ASK any motoring journalists to pick the best roads for testing a car and the majority will say the north of Scotland.
The number two choice is closer to home: North Wales. The region is blessed with roads that flow over open moors and through valleys, just what you need when trying to get the feel of a car.
Which is why Seat chose North Wales for the launch of its new Ibiza supermini.
Here is a car that revels in everything a 70 mile drive to the beautiful Llyn Brenig reservoir can throw at it. Seat boss Luca de Meo described the fifth generation Ibiza as ‘a great leap forward’, a big statement but one that can be justified.
For years Seat has been a mid-table player but with the arrival of its multi award-winning Ateca SUV and now Ibiza, the Spanish company has models that can mix it with the best.
Ibiza has been the company’s best seller since arriving here in 1984 and propped up the brand while it became established.
This model is the first to use parent company Volkswagen’s new platform, even ahead of the upcoming Polo, which is a huge vote of confidence given that Seat normally gives way to VW and Skoda models.
It helps Ibiza excel in a number of key areas and the top five are space, styling, value for money, performance and economy.
The car is a centimetre shorter but has bags more interior space thanks to a longer wheelbase. Rear legroom, in particular, is excellent and a match for some bigger cars, while the boot has grown by 63 litres coming just behind the class leading Honda Jazz.
Dashboard layout is conservative, just like its VAG group cousins, and let down by the swathes of hard plastic. The only soft surface I could find was the seating. The entry level S model gets a five inch black and white touchscreen for the radio controls which is elevated to colour for the SE.
This is the model that is expected to be the favourite but today’s demanding buyers will surely be driving a hard bargain.
While Ibiza is good value others, like Kia Rio, offer more so don’t expect essentials like parking sensors and rear view camera unless you are prepared to stump up an extra £425.
And as Ibiza is going to attract young buyers they might not be too thrilled to find that MirrorLink, Apple CarPlay and Android Auto is a whopping £810 because it needs the navigation system which alone costs £660. That may be something Seat needs to think about.
Even with that and the camera package £15,830 for the SE with the 94bhp 1-litre petrol engine is a solid buy.
But here is something else to consider. Go the whole hog and bargain for the top of the range Xcellence which has all that and a load more for £17,310.
Like the majority of car makers three-cylinder petrol engines are the way forward for small cars and Seat has a trio to choose from. Entry level S comes with a 74bhp 1-litre which would save £595 on an SE and Xcellence but I doubt it would suit the car.
Better to go for the turbocharged 94bhp version which is willing and able, enjoying high revs and providing that quick throttle response which has become a hallmark of these remarkable engines. I hovered between 45-50mpg which was good considering the terrain.
Seat has thrown a mildly sporty FR into the four model mix, giving it an extra 20bhp which, with its stiffer suspension, is a fun drive but is clearly there to appeal to the younger driver. Extra money will include the excellent Volkswagen six speed DSG gearbox. It is cheap thrills at £16,630 but if performance is important then wait a few months for the 147bhp 1.5litre.
This new Ibiza will rightly shoot up the rankings with its stylish looks and solid package and may even ruffle the feathers of its Polo cousin.
Should Ford and Vauxhall be bothered? Yes.
SEAT IBIZA SE
Engine: 1-litre petrol; 94 bhp
Performance: 0-62mph 10.9 secs
Economy: 70.6mpg combined
Emissions: 106g/km. Road tax £120
Insurance group: 11
Price: £14,595 (starts £13,130)
See full story in the County Times