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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Britain’s Motoring Heritage

Situated in the heart of the South Warwickshire countryside at Gaydon, yet only minutes away from the M40 motorway, lies The Heritage Motor Centre, home to the world’s largest collection of British cars spanning the classic, vintage and veteran eras.

HMC Entrance

The museum’s early beginnings stem back to the days of the British Leyland Motor Corporation which was responsible for the production of Austin, Morris, Triumph and Rover cars. BLMC amassed a collection of preserved cars and needed a dedicated purpose-built residence to exhibit the collection as its former sites were both too small and unsuitable. The British Motor Industry Heritage Trust was formed with its mission to keep the memory of the British motor industry alive, telling the story of the motor car from early 20th Century to the present day. Opened in 1993, the current museum is housed in an Art Deco style building that complements the ever-changing exhibits. Currently the museum has a collection of some 260 vehicles of which about 160 are on display at any one time.

Whether or not one has any real interest in cars, this collection will provide an interesting insight into the world of the motor industry. One of the main features is the Time Road that houses cars from different decades and these sit on road surfaces typical of the time in question. This may sound somewhat cynical but some of the earlier road surfaces almost appear better than the state of our highways today! In addition to the vehicles themselves, visitors can learn more from an archive reading room as well as activities in the 65 acres of landscaped grounds.

Seeing as this collection was first set up under the auspices of the former British Leyland Group, many of the vehicles on show stem from their marques. This obviously means that many manufacturers are not represented although the Trust’s remit is gradually widening to encompass other brands. For some alternative cars, a visit to the National Motor Museum at Beaulieu in Hampshire is suggested.

Knowing the very poor build quality of some cars in the 60s, 70s and 80s, it is highly unlikely that many have survived to tell their own story. Such models include the likes of Rootes Group products, many Fords and most Vauxhalls.

The Mini shown above is anything but what it seems! Customisation has been taken to extremes and the car is 30cm longer than a traditional Mini of its time. The extra length was to accommodate a new driveline and longitudinally mounted Ford crossflow engine. Most of the transmission is Ford taking parts from a Sierra and Cortinas. Unlike the original Mini, the car is rear wheel drive, with front suspension coming from a Vauxhall Viva HC and the rear from a Triumph Dolomite. Brakes are a mixture of Viva HC, Cortina and Escort. The front and rear wheels are different sizes and the interior plus dashboard were also customised from a variety of different sources. In all, the car is finished to a very high standard!

If you’re ever in the area and want to idle a few hours in nostalgia then this museum is definitely worth a visit!