You join us at a VERY tricky moment. Our forehead’s prickling; sweat seeping out one molecule at a time. Our right ankle’s twitching like Michael J Fox in a Mannheim bidding war. Our eyes are piercing space and time. The last time we felt a mental frenzy like this was 30 seconds before a fight in a Wetherspoon’s.
But we’re not fighting. In fact, we’re not moving. We’re very definitely not moving. We’re in Worcestershire, stationary, trying to join the A435 (North) from Tanners Green Lane.
Up until now we’d been getting on reasonably well with SEAT’s face-lifted Ibiza FR. It looks less like an M&S handbag than the VW Polo with which it shares its gubbins. It also WON’T lead people to believe that you’re hiding a stash of Tena Lady in the glovebox – and you can’t say THAT about its other brother from the Veedub mother, the Skoda Fabia. Oh, and this “ST” version’s estate rear end is integrated so well that it might take you 4 full days to realise it’s an estate. Spotted it already? Just us then.
But here’s the catch. This particular car has an FR badge on it, which means the bonnet contains a 148bhp, 1.4 litre twin-charged petrol engine and a DSG gearbox. Unfortunately, combining these two things creates all sorts of bad mechanical alchemy. We’ll call it badchemy.
Let’s talk about throttle response. If you’re travelling at a speed the engine deems appropriate, and you’re in a gear that the transmission finds agreeable, there’s a reasonable chance of being propelled forward within a second or two of suggesting such a thing to the accelerator. But, if the box and motor have a disagreement during their leisurely exchange, they’ll put you on hold indefinitely. It’s like the bad old days of double lag in auto-boxed turbo-diesels. You may as well play Greensleeves and put a brew on.
Which is a shame. Because if you change gear yourself, CONCENTRATE on what the engine’s up to and ANTICIPATE what gear the transmission might fancy a few yards down the road, the Ibiza FR can shuffle along very well. But can most people be arsed with that, most of the time? Doubt it. They shouldn’t have to in a car they’ve paid £18k for.
The quick shuffle is exactly what has led us to the end of Tanners Green Lane, where Betty Swollocks is paying us a visit. We’re suffering the most obvious symptom of the badchemy created twixt engine and transmission. Traction. Or lack thereof.
Like many cars with DSG boxes, the Ibiza FR isn’t a fan of quick getaways. But it is very keen on axle tramp and trying to blow the bulb in its ESP light. It goes like this… you press the throttle, and very little happens because the engine hasn’t got the memo yet. So you press it harder. Then the engine finally receives the memo, possibly via messenger pigeon, thus jumping into action and immediately causing one of the front wheels to get flustered and break traction. Obviously the ESP won’t stand for any such ruffianism, so it cuts the power immediately. At this point, you’re doing 4mph with the car’s brain assuming the road is so slippy that the wheels can’t possibly deal with more than 20% of the engine’s power without liquefying themselves.
The 178bhp version of this engine, like what you get in Polo GTIs, Ibiza Cupras and Fabia vRS isn’t as peaky or laggy, has an easier-to-modulte throttle and… is better. In the FR, you quickly learn to never attempt quick getaways at all. Which, when you’re trying to join a damp A-road without any slip-road run-up, is quite frustrating.
And so, we’ll leave you to get on – because we’ve given up on the idea of riding on the A435 (North). We’re doing a three-point turn, heading back the long way and acting as mediator in a counselling session between two high-tech pieces of engineering.