When you look at the latest crop of Volkswagen Group models, you could be forgiven for believing that a new ‘corporate’ look is very much the ‘in-thing’, as dictated by HQ in Wolfsburg. All sharply creased and crisply executed, it does seem as though origami is the new design direction for all of the brands, as Seat’s former curvily organic stance has been changed to one of rhomboid geometric, both inside and out, and you need to be careful that you do not cut a finger on those edges, so sharp are they.
Styling is very subjective. It can and does create Marmite opinions that can be as extreme and simple as ‘love’, or ‘hate’. While I am an advocate of more precise design directions, I am concerned that VW Group, in making ALL of its models share the same folded-paper ethos, might fall down the sluice marked ‘badge-engineering’ with uncanny alacrity.
Although technology sharing, from platform architecture to engines and transmissions, is not just logical but eminently sensible, most especially from a manufacturing costs reduction (and, thus, profits-maximising) premise, when the mincing machine simply churns out replicas bearing different logos, you know that something else has gone awry.
Yet, the latest Ibiza, which has been made available only in three states of 1.0-litre tune so far (72, 92 and now 112bhp forms; a 1.5-litre 147bhp unit will give weight to a Cupra introduction), is clinging onto its individuality most manfully. It drives beautifully, with delicious steering, surgically precise brakes, decent throttle responses and a sweet manual transmission all working with fluid transparency to ensure that the taut new bodyshell delivers crisp handling, strong grip levels and sweetly balanced dynamics.
The FR delivers an enhanced package. It is not Cupra and neither should it be. It is a lukewarm variant that, much like polishing pebbles, has received a few extra moments on the honing equipment but, as the stock package is so competent, all it needs to do is demonstrate a finer focus, which it does most competently.
Rising above a psychological hurdle of paying more than £12-£15,000 for a standard ONE-litre car is a bit like ‘tough love’. New car retail prices have been in runaway mode for much of the past two to three years. The Seat Ibiza FR 1.0TSi 115 6-speed manual is listed at £16,630, not including FCD discount, (verging on ‘shock territory’), to which must be added £530 for its essential paint-job (in this case, Mystery Blue, a beautiful and deeply glossy finish that does add value to the car). The Beats audio system, which includes a boot area sound-deadening enhancement, weighs-in at a modest £365, the 18-inch diameter, machined alloys factor in a further £325, LED headlamps are £480 and the electric tilt-and-slide, panoramic sunroof (with manual blind) costs £665…a total of £2,365’s worth of accessories that weight the price tag to a hefty £18,995. While ‘market-competitive’, the even zestier (because it is so much lighter) Suzuki Baleno and even the Vauxhall Corsa are some £3,000 less expensive. In a cash-strapped market, it is a major consideration.
Given its head, the off-beat engine feels slightly unwilling to rev freely, although, once the turbocharger spools-up, it delivers strong performance, despatching the 0-60mph acceleration benchmark in 9.0-seconds, with a maximum speed potential of 121mph, to place the FR fairly close to the top of the 1.0-litre table. It sips fuel at a stated rate of 60.1mpg, although its 108g/km CO2 rating equates to an annual Road Tax levy of £140. I have no complaint about this excellent performance spread and the FR seldom feels less than competent, because it is so well suspended.
The bigger wheels, in this case, help by giving the FR a more stable stance, the lower-profile tyres providing superior levels of mechanical grip. The damping is firm but quite compliant, to result in well-judged handling, crisp cornering and superior bump suppression. It is never uncomfortable and high mileages can be tackled without incurring driver weariness.
One of the options I would avoid is the LED headlamps, which will save potential customers almost £500, as the spread of nocturnal illumination is not as good as Xenon, or even Halogen alternatives. However, the triangular daytime running lamps’ signature is smart, not least because they revert from white to amber, when indicating a change of direction.
Internally, it is more of the jaggy pointiness, although the instrument panel is crystal clear and the centre stack touch-screen is not merely comprehensive in its range of media but it hooks-up to Bluetooth eagerly and provides excellent DAB reception and sound reproduction through the Beats speaker system. The driving position is multi-adjustable, with both seat and steering column creating safe and supportive comfort. Typical of cars converted from left to right-hand-drive markets, the parking brake lever is positioned too far left in the centre console, although there are plenty of storage slots that result, even if a centre armrest is not standard equipment.
All of the controls, from steering column to foot-pedals, are typical VW fayre and work most efficaciously, with a satisfying operational high quality. Vision fore, aft and laterally is excellent and a plethora of primary safety and semi-autonomous addenda completes the overall package.