SEAT Ibiza 1.2 Reference review
by David Finlay (25 July 2006)
Although there have been several upgrades, the Ibiza has not changed radically since the first Volkswagen-inspired model appeared in the early 1990s. Compared with other superminis, it understandably looks a little old-fashioned as a result, though there are some benefits to this, a decent view past windscreen and rear pillars which are not unduly thick being among them.
For the 2006 model year, SEAT has introduced a facelift which includes a dramatic-looking front bumper. This gives the Ibiza a race-style look which suits the higher-powered versions but leads to a feeling of "aw, bless" when applied to the 63bhp 1.2-litre Reference three-door tested here.
But although it's hard to suppress a smirk when you glance at those huge air intakes, this most basic of all Ibizas is no laughing matter. At £7545 it's the cheapest car in the range by a substantial margin (the next in line, the 1.4 16v in Stylance or Sport trim, both cost £8995) but its level of equipment is quite sufficient for a car of this price.
In hot weather, the air-conditioning of the Stylance would be welcome, and there's a case to be made for spending an extra £395 on the Luxury Pack, mostly on the basis of the height-adjustable front seats (it also includes rain-sensing wipers, an anti-dazzle rear view mirror, an MP3-compatible CD player and a volumetric alarm).
Another £600 buys you an extra pair of doors, which could be useful. If you're operating on a budget, though, you'll probably find that the standard spec does the job.
The Ibiza doesn't really qualify as a city car, but in this form it's likely to be used mostly for urban driving. It behaves well here, partly because of the good visibility mentioned earlier and partly because of the nicely-weighted speed-sensitive steering assistance.
Out of town, the Ibiza performs with varying degrees of success depending on what you're using it for. It doesn't do well when it's being asked to tackle undulating country roads at moderate speeds; the classic Ibiza tendency for the front end to start bouncing at the first sign of a bump is not as pronounced as it once was, but it's still very noticeable.
Push harder and the Ibiza starts to rack up the points. It's an absolute hoot to drive when the little three-cylinder engine is bellowing its way towards the revlimiter and you're exploiting the considerable grip of the tyres, even though there is no obvious reason why this sort of car should behave that way.
Could it really be that, for example, your average Spanish housewife floors the throttle when she shuts the door behind her first thing in the morning and doesn't lift off until she's within striking distance of the bakery? Come to think of it, maybe she does, which would explain a lot about the way the Ibiza has been set up.
Perhaps more surprising still is the Ibiza's behaviour on motorways. I put a lot of miles under the test car's wheels, and I have to say I was increasingly impressed by it as the service stations whisked past the passenger-side windows. It was quiet at cruising speeds, the seats gave enough support to be comfortable on a long trip, and although it would have been a waste of everyone's time to start giving chase if a Bugatti Veyron had happened to overtake, there was never a feeling that the engine was struggling even on uphill stretches.
As well as being both spirited and refined, the 1.2 is also economical in the real world. I say "the real world" because according to the official figures it is thirstier than almost all the turbo diesels in the Ibiza range, and only marginally less so than the 158bhp TDI Cupra.
Every one of those cars is more powerful than the 1.2, though, so there is scope to go much faster than the economy test process envisages. The 1.2 just can't perform to the same level, and as a result it can't use as much fuel because there is nothing to use it for. Even if you drive with your foot in the same position as our imagined Spanish housewife's would be, this is never likely to be anything less than an impressively economical car.
The Ibiza is a long way from the cutting edge of supermini design, but it does its job very well indeed, and in the process shows that the new ways are not always the best.