SO, YOU have about £12,000 to spend on a five-door family hatchback.
For reasons we needn’t go into, you fancy something from the Volkswagen Group. You are not deterred by the emissions scandal which left it reeling at the end of 2015.
Here’s your choice: the Spanish SEAT Ibiza, the Czech Skoda Fabia, the German VW Polo. They share the same modular platform, which means the body and floor skeleton and suspension system, plus variations on engines and gearboxes and other mechanical bits.
The Fabia comes in cheapest, followed by the Polo and Ibiza, but check what engine and kit you get. The Ibiza sets off with the group’s one-litre, 74bhp three-pot petrol turbo and no air conditioning on the base model. The Fabia’s opener uses the weaker non-turbo 59bhp version, also without aircon. The Polo price entry model has this engine, with air con, so there’s a bit of kit juggling going on to prevent easy price comparisons. Hunches say you’ll get more for the Polo when you sell.
I may as well say this now. I’d want a Polo. It’s that Polo-thing, like there’s a Golf-thing. They come with a long history, a proven resale worth and styling which suits me.
The Fabia has a similar boxy body while the Ibiza comes with swoops and frills to take on the likes of the Mazda2 and Hyundai i20. We may as well mention two other hot contenders for your cash, or possibly a contract hire deal: the Ford Fiesta and Peugeot 208. There are more rivals, but I’d still want a Polo.
Which leaves me with elements of shyness about the Ibiza. This attractive-looking hatchback (also sold as an ST estate or a sleek three-door Cupra) was “facelifted” last summer, bringing the three-cylinder engines, a modernised cabin and a softer suspension.
Softer it is, but it is still too harsh for my comfort. The upside is sharp handling and a ready-to-go feel but there was one other detraction and that was tyre noise. This is as loud as anything I remember in this type of car.
I should say that the factory test car is the only model I have driven. It was on 16-inch alloys, the tyres were Dunlop Sport Maxx (215/45 ratio) and their low profile will not have enhanced ride comfort. How much they contributed to the noise I know not. Whatever, I wouldn’t like living with the result.
The car’s audio needed jacking up loud to hear it properly. In the circumstances I can’t smooth over this lack of refinement, just as the car didn’t smooth over pitted road surfaces.
Moving on: the rest of the car was fine and perhaps it feels fine on smoothly finished roads. The demo car had the 89bhp version of the highly rated 1.2 litre four cylinder petrol turbo engine and a five-speed manual gearbox. If I was buying an Ibiza I’d be swamped with the permutations of engines. Even ignoring the diesels, the petrol units come in various power ratings, including the one-litre three-cylinder motor with 94bhp and better economy and emissions than the 89bhp 1.2 on test here.
This latter has official “combined” figures of 57.6mpg and 116g of CO2. On test it gave a reliable 46 to 48mpg, falling to 40mpg suburban and in 225 miles averaging 44.5mpg.
The new interior does the job nicely, with a touch-screen control system replacing some of the knobs. It should fit four or five people in comfort, with enough room for luggage, depending on your passenger profiles.
Back to the recent past. It’s still too early to know what the outcome of the emissions fiddling will be for the VW Group. Fines from governments and individuals are going to be too big to comprehend. SEAT lost almost 11 per cent sales last year and was worst affected among the four main brands. Skoda dropped one per cent but Audi and Volkswagen stayed in the black, albeit well behind advances enjoyed by major rivals.
It exports more than eight in ten of its cars and also has factories in Portugal for the Alhambra, Slovakia for the Mii and the Czech Republic for the Toledo. It recently announced four new models in the next two years.
Verdict: Looks good. Excessive tyre noise spoilt this test car.