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It's party time with Seat's latest Ibiza; TEST DRiVE The Seat Ibiza.

Byline: John Scantlebury

SEAT has hit on a winning formula by taking Volkswagen Group expertise and stamping on its own distinctive sporty and Spanish-sunny character.

Its last offering, the Leon, actually outshone its VW cousin, the Golf, and May sees the arrival of a new, enlarged Ibiza to challenge the Polo.

Both cars - and the prize-winning Skoda Fabia - share the Volkswagen Group's latest supermini platform which has obliterated all rivals with its advanced qualities.

The Fabia, Polo and now the Ibiza are clear leaders in this hotlycontested segment and all you have to do is select which one matches your personality.

The Seat slots easily into the company's image of stylish design and sporting prowess. Rounded contours, muscular wings and spoiler feature in a high-waisted, wide-eyed, wedge-shaped design which clearly states its intention.

Behind it all is Seat's own 'agile chassis concept' which combines a well-thought-out suspension system with computer software that modulates the power steering, giving extra-precise handling.

There's plenty of scope within this set-up. You can have it hot with the new six-speed 130bhp 1.9 TDi engine, the most powerful diesel engine in this sector which is capable of pinning you back in your seat on its way to a top speed of 130mph.

Prefer a quieter life? Then there's VW's excellent 1.2-litre threecylinder engine, quite lively at 64bhp and giving an average 47mpg.

Also available are 1.4 engines with 75bhp and 100bhp and a 100bhp version of the diesel.

Whichever Ibiza you choose, you are going to get a car of impressive integrity, with laser welding on the fully-galvanised chassis providing the tightest of builds (you also get a 12-year anti-corrosion warranty).

The platform means that, as with the Polo and the Fabia, cabin space is really a grade above supermini class. And you still get a good-sized luggage area, though of the drop-in persuasion.

Safety levels are high, with electrohydraulic steering, driver and passenger airbags (the latter can be disconnected), frangible pedals and collapsible steering column standard across the range.

The entry 1.2 also features height and reach adjustable steering wheel, radio/CD player with eight speakers and electric front windows, with air conditioning coming in at the next grade, S.

Further up the range, at SE and Sport, items such as side airbags, ABS, traction control, heated mirrors, alloys, leather grips, onboard computer, sports seats which are height adjustable at the front, and front foglights are added.

Options include satellite navigation.

The new Ibiza goes on sale on May 1 in three- and five-door form. Prices still have to be confirmed, but the entry-level 1.2 three-door is expected to cost pounds 8,000, with the impressive Sport TDi top of the shop at around pounds 13,500.

IBIZA FACTFILE Range? 1.2 and 1.2S; 75bhp 1.4 SE; 100bhp 1.4 Sport; 100bhp 1.9 TDi S and SE; and 130bhp 1.9 TDi Sport.

How big is it? Length 3,953mm;

width 1,698mm; height 1,441mm;

wheelbase 2,460mm; boot 267 litres.

1.4 Sport performance? Max power 100bhp at 6,000rpm; max pull 93lb ft at 4,400; max speed 119mph;

0-62mph 11.2 seconds; average economy 40mpg; CO2 emissions 168g/km.

CAPTION(S):

WINNING FORMULA The new-look Seat Ibiza
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Title Annotation:Motoring
Publication:South Wales Echo (Cardiff, Wales)
Date:Apr 5, 2002
Words:544
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