel and three petrol, as well as four trim levels. Choice is an important factor if new Ibiza is to compete with the new Ford Fiesta, new Polo and Citroen C3.
However, in a burgeoning sector that takes the adjective 'new' almost as read, SEAT needs something different to give it the edge over rival superminis.
Step forward the mighty 1.9 diesel with 130bhp. SEAT has chosen to use a high performance diesel engine to head the range, rather than following the lead of other manufacturers who prefer to launch their ranges with a high-powered petrol engine. The question is, whether SEAT is being brave or foolish by putting a high-powered diesel engine in pole position.
On one hand, using the family 1.9 TDI unit will give new Ibiza the most powerful diesel engine in its class. It will appeal to drivers who do not have hang-ups about diesel.
But from a company car tax perspective, drivers face bigger tax bills if they choose a diesel supermini – at least for the first year of the new system.
Not only do diesels command price premiums over their petrol equivalents, therefore increasing the list price, diesel cars also incur a 3% penalty under the new tax regime unless they meet strict Euro IV emission standards.
For example, a 22% taxpayer in the Ibiza Sport 1.9 TDI 130, which costs £13,495 and emits 138g/km of CO2 can expect an annual tax bill of £534 – at least until 2004/05.
But the same driver in an Ibiza Sport 1.4 (100bhp), which costs £11,345 and emits 168g/km can expect a bill of £374, rising to £474 in 2004/05.
Behind the wheel
On looks alone it is clear Alfa Romeo is not only SEAT's inspiration but also its preferred rival. So it comes as no surprise to learn that Walter de'Silva, the man who gave us the Alfa 147 and 156, supervised the final detailing of the new Ibiza.
However, many of the styling cues – for example the muscular wings and double headlamps beneath clear glass covers – were first seen on the SEAT Salsa concept car.
At first, pictures of the new Ibiza did not set my heart racing but seeing it in the metal I warmed to it immediately; there is something welcoming and reassuring about its well-rounded shape and smooth lines.
But as the styling pulled my gaze towards the front of the car I noticed an aggressive nature, clearly visible in the redesigned grille and raised central section. Inside the car, there is a sense of déjà vu. Retro-styled rounded air vents that simply ooze Alfa immediately caught my attention.
The Ibiza boasts SEAT's new 'agile chassis' and a new electro-hydraulic power steering system that selects between different performance patterns depending on driving conditions, style and vehicle speed.
It is the engines, however, that make the Ibiza a sporting proposition, led by the 130bhp 1.9TDI. This engine is powerful enough to accelerate the heavy Volkswagen Passat at a reasonable lick so its propulsion of the supermini Ibiza is sensational, delivering maximum torque from just 1,900 rpm and pulling eagerly all the way to the red line. It even has a sixth gear for relaxed motorway cruising.
The range also boasts a 100bhp petrol unit which is no slowcoach, but does seem to lack the urgency of the diesel, arriving at 60mph from standstill almost two seconds slower than the TDI. Certainly the lack of low end torque – maximum power is delivered at 4,400rpm – means the engine has to be worked harder before the performance becomes lively.
The new Ibiza is better than its predecessor in every respect, and it needs to be. The Alfa styling influences are welcome and the diesel is stunning. But there's also hot competition from the Clio, 206, Polo, Fiesta and C3.
The entry-level Ibiza comes very competitively priced, but at the top-of-the-range spending £13,500 for a supermini seems steep.