Let Battle Commence

After several years with only cosmetic changes, both SEAT and Volkswagen are updating their small segment models …

In recent weeks, Ford have revealed their new Fiesta model which is a welcome modification of the outgoing car. There is certainly much to admire about this updated model even if the styling continues to be a little on the quirky side. Road handling is excellent and there have been vast improvements to the interior trim but despite British motoring journalists lauding this car in contrast to much of Europe, it still suffers from the use of cheap plastics inside and will depreciate more than many of its direct competitors. Queue the all-new SEAT Ibiza and the soon to be launched Volkswagen Polo, the latter of which will set the benchmark yet again for the small hatchback.

There is little doubt that a replacement for the Ibiza was long overdue. In line with many manufacturers nowadays, the model is effectively a scaled down version of the bigger Leon but that is no bad thing given the sales success of the latter car. The new Ibiza is a handsome car with a grown-up attitude, and is sufficiently light and agile to engage with the driver. The car is built on the MQB-A0 platform which means that it offers considerably more space than its predecessor being 87mm wider and having a 95mm longer wheelbase. Boot space has increased from 292 to 355 litres.

The car clearly identifies as a member of the SEAT family with its triangular headlamp units and is generally pleasing to the eye, exuding poise and precision. For the first time, the Ibiza will come with the new 1.0 litre TSi turbocharged three-cylinder petrol engine in either 94PS or 113PS guise. This is ideal for city driving and general cruising coupled with a six-speed manual gearbox but if regularly fully loaded, then the new 1.5 litre EVO 148PS engine may be a better bet. Compared with the outgoing model, this new Ibiza offers a refined, satisfying driver experience.

In line with competitors, technology abounds, albeit subtly hidden behind a sharp 8 inch touchscreen which is available on most models. This controls most functions including navigation, Apple, Android and Mirror Link, as well as media and vehicle data. There are numerous convenience and safety options available including adaptive cruise control, a seven-speed automatic DSG gearbox with some engines and cameras mounted around the car to assist with parking. Not everything is perfect though … the interior still boasts some cheaper, hard finishes especially on the doors and at the top of the dashboard. However, overall the new SEAT Ibiza is an impressive car with a willing chassis, excellent technology and decent refinement.

The Ibiza will need to impress as waiting in the wings is the all-new Polo from sister company Volkswagen. The Polo, which will officially go on sale in the UK in October 2017, shares the same platform as the SEAT and comes with a considerable growth in size and a more mature design. The car is 81mm longer than the old model, has an increased wheelbase of 94mm, is 69mm wider and boot capacity rises from 280 to 351 litres. This makes the Polo larger than the Mark IV Golf from the late nineties, bar its length!

The design of the Polo certainly mimics that of the very successful VW Golf, following what is now a trend amongst many manufacturers. Where it differs is the increased options of customisation, another development in this model segment. Buyers will be able to choose from 13 different dashboard colour inserts to either match body colour or provide a complete contrast. Additionally, there will be 14 exterior paint finishes, 12 wheel designs, 11 seat fabrics and two styles of interior trim. Other options will include digital dial clusters to replace the conventional instruments, blindspot monitors, adaptive cruise control and rear traffic alert. Touchscreen infotainment will be standard on all models with screen size varying from 6.5 to 8 inches depending upon model specification.

At launch, it is believed the car will come with a choice of five petrol and two diesel units, with diesel losing popularity due to emissions data. The two non-turbo 1.0 litre petrol MPi engines come in 64PS or 74PS guise and are really only best suited for city driving and local journeys. The other three petrol options are the same as those offered in the Ibiza, and the 1.6 litre diesel will come in either 79PS or 94PS form. In addition to these engines, a 197PS turbocharged petrol engine will be exclusively available in the Polo GTi which will launched at the same time as the ordinary model. From information to hand, it certainly looks as though the Polo has again set the benchmark for this model segment as the new model is basically a scaled-down Golf offering all the attributes of that car in a more youthful package.

Prices for a mid specification Ibiza with a 1.0 TSi engine will set you back about €16400 (£14600) at the time of writing. Prices for the new Polo have not yet been published but expect to pay about €1120 (£1000) more for a similarly specified vehicle given its premium quality and image. The forthcoming replacement Audi A1 will share this new MQB-A0 modular platform as will the new Škoda Fabia in due course.

