Life

Seat Ibiza better than ever for 2022, especially as a first car

David Roy drives the latest version of Seat's best-selling hatchback and ponders its charms as a cheap to insure first car for newly qualified drivers...


YOU never forget your first car. Mine was a red 1987 Renault 5 1.0 TL 'Rio', an oh-so-80s 'limited edition' version of the standard TL with special interior trim – grey cloth with multi-colour highlights – and matching side stripes which looked like the read-out on some sort of psychedelic heart-rate monitor.

More importantly, it had a glass tilting sunroof, FM stereo cassette player and a 5-speed gearbox as standard.

My mum bought that Renault 5 as her first ever brand new car. It happily took her to and from work, me to and from school and us all the way to Cork and back on summer holidays – no mean feat given the state of some of the 'roads' in late-80s Ireland – for many years. Eventually, it became a cheap to run and safely underpowered first car for my teenage self to develop my own driving skills in.

What has all that got to do with the new Seat Ibiza? Well, with on the road pricing starting at £17,165 – almost a thousand pounds less than the VW Polo it's more or less mechanically identical to – the Ibiza is also an affordable 1.0l hatchback that's easy to insure for a first-time driver.

The entry level SE model with a non-turbo 80bhp engine is in Insurance Group 3E, which mean you're likely to see a fair number sporting L and R plates in the very near future.

The 2022 Ibiza is a major refresh of the fifth generation car that was launched back in 2017, the first decent looking take on Seat's biggest seller since the original Ibiza from 1984.

Having previously tweaked the 2021 model to bring the Ibiza's rather dowdy interior up to more modern standards of tech and comfort, for 2022 Seat have improved things yet again, while also making a few exterior tweaks – some good: LED headlights for all trims – and some not so good: 'Ibiza' is now embossed on the rear hatch in a slightly iffy 'handwritten' chrome script.

Seat have also streamlined engine choices to a trio of one litre, three-cylinder petrol units in either MPI 80PS, TSI 95PS or TSI 110PS tune. The 80 and 95PS cars come with a 5-speed manual gearbox, while the 110PS can be specced with a seven-speed DSG autobox rather or six-speed manual and is available on more expensive trim levels only.

While Seat may enthusiastically claim the smallest unit's Multi-Point Injection system "helps the engine deliver excellent response at low-to-mid engine speeds", this woefully weedy non-turbo lump is probably best avoided unless the cheap insurance it unlocks is an absolute deal-breaker: its paltry 69lb ft of torque might well be less than your own two legs are capable of generating after scoffing your morning Weetabix.

Having spent an afternoon behind the wheel of a model equipped with the mid-range 95hp engine capable of making 129lb ft of torque, even that felt a little gutless – you really have to wring its neck to make any sort of rapid progress, even when driven on the 'Sport' setting.

The 95PS option is actually slightly more economical and less polluting than the 80hp lump, and only £570 more expensive – though it does bump the Ibiza up into Insurance Group 9E in basic SE trim.

Anyone who values performance who will be doing a lot of motorway driving will probably want the extra poke of the 110hp engine which offers 148lb ft of torque and an extra gear for long-range cruising. The DSG autobox also makes most sense in a motorway context: some test pilots have reported that it can be a little 'clunky' in slower traffic around town.

There are six trims available on the new Ibiza. The base model SE starts at £17,165 OTR, followed by SE Technology (£18,130), FR (£19,425), FR Sport (£20,310), Xcellence (£20,170) and Xcellence Lux (£21,045).

As before, the Ibiza only comes as a five-door and every car comes with a standard three-year/60,000 mile warranty, upgradable to four-years/75,000-miles for £165 or five-years/90,000-miles for £285 RRP.

My test car was an FR model, which gets you extras including full LED headlights and rear lights, slightly nicer/larger alloys, sports suspension, a rear spoiler and chrome fake exhaust trims, tinted glass, blacked-out window surrounds and mirror caps, special interior trim and dual-zone climate control.

