AFTER bursting on to these shores like a ray of Spanish sunshine, the Seat Ibiza is now firmly established in the UK as a supermini favourite.

But times have changed, and the Ibiza is not only required to provide a sporty and fun drive but also deliver on the fuel economy and pollution fronts.

The tested Ibiza has a three-cylinder diesel engine which sounds great and is rewarding at very low speeds. It’s still brilliant to drive, the handling is entertaining, the steering is well-weighted and the ride is firm enough to at least give an impression of sportiness, even around town.

And that three-pot buzz is captivating.

I can’t fault its efficiency either. That’s really this engine’s raison d’etre, and it comes into its own when driven frugally. Even after a week of unsympathetic acceleration, heavy passengers and high-speed motorway driving, the Ibiza returned nearly 73mpg. Seat reckons you should be able to achieve an average fuel economy of 78.5mpg.

The other big plus factor is the CO2 emissions figure of 93 grammes per kilometre. You'd have to be smart to find anything lower.

On the downside, even with just a single passenger in the car, you’re forced to change into first and crawl up steep hills.

You have a 0-62mph time of 13 seconds, which is a real dawdle and means joining a fast-flowing motorway can be a bit of a struggle. Accelerating from 56mph to 70mph takes effort, thanks to an engine that produces only 75 PS.

So what we have here is a slow but charming car, with an efficient and technologically advanced engine. It’s only a little more powerful than the superminis of 20 years ago, yet comes with the added weight of the modern motor car. The little three-cylinder engine will dutifully carry you down motorways, but it doesn’t like it.

What it does like is twisty, crowded routes, where it’s happy to dodge potholes and nip in and out of side streets. It handles perfectly for such a small vehicle – light steering in the town, slightly more weighted on windy B-roads. You’ll never win any races but you’ll have more fun in the Ibiza than almost anything else in the segment.

This is a car that excels at city driving, at country driving and at getting you around cheaply.

Seat has the most youthful image of the Volkswagen Group, and the Ibiza is a great example of what it can do for younger buyers. While a good chunk of those buyers will opt for the more sporty FR version, the more pedestrian 1.4 TDI Ecomotive is certainly worth its place in the line-up.

The five-door isn't as sharply dressed as the SC three-door, but it's clearly more practical and it hardly needs a bag over its head. The 17-inch wheels look the business, too. Once you're in one you realise how many Ibizas are out there, including plenty of FRs, so while it's good-looking you could argue that the EcoTSI version doesn't really stand out. Good or bad thing? You decide.

Lift your baggage over the boot lip and you'll find a spacious and evenly shaped load area, in this case with a spare wheel underneath the floor (£100). The rear doors are shorter than the life span of an ice cube in Hell, so it's a bit of a squeeze for the longer-of-leg to get out. There's not really much room for rear passengers, to be fair, but you wouldn't complain if it's your only option.

With the turbocharger spinning up freely at low revs the Ibiza is deliciously brisk out of corners and roundabouts. It feels light and eager, even if its throttle response is a bit dull at first. Get ham-fisted and it might surprise you with its overtaking punch.

Its home turf is suburbia and the city limits, where it will happily oblige all day long at 20 to 60mph. For the majority of buyers, it will do just fine.