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Budget Conscious

A brief look at two other super mini models from the VW Group stable …

In addition to the super mini models offered by Volkswagen and Škoda, namely the Polo and Fabia, the group also offers direct competition from Audi and Seat. Recently, the Audi model, known as the A1, has undergone a minor mid life facelift whilst the Ibiza from Seat is now in need of a major update or even replacement.

The main difference between the A1 and the Ibiza is on price. Whilst Audi carries a premium associated with its badge, the Seat is priced at the lower end of the market although their sporting derivatives do command a relatively high price.

Both models share the basic platform of their sister cars from VW and Škoda although the new Fabia does benefit from modular improvements to the platform which contribute to a reduction in kerb weight. The A1 has been modified after four years of availability but retains its smart looks, build quality and handling capabilities. It benefits from a restyled radiator grille, new headlamps, front and rear bumpers, plus improved interior trim and in-built safety features. However, the main changes are a modified platform and the introduction of a 1.0 litre three cylinder turbo petrol engine providing power output of 94bhp. This engine will replace the less powerful 1.2TFSI unit whilst also offering increased fuel economy. It should be noted that this three cylinder unit is available in both the Polo and new Fabia but not currently offered in the Ibiza.

Besides this new engine, the model also offers three more petrol units plus two diesels, all of which Audi claim have been heavily modified for the revamped model. Availability of these engines will depend upon which model derivative is chosen as not all are available across the model range. Specification for all models includes alloy wheels, air conditioning, remote central locking, electric front windows and door mirrors, iPod connectivity and a 6.5″ retractable display screen.

There is little doubt that the A1 is a premium car at the upper end of the super mini price spectrum. It is reassuringly safe in all weather conditions and the interior trim is first class. The model is available in both 3-door and 5-door styles, but I think it looks best in 5-door form which carries a £620 price premium over the 3-door. Prices are estimated to start at £14315 for the entry level 3-door to a whopping £26110 for the S1 5-door when the revised model becomes available next spring!

Desirability is the key word with regard to the Audi A1 and most buyers won’t be budget conscious, thereby happy to pay over the odds for the badge! As with the new Škoda Fabia, the A1 can be customised with a different coloured roof and rear pillars, helping the car to further stand out from the crowd. At the other end of the price spectrum is the Ibiza, which has been the best seller in the UK for the Spanish manufacturer until recently. The model has now been usurped by the Seat Leon!

The Ibiza is offered in three distinctive body styles, namely a 3-door sport coupé, a 5-door hatchback, and unusually in the super mini category, an estate variant. However, Škoda also offer an estate derivative of the Fabia which is considerably more practical than the Seat offering. The Ibiza offers a touch of design flair, especially in the coupé version, and handles well overall. Currently it doesn’t offer the latest engines from the VW stable, instead relying upon older but trusted units. The entry level model is sparse and powered by a 1.2 litre 12v engine proving a lacklustre 69bhp. There are considerably more powerful engines available as one moves up through the range of model derivatives on offer.

The car was revised in 2012 with extras fitted as standard, thereby increasing its appeal. Suspension is quite firm compared with the Polo which does contribute to its general sportiness. It is well built although there are cheap plastics inside, has a good driving position, and in lower priced models offers excellent value for money. Luggage space is about 290 litres with the rear seats in place, increasing to 847 litres with the rear seats folded. This is far less than the space provided by the new Fabia though. The Ibiza estate offers a total 1164 litres of luggage space with the seats folded. At the time of writing, list prices start at £9910 rising to £18980 for the top of the range Cupra model.

As can be seen, the Audi stands out in a class of its own price-wise. Whether or not the car is worth so much extra money is a matter of personal choice but much more spacious and equally reliable cars are available for the money commanded by the A1. Whilst the lower specced Ibizas should be avoided, the model offers a very attractive financial proposition in mid range. It will be interesting to see what the model replacement is like once the manufacturer announces a replacement.

SEAT Ibiza Estate
SEAT Ibiza Estate
Skoda Fabia Estate
Skoda Fabia Estate

Style v Practicality

Six months in the waiting but now the promised in-depth look at three popular small hatchbacks from the VW Group.

