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New SEAT Ibiza Cupra review - Iberian hot hatch steps up its game
What is it?
This is the facelifted version of SEAT’s small hot hatch, the Ibiza Cupra. Still based on the fourth-generation Ibiza hatchback this updated model gets a sharper look front and rear and a number of interior revisions, but the really significant changes are beneath the skin.
The Ibiza Cupra first arrived in 1999 and has since become one of SEAT’s most recognisable model lines. This latest version is aimed at the likes of the Ford Fiesta ST, Peugeot 208 GTi by Peugeot Sport, Renaultsport Clio 200, Mini Cooper S, Vauxhall Corsa VXR and, of course, the VW Polo GTI with which it shares a platform and drivetrain.
In styling terms the Ibiza Cupra hits many of the right notes, particularly on dark wheels, but it’s a shame the two peashooter exhaust tips are so clearly visible within the silver central exit exhaust surround.
Engine, transmission and 0-60mph time
The big news is that this revised model ditches the previous version’s 1.4-litre turbocharged four-cylinder in favour of a more powerful 1.8-litre TSI turbo. It’s the same unit that powers the Polo GTI and is good for 189bhp and a very healthy 236lb ft of torque.
That represents a 12bhp increase over the previous model, but more significantly peak torque has risen by 52lb ft and is now available over a wider rev band – between 1450 and 4200rpm. Despite the increase in power and displacement this new engine is 7kg lighter than the unit it replaces, which means the overall weight gain is a single kilogram.
Whereas the outgoing model was paddle-shift only, this new version will only be offered with a six-speed manual gearbox.
The front-wheel drive Ibiza Cupra clocks a 0-62mph time of 6.7 seconds and a top speed of 146mph. SEAT claims 47.1mpg on the combined cycle, an improvement of 3mpg.
A new addition for this model is the Drive Profile feature, which offers Comfort and Sport modes. Sport stiffens the dampers and sharpens the steering. Incidentally, those adjustable dampers will set you back £245 on the Polo GTI but are standard fit here. In line with the Cupra’s sportier image, it gets a slightly more aggressive suspension tune than the Polo GTI.
Like the previous version the new Ibiza Cupra uses an ‘XDS electronic differential lock’. Rather than a mechanical diff, such as the items used by the 208 GTi by Peugeot Sport and the Corsa VXR (with the Performance Package), it’s an electronic system that uses the front brakes to mimic a mechanical unit.
The front brake discs have grown in diameter, up from 288 to 310mm. Like the previous model the Cupra only be available in three-door SC guise.
The Cupra comes generously equipped as standard – bi-xenon headlights, climate control, cruise control, auto lights and wipers and a DAB radio are all included. Mobile connectivity is one of SEAT’s key selling points and to that end the Cupra is primed for Apple CarPlay, Android Auto and Mirror Link.
What’s it like to drive?
Just a few years ago hot hatches in this price bracket and with this level of performance and dynamic ability were pretty tiring motorway companions, but this car is refined and comfortable over long journeys.
The Cupra’s cabin quality is mostly very good for the class – the door card plastics are scratchy but that can be said of almost every car in this sector – and the VW Group infotainment unit is among the very best out there.
The seating position is mostly good, although the seat itself is set just a tad too high in its lowest setting. The ride quality in Comfort mode is impressively relaxed and pliant for a small sporting hatchback.
A look at the power and torque curves gives a clear indication of how the engine will perform out on the road. It pulls with real determination and good response from very low engine speeds – which tallies with peak torque arriving at just 1450rpm – and the mid-range is strong, but with the power curve levelling off at 4800rpm there’s little to be gained from chasing the redline. This a muscular unit, but it feels flat at lifeless at the top end.
The manual gearshift is very slick and precise and the lever itself falls easier to hand than it does in the Polo GTI.
The electrically-assisted steering, a touch spongy and vague in its default setting, improves significantly in Sport mode. It never feels like the sharpest or most detailed of steering racks, though, and the lasting impression is that it’s been tuned to filter out all road noise in normal driving rather than to connect the driver to the front axle in more committed driving.
The dampers stiffen up by around 20 per cent in Sport mode, which is useful but hardly night-and-day. You can sense more texture in the road surface through the seat compared to Comfort mode and the car does sharpen its responses to steering inputs and tauten its body control.
The XDS differential does a good job of trimming out wheelspin and maintaining forward drive, but it doesn’t give the same slingshot acceleration away from a bend as a mechanical differential. The traction control has a Sport setting buried away within the menu, but the safety nets cannot be removed entirely.
Ultimately, this chassis is nowhere near as focused as that of a Fiesta ST or 208 GTi. It’ll squeeze good turn-in and mid-corner grip from its Bridgestone Potenza tyres and maintain reasonably solid control, but there’s none of the agility in the rear axle or the immediacy at the front end of the very best cars in this class.
Keep the Cupra just on the edge of understeer – which is all it really does at the limit – and it’ll track down a road at a very decent pace, but it doesn’t thrill or excite quite like a Fiesta ST.
Without having driven them back-to-back it does feel like a more engaging hot hatch than the Polo GTI, however, and it’ll also offer stronger value for money. It is a shame, though, that SEAT didn’t live up to its sportier image and tune the Cupra’s chassis to be really lively and adjustable.
As already mentioned the Ibiza Cupra is aimed at the Ford Fiesta ST, Peugeot 208 GTi by Peugeot Sport, Mini Cooper S, Renaultsport Clio 200, Vauxhall Corsa VXR and the VW Polo GTI.
The Fiesta ST and 208 GTi by Peugeot Sport remain the dynamic benchmark for this class, but the Ibiza Cupra counters with a classier interior than either of those rivals.
The Ibiza Cupra will cost around £18,000 (TBC) when it arrives in the UK in January 2016. It will undercut the £18,900 VW Polo GTI, but offer a slightly higher standard specification. The Ford Fiesta ST, our class leader, starts from £17,545.