SEAT Ibiza 2021 review – a match for the Ford Fiesta?

A lift in refinement and tech make the new Ibiza an appealing supermini, but you’ll have to look elsewhere for driving thrills

Evo rating
Price
from £16,945
  • Styling, tech, feels like a car from the class above
  • Maturity (still) trumps fun

​​​The SEAT Ibiza has been a popular supermini since its 1984 introduction, and the launch of the sharp fifth-generation car in 2017 only helped matters by bringing a newfound sense of maturity. Four years on, the marque has given it a mid-life facelift to help it stay up-to-speed with its arch rivals, including the class-leading Ford Fiesta.

Sporty, sharp styling, a modern cabin and strong value for money are still key selling points, but with even the mild performance models now stripped from the range, can it match the Fiesta for driving thrills?

> Ford Fiesta review – still the best supermini?

A total of four 1-litre, three-cylinder petrol engines are on the options list, starting with a non-turbocharged 1-litre MPI with 79bhp and rising to the 108bhp turbocharged range-topper. The latter of these has enough gusto to slide past 62mph in 10.3sec, while its 148lb ft maximum torque figure comes on strong at 2000rpm and lasts until 3500rpm.

A five-speed manual transmission is the only transmission option on the non-turbocharged base model, with the turbocharged units instead using a six-speed manual or optional DSG transmission in the 108bhp range-topper. The manual is the usual VW Group fare: a light action, slightly notchy as each ratio engages, and not particularly tactile. The gearing feels well-matched to both engines though; second is a good B-road gear in the 1-litre, while tall upper ratios benefit refinement and economy at higher speeds. 

The DSG is slick, with brisk upshifts and downshifts in both manual and automatic modes. The occasional jerky downshift at low speeds can be jarring and kickdown is slower than we’d like at times, but given the normal use case for these models it’s a fine transmission.

SEAT often feels like the poor relation in the VW Group, stuck behind its parent company when it comes to new platforms and engines, but the fifth-generation Ibiza was actually the first car in the group to use the MQB A0 platform, now found under the skin of Volkswagen’s latest Polo and the Skoda Fabia.

This change manifested itself in this current generation, growing over its predecessor with a body that’s 87mm wider, but actually 2mm shorter, 1mm lower. To unlock more interior space, SEAT also extended the wheelbase by a further 60mm, resulting in a model that looks more like a mini-Leon than an Ibiza. For the mid-life facelift, SEAT’s brought in base-level LED headlights joining the previous high-spec units, new badging at the rear and some fresh wheel options too.

The biggest changes come inside though, with an enlarged floating infotainment screen mimicking the package available on other SEAT and Cupra models. A full-width Digital Cockpit is also now available as an option, with softer materials, illuminated air vents and an overall improvement in material quality present throughout the range. Better still, the Ibiza has dodged the tedious inclusion of VAG’s new touch controls, with physical buttons for volume and A/C controls.

We’ve come to expect superminis to feel more grown-up, and in many ways the Ibiza is still the most grown-up of the bunch. Even before you step inside its refreshed cabin, it looks like the larger Leon, and that sensation largely remains after you’ve climbed inside and driven a few miles. Larger individuals might notice the door cards and centre console in slightly closer proximity than they would be in a car from the class above, but in terms of refinement, quality, and infotainment options, you aren’t losing much at all.

This maturity might imply dull driving dynamics. Actually, the Ibiza’s not too bad here either, though thrill-seekers will want to turn to the likes of Ford’s Fiesta, as even the range-topper isn’t quite quick or incisive enough to truly entertain. The 1.0-litre unit is enthusiastic enough, but chassis and tyre technology in this class has developed such that it’s undramatic, whether the going is straight or twisty.

The Ibiza steers well, and although feedback from the front axle isn’t forthcoming, the rack is accurate and well-weighted and there are good levels of grip to lean on. Selecting Sport from the SEAT Drive Profile settings has little discernible difference to any dynamic trait other than the steering, which is slightly more resistive to inputs. In theory, throttle response also improves, and DSG models feature different shift points too.

The Sports suspension doesn’t provide hot hatch levels of body control but there’s enough dynamism here to make light work of quick changes of direction, and there’s a sense - not always present in Volkswagen Group small cars - that the rear axle is assisting in those direction changes. Ride quality is good; Spanish roads are too smooth to really test the Ibiza’s pliancy, but the chassis doesn’t protest too much over the odd scabby surface or speed bump.

Price and rivals

On-the-road pricing begins at £16,945 for the 1.0 MPI in basic SE trim, a jump of over £3000 over the pre-facelift car. Even so, this puts the Ibiza in a good place for budget buyers, with the equivalent 1-litre Polo, the 1.0 TSI Life, costing £17,885. The entry-level Ford Fiesta will set you back a little less at £16,645, but a less potent powertrain makes it a less attractive offering.

The Ibiza sits in a rather competitive sector, with the Ford Fiesta, new Hyundai i20 and excellent Peugeot 208 all competing with the model. SEAT also lists the Renault Clio, Skoda Fabia, Toyota Yaris, Vauxhall Corsa and aforementioned Polo as being its closest rivals.

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