When combined with the decidedly less-than-hot 95hp engine, it makes for a classic case of 'more show than go' – though of course this is actually perfect for first time drivers, who'd want to be concentrating more on perfecting their road manners than burning people off at the lights.

You can even option the 80hp engine in FR Sport trim (bigger alloys, digital dials, 'comfort seats' in microsuede upholstery) to give your 17-year-old would-be boy racer a proper 'sheep in wolf's clothing' driving experience with just an Insurance Group 4E rating.

Once underway, the Ibiza FR offered quite a quiet, confidence-inspiring drive, with great all-round visibility, easy gear shifts (though the clutch on my test car felt slightly 'high') responsive steering and comfortable cornering around town and through the bends on country roads.

Indside, the re-designed interior is definitely an upgrade over last year's model which introduced lots of nice soft-touch upholstery to the upper dash – though scratchy plastics remain lower down, offering tactile reminders of the Ibiza's affordable price point.

The FR-specific front 'sports' seats are easily adjustable and pleasingly supportive though, annoyingly, only Xcellence-spec cars get a central armrest. It's a bit cramped in the back for anyone over six feet – especially if you have to sit in the middle seat – but the Ibiza does still have a cavernous 355l boot, which is slightly bigger than the VW Polo (351l) and only slightly smaller than the Skoda Fabia (380l).


Seat are very proud of the new coloured air vent trims on the Ibiza's dash, which feature coloured LEDs in orange or red on FR-trim and above. However, if you're not a fan (pardon the pun) then grey trims are available as a non-cost option – as is metallic paint on the Ibiza's exterior, the darker shades of which really suit its rakish yet chunky styling.

The newly enlarged infotainment touchscreen is now mounted atop the dashboard for better line of sight while driving: the standard screen on SE models is now 8.25-inches wide, with a larger 9.2-inch screen standard on other trims.

The navigation system is pretty straightforward to operate and also incorporates real-time traffic information to flag up traffic jams/road closures and keep tabs nearby car parks and petrol stations.

There's a new high-resolution Digital Cockpit driver binnacle as standard on FR Sport and Xcellence Lux models, but the old-fashioned analogue dials on the FR model were perfectly fine – as were the easy-to-navigate analogue climate controls, which are standard across all trims.

Seat's Full Link smartphone integration system offers wireless access to Apple CarPlay (it's plug-and-play only for Android Auto users, sadly) and a pair of Type-C USB ports in the centre console for data transfer and charging. There's also out-of-car connectivity via the Seat Connect app: vigilant parents will no doubt be very interested in its 'speed alert' function which can deliver alerts when someone is driving the Ibiza too fast – or indeed is driving the car when they shouldn't be.

Pleasingly, the Ibiza's voice-activated infotainment commands are accessed by saying "Hola Hola" in your best Javier Bardem impersonation, or if you're feeling shy, via a button on the nappa leather clad multi-function steering wheel. Seat's BeatsAudio system is also available as a cost option (£505), though it does eat up some additional boot space.

The old Ibiza introduced driver safety systems like Adaptive Cruise Control, Front Assist collision avoidance and Tiredness Recognition: the updated car adds the likes of Travel Assist cruise control, Lane Assist, speed-limiting Traffic Sign Recognition, motorway lane changing Side Assist and High Beam Assist for easier driving in the dead of night.

I recorded the 2022 Ibiza FR as a "decent driver" in my test drive notes, but that's selling it slightly short: it's undoubtedly a great value-for-money first car for any teenager and, with the largest engine installed, just a damn good choice of small car full-stop.

SEAT Ibiza FR

  • Price as tested: £19,955
  • Engine: 1.0 TSI 95PS
  • Transmission: 5-speed manual
  • 0-62 mph: 10.9 seconds
  • Top speed: 116 mph
  • Max power (hp/kW/rpm): 95/70/5000-5500
  • Max torque (lb ft/rpm): 129/2000-3500
  • Fuel economy (WLTP): 47.9 to 51.4 mpg
  • CO2 (WLTP): 124 g/km
  • Benefit-in-kind rate: 28 per cent
  • Euro NCAP rating: 5 stars (2017)
  • Insurance group: 11E

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