SEAT’s new Ibiza adds to Andy Russell’s shift in opinion about little automatic cars.

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SEAT Ibiza SE 1.2 TSI DSG automatic

Price: £14,105 (range from £9,995)

Engine: 1,197cc, 105PS, four-cylinder turbo petrol mated to seven-speed automatic gearbox

Performance: 0-62mph 9.7 seconds; top speed 118mph

MPG: Urban 40.4; extra urban 64.2; combined 53.3

Emissions: 124g/km

Benefit-in-kind tax: 15pc

Insurance: 12E (out of 50)

Warranty: Three years or 60,000 miles

Will it fit in the garage? Length 4,061mm; width (excluding door mirrors) 1,693mm; height 1,445mm

I am increasingly looking at my next car being an automatic – the way they have come on leaps and bounds over the past few years is quite phenomenal.

When I started as a motoring journalist there were still three-speed automatics about, cars that would hit 60mph in first and when kicked down went from feeling as a flat as a pancake to nearly destroying your ear-drums as the revs shot up.

Or there were the automatics that hunted between gears, constantly chopping and changing, or those that hung for ages before lurching into a higher ratio… it was as annoying as someone who pauses mid-sentence and you know what they are going to say before they say it.

Then there was their comparatively poor performance and miserable fuel consumption… and that’s before we even started worrying about what came out of the exhaust and how much of it.

Whatever their faults, I hated automatics with such a passion that I would always opt for a manual.

And I’m not alone. In Europe we have always lagged behind – just like some of thoseawful old autos – when it came to automatics compared to other continents.

But today’s automatics have seen me shift my opinion of automatic transmission with new seven and eight-speed units always ready, willing and able to supply power on demand and economically… in some cases better than the manual.

It’s not just premium, prestige models getting hi-tech new autos.

Some of the best automatics come from the Volkswagen Group and have found their way into VWs, Audis, Skodas and SEATs.

I’ve just been driving the latest SEAT Ibiza, the Spanish car-maker’s UK best-seller and, like the popular island after which it is named, it’s sunny, youthful, fun and fashionable.

It has been given a mild makeover with new bumpers, lights and front grille while changes inside include upgraded materials and facelifted fascia to freshen its appeal.

But the highlight for me was the latest additions to the engine range which now sees 60 and 70PS 1.2, 85PS 1.4 and turbo charged 105PS 1.2 and 150PS 1.4-litre TSI petrol engines alongside 75PS 1.2, 105PS 1.6 and 143PS 2.0-litre turbo diesels.

The star for me is the cracking 1.2-litre TSI – in place of the normally-aspirated 1.6-litre engine – and in SE is mated to the excellent seven-speed DSG automatic gearbox. The engine is as flexible and refined as it is sprightly and free-revving and works so well with the automatic which shifts so smoothly and quickly that the change in engine note and dip or rise of the rev counter needle are the biggest clues of shifts. In sport mode it makes the Ibiza surprisingly brisk, in normal mode it will be in seventh gear before 40mph which helps economy – I got 42mpg overall and regularly topped 50mpg.

Regardless of driving conditions the transmission is always in the right gear, dropping down smoothly on hills and eager to kick down for power on demand. It can also be used manually but it is so good in automatic there is no need to unless you want to feel more involved.

The ride is quite firm, with some pitter-patter from the tyres on poor roads, without being uncomfortable but the trade-off is that it handles well, feeling agile and cornering flatly with good steering response making it fun to drive.

Inside it is nicely laid out with the tweaked fascia boasting large, clear dials, simple switches and controls and, on my test car, some brightwork and piano black highlights to add to the appeal. What lets it down is some of the hard plastic trim feels rather than looks a little downmarket but no complaints about fit and finish.

I always think of the Ibiza as being bigger than a supermini which is why I am surprised that legroom is not as generous as I expect. But, as superminis go, it is adequate for adults, with sculpted front seat backs creating extra kneeroom, although the higher back seat is a little flat.

The five-door hatchback’s 292-litre boot is well-shaped and roomy for a supermini but the load lip is quite high. Rear seat backs split 60/40 and fold flat but it’s a fiddle because you have to flip the cushions upright first, which can mean moving the front seats forward, or remove them altogether which is rather old-fashioned compared to many rivals.

All Ibizas include MP3 compatible CD player with auxiliary point and remote controls, front and side airbags, front electric windows and speed-sensitive power steering. SE includes air-conditioning, alloy wheels, front fog lights with cornering function, heated/electric door mirrors and trip computer. With the automatic gearbox cruise control is a worthwhile option for £180 but it is a shame stability control is a £360 option on all but range-topping FR models.

The Ibiza’s looks show its Spanish flair and it doesn’t disappoint to drive – it’s a supermini with all-round talent.




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