New SEAT Ibiza ahead of the game.
WHILE car fads come and go, possibly the most evergreen trend across Europe is the small hatchback.
Life in the city or the country wouldn't really be the same without the three or five door hatch, first made popular by the Ford Fiesta in 1976.
Today, scores of superminis sprinkle the new car lists. Yes, the Fiesta and Polo are still with us, but they must battle for honours and sales with many others.
And the latest - and possibly one of the best - is the new SEAT Ibiza, a name that's been with us since 1984, in which time it has clocked up 5.4 million sales.
The trouble for car designers is that the buying public are becoming ever more demanding. So even though they choose a small, relatively cheap model, they expect big-car refinement and punchy acceleration alongside the usual values of frugality and manoeuvrability.
And that's exactly what they get in the new Ibiza.
Built on the latest VW group platform, even before the Polo and Audi A1 have a chance, it possesses a grown-up ride, bags of power from two of the three 1.0-litre petrol engines, and a maturity that's usually found in more expensive saloons.
Prices start at PS13,130 for the entry level S model, and extend to PS17,310 for the XCLLENCE, which makes it right on the money in its class.
At launch there are three engines available - all petrol, at 74bhp, 94bhp, 113bhp. Next year a feisty 148bhp petrol will become available for the sportiest version.
Like most of its newer rivals, the Ibiza comes only as a five-door rather than a three-door, but where its scores highly over the competition is in cabin space.
Despite being marginally shorter than the outgoing car, it's got bags more usable space for passengers, and beats all its rivals on boot space, with a luggage capacity of 355 litres.
The new platform is both lighter and stronger, allowing designers to be more generous with their interior dimensions.
Not only is the cabin roomier, but its quality and style has been stepped up. Materials used are of a higher standard and there's elegance about the fascia. The two top models get LED interior lighting in two colours, red and white.
Standard even in the lead-in S version are air con, twin halogen headlights, a five-inch touch screen, hill hold control, Bluetooth audio streaming and electric front windows.
SEAT has remained ahead of the game on connectivity - Apple Car Play, Android Auto and MirrorLink can be enjoyed via the integrated touchscreen.
Of the three engines, all 1.0litre three-cylinders, the two most powerful versions are more economical and slightly cleaner than the 94bhp model and manage a combined average mpg of 60.1mpg.
With an age profile younger than the obvious opposition, it's hardly surprising that SEAT focuses on performance with its new baby.
I drove both the beefier versions and each impressed with its eagerness to perform and general level of refinement.
The 94bhp model is sweet and silent as it polishes off the 62mph sprint in a neat 10.9seconds and goes on to 113mph, while its gutsier brother carves more than a second and a half off the same exercise and has a max of 121, putting it into warm hatch territory.
A further advantage of the Ibiza FR 115 is that it comes with a six-speed manual gearbox rather than a five-speed unit. Each is slick, fast and light but the extra ratio allows more relaxed motorway cruising.
Handling is pleasingly responsive, with high levels of grip and a steering system that lets you know what's going on down at road level.
The three-pot engine produces a subdued throaty snarl under full revs but settles down to a relaxed hum when you ease back on the accelerator. An altogether good balance for a fizzy small car.
Visually appealing and dynamically excellent, with better cabin accommodation than most while measuring up to rivals in terms of economy and technology, the new Ibiza has the hallmark of a winner.
A further bonus for SEAT is that it is being launched months before the new Polo takes a bow.
Prices start at PS13,130 for the entry level S model, and extend to PS17,310 for the XCLLENCE