2013 Seat Ibiza 5-door SE review: Volkswagen Group’s low-rent ride

Seat Ibiza 5-door SE

Seat Ibiza 5-door SE

It wasn’t supposed to happen—and the story is too involved, not to mention embarrassing to say why—but we recently spent almost two weeks driving a Seat Ibiza along the south coast of England. No, it’s not exactly the Riviera, but then the Ibiza isn’t exactly a Bugatti, and anyway, the Ibiza was the only thing left in the rental fleet that more or less met our needs.

But in the spirit of the lemons/lemonade analogy, we decided to make the best of it and experience a brand we might never drive again.

First, what it is: The Seat Ibiza is a subcompact made by Seat, Volkswagen Group’s subsidiary based in Spain. The Volkswagen Group, for those who don’t know, is a combination of twelve vehicle brands, including eight automotive (in alphabetical order, Audi, Bentley, Bugatti, Lamborghini, Porsche, Seat. Skoda and Volkswagen), three truck (Man, Scania and VW commercial), and one motorcycle (Ducati).

Of these, Seat’s persona is supposed to be “youthful.” That translates into affordable, which translates into the lowest rung of VW Group’s non-exotic brands ladder. Seat models, along with those from Skoda (or more properly, if your keyboard has the option, Škoda, based in the Czech Republic, acquired by VW as the old Soviet Bloc fell apart), share platforms and powertrains with Volkswagen and Audi models with overlapping but certainly not parallel model lineups.

The interior of the Seat Ibiza 5-door SE is, well, ordinary.

The interior of the Seat Ibiza 5-door SE is, well, ordinary. (click to enlarge)

To that end, the  Skoda Ibiza shares VW Group’s “PQ25” platform, also found under the Volkswagen Polo (the next size down from the VW Golf) and the Audi A1. The Ibiza is the Seat brand’s biggest selling model, and comes in a dizzying array of body styles and powertrains, from a sporty coupe to a station wagon…or as Seat calls it, a “sport tourer.” There is no four-door sedan, incidentally, Europeans preferring the more flexible cargo-friendlier five-door layout. Our loaner was the five-door hatchback, the Ibiza’s most popular configuration.

Perhaps we’re too cynical, but the best word to describe the Ibiza’s five-door’s styling is “inoffensive.” There’s nothing off-putting about it, but there’s nothing to thrill the soul either. The same goes for interior design, though cost cutting shines through in hard plastic and a particularly flimsy-feeling steering-wheel mounted audio control lever.

The seats were average, the front passenger seat being panned by our front seat passenger as lacking support and certainly not up to being a saddle for a long day in the saddle to be in. Said passenger also complained about the lack of any kind of armrest. Another example of cost cutting was the combination of fully automatic up/down driver and front passenger power windows…but old-fashioned hand-crank rear windows. Rear power windows are optional. Let the kids work for their fresh air, we say! The exercise will do them good.

The back seat, however, is surprisingly roomy for a car of this class—note the qualifier—and that with a cargo area that, without lowering the back seat, easily swallows two large suitcases with room left over for smaller luggage.

Noise insulation suffered from cost cutting knife. Road noise came through for all but the smoothest pavement, and the Volkswagen diesel, which we’ve experienced in the Volkswagen Beetle here for example, was particularly noisy in the Seat. Engine noise also intruded at anything but a steady cruise, the sounds of the diesel fuel injector pump particularly evident when accelerating.

On the other hand, equipped with the diesel, our Seat Ibiza was able to run with motorway traffic and to accelerate swiftly enough to pop into gaps in traffic. Rated at 105 horsepower, the 1.6-liter four’s torque maxes at 185 lb-ft. Seat says the 1.6-liter diesel will get the Ibiza 5-door to 60 mph in 10.5 seconds, which is hardly blood curdling, but the broad spread of torque makes it feel much quicker. That and how the world so close on narrow roads goes by so fast.

The Ibiza was also competent on those narrow and demanding local roads in Devon and Cornwall, climbing steep hills with ease, the clutch take-up smooth enough for uphill launches. There are other cars we’d rather drive on roads like those, but the Ibiza didn’t scare us silly, however. We let the other drivers do that for us.

Speaking of the diesel, our Seat Ibiza TDI, over moderate to slow driving went 477 miles on one tank of diesel fuel, achieving an impressive 45.0 mpg. (And yes, that’s U.S. gallons, converted from liters).