It surely won’t have escaped the notice of anyone who drives today that fuel prices have rocketed in recent months. On average, the price per litre is now at least 25% more than it was just over twelve months ago, attributable partly to profiteering by the oil companies, but also because of hefty increases in fuel taxation and the recent rise in the rate of VAT. Statistics are already showing that people are using their cars less than six months ago. Whilst this can be quite easy to achieve by some, others have little choice but to rely upon their motor vehicle, either for work or simply because they live in rural areas without regular or any public transport facility.

Petrol is now an average £5.80 per gallon whilst diesel costs £6.00 or more. These are staggering prices and for the average income earner, it is becoming increasingly difficult to absorb ever-increasing motoring costs. For many drivers, therefore, fuel economy is becoming the single most important factor in any decison regarding a change of vehicle, and recent sales figures show that the small car sector accounted for about 60% of all new car sales.

Whilst many new vehicles are now more fuel efficient than their older counterparts, it is the small hatchback that offers the best combination of comfort, space and economy. The market is awash with vehicles in this sector offering buyers an almost bewildering choice. Most manufacturers offer a choice of petrol and diesel engines, with some offering selective automatic transmission and sport models. The latter, however, do rather deviate from the economy label, although obviously offer better economy than larger sporty models. Readers will undoubtedly be familiar with the likes of the Ford Fiesta, Vauxhall Corsa, Renault Clio and the ubiquitous Mini but there are many offerings from Asian manufacturers too. However, this article is focussing on three models from the VW Group, namely the Volkswagen Polo, Seat Ibiza and Škoda Fabia. In engineering terms, these cars are virtually identical, but clever design and styling results in three very different models.

Faced with this dilemma, the final choice as to which to buy can be bewildering. If you are seeking a three-door hatchback then only the Polo and Ibiza offer this facility. If you want greater practicality from an estate version, then your choices are limited to the Ibiza and Fabia. For the sporting enthusiast, you have the choice of a Polo GTi, Ibiza Cupra and Fabia vRS. So… which to choose?

Choice is generally a very emotive subject. Given that overall performance and fuel economy are very similar on all these models if equipped with the same engine, then choice effectively comes down to styling, space and price! The most flamboyant of the three is the Ibiza with its combination of curves and sharply defined edges but this style is likely to date more quickly and possibly reflect in future trade-in value. The Polo is of pure classic design… in fact, it looks very much like a scaled down version of its bigger sister, the Golf, a car that has had phenomenal worldwide sales success. This can only be an advantage and of the three cars, the Polo will retain greater percentage value after three years. The Fabia, on the other hand, is rather box-like although it’s frontal appearance has recently been improved by a subtle facelift. Whilst its aesthetic appearance lacks the charisma of the Ibiza and Polo, it is the most practical of the three comparative models offering greater headroom and luggage space.

All models share the Polo platform and running gear, with engines coming from the VW group. Choice of engine is slightly more confusing however. Of the three models, Škoda offers the greatest range, with almost all engines on offer being the latest versions, including three common rail diesels. Seat also offers a good range of the latest technology whilst the Polo currently offers a limited choice of new engines alongside older and less environmentally-friendly units.

So finally it’s decision-making time! Let’s first take a look at the prices as at February 2011 … undoubtedly uppermost in many potential buyers’ minds:

Seat Ibiza Price range £9925 to £18275
Škoda Fabia Price range £9755 to £16260
Volkswagen Polo Price range £9995 to £18790

The starting price of all models is very similar but standard levels of equipment do vary considerably. However, it is the very top of the range where the price differential is greatest… all three sporting models come with the same 1.4TSI 180PS engine coupled with a 7spd DSG gearbox, one of the best in the motoring industry. Therefore one can save £2530 by opting for the Fabia rather than the Polo GTi if prepared to sacrifice on style yet benefit from more practical and usable space. At the time of writing, both the Ibiza and Fabia are even better buying prospects as purchasers can save 20% VAT on the list prices. There is, however, a downside to this as trade-in values will reduce accordingly. As the saying goes, you cannot have your cake and eat it!

As for my choice, if money were no object and I could increase the specification of the vehicle with extras, I would actually opt for the classic design of the Polo. However, despite all the vehicles sharing common parts, the Škoda continually excels in dealer and driver satisfaction surveys, so this is an important factor to consider.

As an addendum, the other manufacturer within the VW Group is Audi who have just introduced the compact A1 model. This also shares the same platform but with a price range from £13420 to £20705 it is somewhat out of the same league.