Future dreams for VW's forgotten brand
ANYONE remember Seat? You may recall it as the car firm that makes the rental cars for tourists in Spain. Surprisingly, it also sells some of those cars here. Not very many, mind you, but a few. It seems from the sales figures that most of you have forgotten it exists. Never a stellar performer, it has fallen off the radar of most buyers.
It’s a vicious circle for any brand: slip down the sales tables and you slip out of the motoring consciousness. Before you know it you are in Rover territory and battling for survival.
It’s all the more surprising when you consider that Seat is part of the German behemoth Volkswagen Group. From Skoda to Porsche, the VW group is boasting rude health for all its brands – except one. Seat is the sick child of the group. It’s the loss-maker, the brand that doesn’t seem to fit the portfolio. If Skoda is the value proposition and Volkswagen the eponymous group flagship brand, it’s never quite clear what Seat represents. Previously it hung on the catchy tagline “auto emoción”, but while the marketing department deserved credit for the catchline, it never matched the models.
When auto emoción was whispered at the end of any ad it was hard to see how it fitted with diesel-powered people-carriers such as the Alhambra, or models such as the Exeo or Toledo. The only emotion involved there was resignation to family life.
Aside from the fetching Leon hatchback, the rest of the range was staid, functional and in no way emotionally appealing. That tagline has been dropped; in its place comes the rather cringeworthy “enjoyneering”. The less said about that the better.
Then there was the pricing: often more expensive than an equivalent Skoda and increasingly squeezed by its better Korean rival, Seat simply made no sense.
That’s all about to change, however – or so they tell us. Faced with a choice of watching the brand die or giving it one more spin, VW has opted to invest in a new future for Seat. Over the next while we will have a new small SUV crossover and a completely revised Leon. And that’s only the start.
In the meantime a new pricing structure is being introduced that hopes to give Seat some price advantage.
This Ibiza is surprisingly spacious, if a little noisy. The 1.2-litre petrol engine at motorway speeds sometimes sounds uncannily like the motor is on full spin cycle.
The smaller engine doesn’t qualify for the lowest rate of tax, either, coming in with emissions of 125g/km. It claims a combined fuel economy of 5.4 litres/100km (52.3mpg), but in the week we spent in the car – with a lot of motorway driving – it rarely fell below 7 litres/100km, and it often resided above 8 litres/100km (35.3 mpg). That’s not an impressive figure in this day and age.
Many rivals have small petrol engines in their superminis that achieve lower emissions and arguably better fuel economy. And it’s not just the big-name brands. Suzuki’s very admirable Swift comes with a 1.2-litre petrol engine that falls into the lowest tax band, with emissions of just 116g/km.
For town driving this little engine is perfectly fine, however, and the engine noise is merely a distraction. On a drive from Dublin to Galway and back the little Ibiza matched far more powerful rivals on the motorway. It’s light and nimble on the back roads as well, if a little rudimentary in its suspension settings – they can catch it out on more treacherous bends, particularly in the wet.
The biggest boon on offer from the Ibiza is the interior space. The car does look larger than earlier iterations, but even then it’s surprising when you get inside and realise just how much legroom there is in the back. There’s decent bootspace for a supermini as well.
Seat is throwing in a host of extras to its cars as part of the new push; this car came with Bluetooth, LED rear lights, USB/iPhone connection and air-conditioning, all for a price of €16,095. We still found the radio controls fiddly, and the control stalk that houses audio controls for the driver is nowhere near as good as the steering wheel-mounted controls on rivals.
Even with some added gadgetry and a new price, the Ibiza faces stiff competition from a plethora of rivals. The likes of the Ford Fiesta, Toyota Yaris, Renault Clio and even Opel Corsa are vying for attention, while within the Volkswagen Group there’s the Skoda Fabia and, of course, the VW Polo. Then there are the Koreans, with the Hyundai i20 and great little Kia Rio. It’s hard to see how this Ibiza is going to capture the public’s eye, even with attractive pricing.
It deserves a shot, and the brand will start to shout a bit louder on the back of a new injection of €12 million in the brand’s marketing and dealerships in the next few years. Yet, for all that, a lot will depend on the cars it puts out on the road.
Its current fleet deserves more attention from the public, but Seat has a tough battle ahead if it’s not going to become squeezed between the more established competitors and the ever-rising fortunes of the Korean brands.
ENGINE1198cc 12-valve petrol engine; 70bhp @ 5,400rpm; 112Nm of torque @ 3,000rpm
PERFORMANCE0-100km/h in 13.9 seconds
ECONOMY5.1 L/100km (52.3mpg)
EMISSIONS125g/km (€225 motor tax)
FEATURESStandard features on the Style version include 16in alloys; tinted rear windows; heated door mirrors; rear LED lights; leather steering wheel and gearstick; split folding rear seat; Bluetooth; USB/aux connection; air conditioning.
RIVALSFord Fiesta 5dr 1.25 Titanium – €17,591; Kia Rio 1.25 EX – €16,775; Skoda Fabia 1.2 Active – €15,575; VW Polo 1.2 5dr Comfortline – €17,175; Toyota Yaris 1.0 VVT-I 5dr Luna – €16,205; Renault Clio 1.2 16V Dynamique Eco – €15,090; Suzuki Swift 1.2 GLX – €14,950
PRICE€16,095 (including €345 for metallic paint)
A decent effort to spruce up the model and brand, but Ibiza is no class leader