The buyer profile for B Segment cars is a rather varied one. On one hand, you have yourself those which are built to a price, like the Mitsubishi Attrage; where function takes precedence over form, to produce as much interior space from what little it is built on. On the other end, there are now heaps of rather entertaining choices you can choose from, and this entertaining to choose from bit is mostly thanks to one automotive group.
We have the premium-built A1 hatchback from Audi, and Skoda had recently launched a one-two salvo, with its Kamiq SUV, and Scala hatchback, the latter which has heaps of interior space, and wagon-like versatility. Parent company Volkswagen, also has the T-Cross SUV and Polo hatchback, the latter which is a close cousin to what we have with us today, the SEAT Ibiza.
SEAT in Singapore has now fielded a 1.5 litre turbocharged variant of their small hatchback, and it is a mixed bag of mostly good things.
The Ibiza shares the same razor-sharp body styling as its siblings, and includes on it a pair of attractive LED tail lamps, and faux twin tail finishers.
With the 1.5 litre FR model, the small hatchback is endowed with larger ‘Dynamic’ rims on 215/45 R17 tyres, hinting of some promising handling.
The SEAT Ibiza’s upper zone of the dash may be made of hard plastics, but does not come across as cheap, to jazz it up, it also features snazzy red stitching across the dash, steering wheel and other bits of trim. For a B segment hatchback, the interior is overall well-built, with decent enough attention paid to detail.
Being a small car, profit margins are thinner, and you will be able to see a few cost reductions in the placement of the car’s ‘Start’ button, which is oriented for left-hand drive markets. There are also no grab bars above the doors, and the driver’s seat lacks lumbar support.
Speaking of trim, the seats in the FR model which are upholstered in fabric, are supportive with tall bolsters on the side, but the fabric coverings might pose an issue with prolonged use, since constant entry and exit will make the door-facing material crease.
For a small car, the Ibiza is quite well equipped. Front passengers benefit from dual zone climate control, though there are no vents at the rear. Door pockets are generous, being able to accommodate larger water bottles. The Ibiza is fitted with an infotainment unit fronted by an 8” screen, that supports both Apple and Android devices. It is also equipped with a wireless charger for your mobile phone, meaning that you wouldn’t run out of juice as you stream music.
Even with its tiny footprint, the Ibiza is able to accommodate four adults with ease. The tall central tunnel does get in the way for the middle passenger, and it is at best for kids. It does have an adjustable headrest though. As a small hatchback, we were rather impressed with the Ibiza’s boot. You get 355 litres at your disposal, and the FR has an adjustable boot floor which aligns with the rear seats when folded for added versatility. Additionally, I like that they have even included slots for your rear seatbelts, so that they would not get caught when folding the seats, and loading the car up.
But the main reason why I think the Ibiza FR is great, is that it is equipped with a potent 1.5 litre turbocharged engine, which is also found in the Skoda Scala and Kamiq duo, and also found in the all-new Audi A3 and “bread and butter” Volkswagen Golf, the last two mentioned are mated to a mild-hybrid system.
The 1.5 litre boasts 150hp and a very impressive 250Nm, with a quick-shifting 7-speed DSG supplying drive to the front wheels. Compared to the 1.0, the 1.5 is smoother in delivery since the four-cylinder is better-balanced. There is a small amount of lag when taking off, but once full-on torque is made available, the small hatchback delivers effortlessly.
Driving on rougher surfaces, there is a little bit of intrusion from the road into the cabin, but it will not ruin your overall experience; perhaps you get a little more intrusion than what you would versus the VW Polo and Audi A1.
While the Ibiza FR is technically not a hot hatch, it does outperform the likes of the all new Suzuki Swift Sport ( locally we get the less-powerful and more “compliant” mild hybrid variant), with the 1.5 litre Ibiza FR hitting the 100km/mark in 8.2 seconds. In contrast, the Swift Sport does this in 9.1 seconds.
Pitch the Spanish hatchback into a corner, and you will appreciate how that firm suspension, together with those larger rims with lower-profile tyres ensures that the car does not wallow.
The rear suspension, a semirigid axle setup does become slightly unsettled when going over uneven patc hes at speed, but overall the tiny SEAT handles well.
Performance might be a huge improvement over the 1.0, but where the 1.5 litre also shines, is in its fuel efficiency. When cruising the 1.5 is able to deactivate cylinders 2 and 3, and run on the remaining two cylinders; and you can tell when this happens, as there is an indicator that appears on your central instrument display.
In ‘Eco’ mode, lifting off the throttle allows you to coast, similar to being in neutral, allowing you to glide effortlessly, further reducing your fuel consumption. While SEAT claims 20km/l, I managed 20.8km/l combined… very good! I was pleasantly surprised that even in ‘Eco’ drive mode, the 1.5 engine does not feel anemic at all, but in-fact it still performs effortlessly.
Safety-wise, the Ibiza is equipped with ‘Tiredness Recognition’ which will prompt you to take a break if it detects that you are losing focus on the road. For those who worry about rolling back, Hill Hold Control keeps the brakes applied when you move your foot to the accelerator.
Other features like adaptive cruise control helps you to regulate your speed, in accordance with the vehicle in-front of you. Quite an ideal feature, given our local traffic conditions, where you will find yourself adjusting your speed constantly on the highways. The same system also intervenes in the event of an emergency, helping to bring the car to a stop.
The SEAT Ibiza FR is a nippy B segment hatch that is worth looking into, especially if you are in the market for something small and entertaining, but you do not want to compromise on build quality and a little luxury. It is to me possibly one of the most entertaining-yet-refined drives you can get for a car its size… and it is also comparable money to Suzuki’s hot hatch offering.
Credits: Words and Photos by Clifford Chow