First Drive: Seat Ibiza FR TDI
Given the inexorable rise of oil burners over the past decade it is a surprise to discover that in terms of fast, affordable diesel hatchbacks, the new Seat Ibiza FR TDI really is the only show in town at the moment. Bring any of the cars current competitors to mind (Fiesta, Corsa, Mito, Punto, 207, Fabia, Polo etc) and all lag some way behind the Ibiza's power.
The FR's superiority is thanks to the new 2.0-litre TDI engine Seat has wedged under the bonnet. The turbo diesel produces 140bhp, but the headline figure is the torque; 236lb ft between 1750 and 2500rpm. These figures mean the Ibiza is not only quicker than the previous model, but also comfortably faster than anything else in its segment.
And thanks to common rail technology, the new engine is also more economical and has lower emissions. Seat claims the FR is capable of 64mpg, while CO2 emissions of just 119g/km means the Ibiza costs just £35 a year in tax. Even the insurance is cheap.
However, while this all looks pretty convincing on paper, not all of the Ibiza's apparent attributes transfer onto the road. The new engine, though powerful and refined, feels curiously pedestrian when pushed hard. This may be because (despite the figures) the torque delivery has been spread throughout the rev range rather than focusing it into the one brief moment of dramatic shove that made the old 1.9-litre turbodiesel feel genuinely rapid.
Seat will point out that the linear power band makes the Ibiza more flexible and easier to drive smoothly, which is true, but the FR's hot hatch aspirations are so prominent elsewhere that it is difficult not to be slightly disappointed when you try and find genuine acceleration amongst all that extra muscle.
The engine's final lack of sparkle is unfortunate, because otherwise the FR makes a strong case for itself. Unlike the Cupra version of the Ibiza, the FR's firm ride strikes a reasonable balance between handling and comfort, although the car's composure was rarely challenged by the smooth Spanish highways.
British B roads certainly shouldn't prove a problem though. The FR's wider track and stiffer suspension breeds confidence, and there's a commendable amount of grip before understeer trips the traction control. The steering weights up nicely, too.
Seat has ensured the Ibiza looks the part; the FR gets 17-inch alloys, new bumpers and lower ride height than the standard model. Inside, the FR badge adds a smattering of mock carbon fibre to the dash, which won't be everyone's cup of tea, but the sports seats are comfortable and decently trimmed.
As the car is based on the same platform found beneath the Volkswagen Polo, there isn't a huge amount of space in the cabin even in the 5-door version, but everything resonates with the usual VW Group real world resilience. You also get a decent amount of kit for your £16,495; climate control, hill hold assist and cruise control are all standard, as is the six-speed manual gearbox which can only be found on the TDI (the 1.4-litre petrol FR can only be bought with an automatic DSG transmission).
Overall, there's a lot to recommend the Ibiza FR. It's a practical, likeable supermini and its value for money, flexibility and superior economy will certainly suit the young audience Seat has consciously targeted. Only the enthusiastic drivers amongst them will wind up feeling a little short changed. The Ibiza's new 2.0-litre engine might mean refined, effortless progress, but its extra performance has not translated into extra excitement.