Small eSTate seeks new tenants as Seat Ibiza has growth spurt
IF there is a niche to be found and exploited among the car-buying public, you can be almost certain that someone, somewhere in the sprawling Volkswagen Group will find it, writes William Scholes.
Thus, at a time when everyone else is rushing tiddly little crossovers to their showrooms, the VW Group persists with small estate cars in the form of the Seat Leon ST and the Skoda Fabia estate.
There used to be more to choose from - Peugeot did a 208 estate for a while and Renault did a Clio wagon - but for now Seat or Skoda are your choices, if the thought of a crossover like the Renault Captur or Peugeot 2008 is too much to bear.
The Ibiza ST is easily the most stylish of the pair, though it is slightly more expensive.
Despite the current Ibiza design dating back to 2010, it still looks fresh and the five-door hatchback carries well the translation to estate car.
With the back seats in place, at 430 litres the boot is bigger than you will find in a hatchback like a Volkswagen Golf or Ford Focus from the size class above. It's also 160 litres bigger than the Ibiza hatchback.
Drop the seats - though this isn't as easy as it could be - and a volume of 1,164 litres presents itself. The seats are split in a 60/40 ratio and don't lie flat when folded.
The Fabia estate is bigger still with its 530/1,150 litres capacity.
The Seat's boot space might be grown up, but the back seats aren't; as you might expect, they are more than adequate for children, but adults won't be thrilled at having to spend much time in them, much less actually get in and out. The back doors are a shade larger than the hatchback's, though.
Up front, things have improved considerably since I last drove an Ibiza.
The latest car gets a new dashboard which owes much to the larger Leon, which is a very good thing indeed.
It's a quality item, too, with none of the cheap feeling that the car originally had.
The Ibiza is decently equipped, with Bluetooth audio streaming, air conditioning, DAB radio and roof rails all standard.
Trim levels rise from S, SE and Connect to FR and a wide range of engines is available, with petrols including 1.0-litre, 1.2-litre and 1.4-litre varieties and a 1.4-litre diesel in three states of tune.
Basic prices stretch from £12,910 for a steel-wheeled S to £18,570 for an FR with the 89bhp diesel with a double-clutch automatic gearbox.
The test car's 1.2-litre petrol turbo, with its 109bhp and decent 129lb/ft slug of torque, feels like it could be the sweet spot of the range.
Diesel engines rarely flatter small cars so a punchy little petrol unit feel about right. The 1.2-litre is smooth and offers decent muscle on the move.
There's a sporty edge to the way the chassis of the Ibiza ST has been set up; it suits the car's character and style but it does mean the ride tends to be stiff and there is little of the suspension finesse that you find in, say, a Suzuki in how the Seat handles potholes and rough surfaces.
Ultimately, a lack of precision, the impression of a lot of body roll and an ultimate lack of power count against the Ibiza's sporty aspirations.
However, the driving position is good and while the controls aren't the slickest you will find in the small car class - step forward Mazda and Ford with the 2 and the Fiesta respectively - they are perfectly adequate and inoffensive.
The Ibiza can be specified to quite a high level - Apple Carplay and Android Auto are available, for example, and a panoramic glass roof, xenon headlamps and a variety of personalisation and 'colour package' options are available.
It means that, should having a small estate car on your driveway really be an itch you need to scratch, there is likely to be something in the Ibiza ST line-up to suit your particular requirements.
Whether a larger hatchback like a Seat Leon wouldn't just as satisfactorily meet those requirements with a bit more space for passengers as well as more refinement is a question worth considering before signing on the dotted line for the little Ibiza estate.
But if a small estate it must be, the Ibiza ST is a thoroughly sensible choice.
:: AT A GLANCE
Seat Ibiza ST FR 1.2 TSI 110PS 6-speed manual
Price: £15,635. As tested £17,840. Options included metallic paint £530, smartphone connectivity £145, satnav £580, rear parking sensors £220, ambient lighting £60, climate control £320, 17-inch alloy wheels £250 and space saving spare wheel £100
Engine and transmission: 1.2-litre four-cylinder petrol turbo, six-speed manual gearbox, front-wheel-drive; 109bhp, 129lb/ft
Performance: Top speed 122mph, 0-62mph in 9.7 seconds
Fuel consumption: 54.3mpg (EU combined); 42.3mpg (real world)
CO2, road tax and benefit in kind: 119g/km - not liable in first year, then £30 annually - 20 per cent
Euro Ncap safety rating: Five stars (82/77/59/71)