The best SEAT in the house?

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WE’RE often promised better efficiency and more fun but few cars actually deliver.

We all like the idea of getting something for nothing and this turbocharged 1.2-litre SEAT Ibiza TSI is quicker than the normally aspirated 1.6-litre petrol it shares its 104bhp output with and also offers better economy and emissions.

Before you ask, there genuinely is no catch with this perky little hatch, which costs £12,780–£14,730.

Don’t make the mistake of comparing this turbocharged 1.2-litre engine with its normally-aspirated 1.2-litre sibling.

That 70bhp crawler has very little in common with the TSI’s much punchier 104bhp output. Instead, the 1.2 TSI squares up very closely to the outgoing SEAT 1.6-litre engine, developing an identical power output and being priced closely as well.

Top speed and acceleration are better, while torque is improved from 148 to 175Nm. The smaller engine will feel a good deal stronger too, as it makes its maximum torque at just 1500rpm, whereas with the old 1.6, you needed to rev it hard to 3,800rpm to achieve peak pulling power.

Both a conventional five-speed manual gearbox and the excellent seven-speed twin-clutch DSG gearbox are offered and such is the modest mark-up for the DSG box that it’s an option that every keen driver should factor into the asking price.

Otherwise things are typical Ibiza. That means a jauntier drive than any rivals. SEAT has opted to keep the excellent electro-hydraulic power steering which, as most keen drivers will attest to, is a very good thing.

There’s obviously been a lot of budget assigned to the development of this latest Ibiza, which runs on the Volkswagen Group’s latest small car platform dubbed the ‘agile chassis’.

It’s offered in the most popular five-door bodystyle, in a three-door ‘Sports Coupe’ which looks lower leaner and meaner with design cues more obviously lifted from the Bocanegra concept car and in a practical ST estate model.

The five-door is 80mm longer than the old Ibiza’s 3,970m and much bigger inside, while the 292-litre boot space is very impressive for a supermini.

It’s enormously heartening to see SEAT getting its mojo back. This distant outpost of Volkswagen’s empire went through a few lean years of neglect, suffering a lack of investment, hand-me down engines and, as a consequence, slumping sales.

Those days look well and truly consigned to the history books now and vehicles like the Ibiza 1.2 TSI demonstrate that SEAT is right at the cutting edge of available engine and transmission technology.

What’s more, the Spanish company is making this technology available to customers with modest means. The Ibiza may no longer be the sharpest-handling hatch around – that title has been sewn up by the Fiesta – but it offers a better selection of engines and style that the Ford can’t possibly match.