For years, models such as the various Clio Renaultsports and the Ford Fiesta ST have dominated this sector, but SEAT is fighting back.
In line with the Leon, Toledo and Altea ranges, there are now two sporting models heading the line-up – FR and Cupra. The FR (for Formula Racing) line is positioned just below the top-spec Cupra, and in the Ibiza it is available in either petrol or diesel engines.
And the Ibiza has also been given a more sporting wardrobe in its recent revamp. A new front bumper has been added with ‘aggressive’ air intakes inspired by the Leon World Touring Car racer.
The chrome twin exhausts have been made more visible, while a mock racing-style diffuser has been added to the rear bumper.
Other touches include larger 17-inch alloys (up from 16s on the old model) and the Ibiza badge has been moved from the side to the middle of the rear hatch.
However, the general impression of the Ibiza is little changed from the old version, and I still don’t think it is one of Seat’s best designs. Despite the new touches it still looks quite podgy and ill-proportioned, with the large sides making the wheels look too small.
Still, you can’t see the car from the cockpit. Changes inside include the steering wheel being smeared with ‘titanium-style’ silver to accommodate the FR badge.Controls for the stereo are included, although they feel strangely unsatisfying to use, and vague to the touch.
The six-speed manual gearbox is pretty run-of-the-mill – not outstandingly slick, but not bad either – although I couldn’t get comfortable with the chunky design of the gearknob, which didn’t sit well in my grip.
The interior design of the dashboard and doors is uninspiring and the centre console and instrument binnacle is made from plastic that feels brittle and doesn’t look that special either.
The sportified seats are good though, providing plenty of lateral support and they remain comfortable even on long journeys.
Under the bonnet little has changed, with the same turbocharged 1.8-litre engine putting out 148bhp. This is good for 62mph from standstill in 8.4 seconds, which it does in a convincingly sporty manner.
There’s decent pull from the off, and a meaty, rasping sound from the exhaust too.
The handling is also pretty decent, with the speed-sensitive steering providing an acceptable level of feedback around B-roads and lightening up to allow you to nip easily around town.
Despite the new touches, the Ibiza is essentially four years old – very mature in hot hatch terms. But although beginning to show its age, the Ibiza FR is a solidly decent hottish hatch. It may be no looker, but for around £12,000 it’s cheaper to buy than many of its rivals.
Delivered price, standard car (P11D value): £11,747
CO2 emissions (g/km): 190
BIK % of P11D in 2006: 25%
Graduated VED rate: £190
Insurance group: 12
Combined mpg: 35.8
CAP Monitor residual value: £4,150/33%
Depreciation 12.20 pence per mile x 60,000: £7,320
Maintenance 2.91 pence per mile x 60,000: £1,746
Fuel 11.99 pence per mile x 60,000: £7,194
Wholelife cost 27.10 pence per mile x 60,000: £16,260
Typical contract hire rate: £285
All figures based on 3yrs/60,000 miles.
Three rivals to consider
At a glance
THE Ibiza is the cheapest by almost £500 and it’s a decent package with 148bhp, an MP3/CD player and sports seats.
The MINI is second but is severely hampered by a lack of power. With only 115bhp it lags behind the rest of the group.
The Colt costs another £600 and boasts 147bhp and part-leather upholstery as standard. The Fiesta also boasts 148bhp but is the most expensive at £1,500 more than the Seat.
THE Mini comes out on top here, although the 2ppm figure quoted here includes the optional TLC servicing package.
With that, the Cooper is likely to cost £1,200 to service and maintain over a three-year/60,000-mile fleet cycle.
Over the same period the Colt will cost £1,650, while the Fiesta ST will demand £1,722. The Ibiza is the most expensive to keep on the road. Expect it to produce bills totalling £1,746 over its life.
THE Colt is the least thirsty of the quartet, with a claimed combined fuel economy figure of 41.5mpg, or 10.35ppm. This equates to a petrol bill of £6,210 over 60,000 miles.
The MINI, which returns a claimed 40.9mpg, will drink £6,300-worth of unleaded. Both the Fiesta and Ibiza with their larger engines lag behind. The Ford returns 38.2mpg and will guzzle £6,744-worth of petrol, while the Seat will cost £7,194 thanks to average fuel economy of 35.8mpg.
MINIS have had considerable appeal and strong residuals since launch, and the Cooper is no exception. CAP estimates it will hold on to 48% of its value after three years/60,000 miles, meaning a loss over that time of £6,282.
The Ibiza also looks likely to depreciate less than its rivals, retaining 37% and losing £7,320, while the Fiesta (39%) will shed £8,304. The Colt is not expected to fare well in the residuals battle. Its RV of 32% means it will lose £8,736 over its fleet life.
THE Mini is by far the cheapest to run on 22.97ppm, but its bid to be the choice of hot hatches is hindered by its performance. The remaining three are all closely matched, with the Ibiza the least expensive on 27.10ppm. Over a three-year/60,000-mile fleet life, expect it to cost £16,260 to run.
The Colt is close behind and will cost £16,596, while the Ford, despite the appeal of its power, is the dearest at £16,770.
Emissions and bik tax rates
A WIN for the Colt in the environmental test. With the lowest CO2 emissions it also falls into the lowest company car tax bracket of our quartet.
As a result, a 22% taxpayer running the Mitsubishi can expect a monthly bill of £45. The Mini is next and will cost exactly the same. The larger engines of the Ford and Seat mean higher emissions. The Fiesta is slightly greener and will cost £54 a month, while the Seat will also cost £54 thanks to its lower price.
ALTHOUGH the MINI is the cheapest to run, it just doesn’t cut it as a hot hatch. With that in mind, the obvious choice must be the Ibiza. It’s the cheapest to run after the Cooper and despite being in a higher tax bracket than the opposition, it’s only £9 a month more in company car tax than the leaders. A driver choosing the Ibiza FR as a potent small car is unlikely to be disappointed.
WINNER:SEAT Ibiza 1.8T FR