The SEAT Ibiza Cupra has never quite attracted the same following as Cupra versions of its bigger brother, the Leon. Perhaps this improved version can change all that. Jonathan Crouch reports.
Ten Second Review
SEAT's Ibiza hasn't always delivered the goods in its hotter guises but there can be few complaints about this latest Cupra model. In revised form, this car ditches the old 1.4-litre unit with its automatic gearbox in favour of a torquier, more involving 1.8-litre TSI engine, a powerplant delivering an increase in power from 180 to 192PS and mated to manual transmission. Capable of 62mph in just 6.7 seconds and 47.1mpg, it also comes with stacks of equipment at a competitive price.
You don't get a lot of car for well under twenty grand these days. Or so you'd think. Do a bit of homework though and you'll find that there's some genuinely talented metal available for under £20k. Long part of this admittedly select group has been SEAT's Ibiza Cupra, though for some time, this supermini hot hatch model's prospects have been hampered by the Volkswagen Group's insistance that SEAT should saddle it with a relatively feeble 1.4-litre engine. That wasn't so much of a problem, given that turbocharging and supercharging boosted this unit's output to 180PS. More of an issue was the fact that this powerplant could only be had with a paddleshift automatic gearbox that many hot hatch buyers didn't like.
Now though, this car is a much more competitive prospect. As with its cousin, the Volkswagen Polo GTI, a 1.8-litre TSI unit has been inserted beneath the bonnet, mated to a slick-shifting 6-speed manual 'box and there's a useful power hike up to 192PS. It's a model that comes to market at a critical time. Does it have what it takes to stake a claim?
The first generation of the Ibiza Cupra hit the road in 1996 and ever since, this Spanish brand has aimed to set higher standards with the most potent version of its smallest hot hatch. This latest model certainly seems to have an accomplished technical CV. It offers an XDS electronic differential lock to help get the power down through the bends, high-performance brakes and a CUPRA Drive Profile system that offers adjustable damping. This encompasses Cupra Selective Suspension, an adaptive suspension control system that let you choose between comfort or sport suspension and also modifies the steering behaviour.
The 192PS 1.8-litre TSI petrol engine offers a pokey 320Nm of torque, 70Nm more than the previous 1.4-litre model could manage. As a result, 62mph is now achievable from rest in just 6.7s, so it's genuinely quick for a supermini-based GTI, and it'll run on to a top speed of 146mph. That's if you're quick with the six-speed manual gearstick, a welcome change from the paddleshift auto you previously had to have in this car. Compared to something like a Suzuki Swift Sport, the SEAT is a more serious, aggressive thing, un-frightened by the prospect of rivals like Peugeot's 208 GTI or Renaultsport's Clio.
Design and Build
This latest car looks taut and looks gym-toned, the sheet metal stretched keenly over its compact shape. The edgy line of the standard bi-xenon lights is a typical element of the SEAT design language, perfectly integrated into the Ibiza's sculptural form. The LED daytime running lights trace the line of the headlamp to form a unique light signature, as do the LED rear lights. The side view of this three-door coupe is brought to life by the sharply executed lines and edges, while the accentuated rear shoulders and 17-inch wheels aim to underline its performance. At the rear, a broad bumper frames a substantial, matt-black diffuser, which incorporates the trapezoidal tailpipe.
Inside, you'll find an extensively upgraded interior, with a steering wheel borrowed from the larger Leon model and a smarter finish for the air vents, the instrument panel and the infotainment systems.
These include a clever SEAT DriveApp that allows the vehicle's touchscreen can be personalised with local weather reports or contacts. Plus, owners can use it with a 'text to speech' function that can read out to you the latest posts from Facebook or Twitter. There's also a 'Challenger' function that offers interesting challenges to optimise driving skills, leading to a more efficient driving style. On leaving the vehicle, the "where is my car" function stores the Ibiza's current position and finds it again whenever necessary.
Market and Model
There's just one model with one bodystyle on offer here, a car for which you'll need to budget around £18,000 - or just under £19,000 if you want the better-equipped 'Cupra Black' variant. That's not bad value for money when you pause to consider that SEAT have thrown a lot of equipment into the mix. Climate control, rain-sensing automatic windscreen wipers, bi-xenon headlamps, LED daytime running lights and 17-inch alloy wheels are standard fit, as well as various Cupra styling and performance-enhancing extras, including signature gloss black mirrors, Cupra front and rear bumpers, a matte black rear diffuser incorporating a large trapezoidal central tailpipe and a pair of unique front sports seats.
You also get plenty of hi-tech, including the neat SEAT ConnectApp within the MirrorLink technology. It makes perfect use of MirrorLink integration - the driver is "always on", yet remains fully concentrated on the traffic. One new and exclusive function is gesture control, enabling functions such as calls or contacts to be called up on the SEAT Media System touchscreen. The welcome screen of the SEAT ConnectApp can be personalised to display information such as the current weather forecast or appointments. With "smart tips", the app learns personal preferences such as frequent destinations and can issue appointment reminders.
Cost of Ownership
You might think that SEAT's switch from 1.4 to 1.8-litre petrol power for this car would have a significantly detrimental effect on running costs. You'd be wrong. The 47.9mpg combined cycle fuel showing of the 1.4-litre Cupra falls only marginally to 45.6mpg in this 1.8-litre model. The CO2 showing is competitive too, rated at 139g/km.
Residuals shouldn't be too bad. After all, the market for performance cars these days might look a little flat in the mid ranges but it's still very strong at the top end and also at the bottom, where cars like this SEAT Ibiza Cupra retain a strong appeal to those who want thrills without the bills.
The market into which the SEAT Ibiza Cupra finds itself pitched is in a state of flux. Some traditional big hitters are just being phased out or are only now finding their feet and as a result, the Cupra, which always used to be a bit-part player, suddenly emerges as a really strong contender for your money. With a genuinely impressive turn of speed, amazing efficiency and the added bonus of that delightful 1.8-litre TSI engine, the Cupra is a real draw.
SEAT has been given the hand-me-downs from the Volkswagen empire for a long time now, so it's refreshing to see it turn a corner and start producing cars which stand up to the harshest scrutiny. The company needs vehicles like the Ibiza Cupra if it's to pay its way and it needs them to be good. At last, this car genuinely is.