The 178bhp radical open-top Cupster concept celebrates 30 years of the Seat Ibiza, and we've had the chance to drive it

The Seat Cupster concept is a birthday present from Seat to the Ibiza in the supermini’s 30th year on sale.

It was first revealed at the Volkswagen Group’s GTI Treffen tuning festival in Wörthersee, Austria in late spring, and reaction was positive enough to the extent that Seat has engineered it to a level to allow it to be driven.

Which is why our interest has been piqued enough to come to the Parcmotor Castelloli circuit on the outskirts of Barcelona to find out more about the Cupster, a two-seat open-top speedster based on a three-door Ibiza Cupra hatchback, and have an early drive.

Barcelona-based Seat may seem ripe for having a convertible in its line-up, but that’s not been the case in recent years. A convertible Seat concept was last seen with the well-received Tango in 2001, which looked a good bet for production as a natural fit for the brand but was never received sign off by the Volkswagen Group board.

The Tango concept is fondly remember by our companion for a drive in the Cupster, Seat design studio chief engineer Angel Lahoz. He’s overseen the build of all of Seat’s concepts dating back to the Walter de Silva-penned Salsa of 2000. 

It’s these types of cars that really steal the hearts of designers, according to Lahoz, something echoed by his boss, Seat design chief Alejandro Mesonero. “It’s a fun car to look at and a fun car to drive,” he says.  “We respected everything on the Ibiza from the waistline down, then minimised everything on top. You can enjoy the sun and the light – or wind and rain in England – and it has the spirit of the Ibiza in it.”

Fun is the word that comes to wind when witnessing the two-door Cupster in the metal for the first time.

It looks better when up close and when it’s on the move than in static photographers, particularly when looking over it; it’s from this angle when you can admire the low-slung appearance, level of detail and thoroughness of the engineering for a one-off concept car, rather than dismiss the Cupster as a flight of fancy.

Lahoz explains how the Cupster shares its major dimensions – height excluded – with the Ibiza Cupra, and how many of the changes have gone on underneath. “It’s a normal Cupra with a new body and interior, and no roof,” he says of the Cupster, the name coming from a combination of Cupra and speedster. 

Mesonero’s design team penned the concept and 10 students at Seat’s own in-house school in oversaw the engineering.

This was a task to get them used to working with their hands, something the students are being less and less exposed to in a growing world of digital design and engineering. The whole concept took four months to design, engineer and build. 

Read the full Seat Ibiza Cupra review

Major strengthening work was done to the chassis to compensate to the loss of structural rigidity from removing the roof. The sills were thickened and widened, strut braces were fitted front and back, the base of the A-pillars have been reinforced, and there are further reinforcements running from the top of the rear suspension to the base of the B-pillars.

Despite all this added strength, the Cupster weighs the same as an Ibiza Cupra owing to the removal of the roof.

The suspension has been lowered by around 30mm, and also made around 50 per cent stiffer. Larger brakes from the Leon Cupra have been added, covered by a new design of 18in alloy shod in low profile rubber.

The 178bhp 1.4-litre TSI engine and seven-speed DSG gearbox carry over unchanged from the Ibiza Cupra, but a beefier-sounding sports exhaust has been fitted, complete with a large central pipe fitted into the rear diffuser.

The front-end is also borrowed from the Ibiza Cupra, save for a new gloss black finish to the grille. The rear gets the aforementioned exhaust and diffuser, and the sides still feature the Ibiza’s distinctive blister lines.

The smaller windscreen may look more raked than a standard Ibiza’s, but it is in fact the same angle. The glass is darkened, the same treatment given to the side glass that runs down to the rear.

Behind the two seats inside sits a black rear cover, made from glassfibre for the prototype. The whole car is finished in a colour simply called Cupster Orange, three layers of the paint applied to result in a finish that gleams in the Barcelona sun.

That colour is also used to trim the black interior, which gets a more substantial makeover than the exterior. The two rear leather-wrapped Recaro bucket seats are mounted 70mm lower than in the Ibiza Cupra.

The rear view mirror clips into the top of the dashboard in a slot that can also be occupied by a removable sat-nav. The dials and switchgear are otherwise familiar, functions such as the air-con and radio also work properly.

Concept cars can often be rather crude and excruciating to drive, such is their nature as predominantly visual statements meaning engineering work is not necessary. But Seat has decided to do “a first phase of engineering” on the Cupster according to Lahoz to allow it to be driven.

Read the full Seat Leon Cupra review

To drive, it’s actually rather impressive for a concept car. The steering is too light and the chassis doesn’t feel stiff enough for road compliance, but a few low-speed laps (low speed as it’s a one-off, insured for 200,000 euros) of a handling circuit at Castelloli are enough to raise a smile.

The exhaust note sounds great, the 1.4 TSI’s performance isn’t compromised and the interior is quality and suitably sporty.

What’s most memorable is the proper wind-in-your-hair feeling driving it. The screen looks too low, as if you’re going to get a face full of air driving it, but it’s not the case. It’s a true speedster experience.

Will Seat build it in? Lahoz admits a concept car like this is something “Seat designers have always wanted to do”. He says it could be feasibly be put into production as it is now despite its extreme looks, and the team is keen to keep progressing with engineering work on it. 

“A little series could be possible,” he says. “Small projects like this get noticed by the management. We’re showing the car’s design and making a statement.”

But at present, a business case doesn’t exist for any kind of production run, limited or otherwise, for the Cupster. Indeed, Mesonero said an Ibiza convertible was not in the plan for either this generation of the car or the next at present.

Still, as a fun styling and engineering exercise, it’s hard not to giggle along with the Cupster. We rather like it.

Driving Seat's other historic Ibiza models

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Seat Ibiza

The Seat Ibiza is good looking, well-priced and spacious supermini that doesn’t quite live up to Seat’s sporty image

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Comments
8

25 July 2014
Seat Tango was much better

25 July 2014
VW Group already have Eos, Beetle convertible and Golf convertible in their range, so unlikely to add another clone in this already overcrowded niche.

25 July 2014
Is it just me or does the 'Cup-ster' sound like Rolf's new prison name?

25 July 2014
Just as well they didn't design an ugly car.......NOT !

25 July 2014
Hope they kept the receipt..


25 July 2014
It might be ugly to some people (though i can't figure out why), but anyone who isn't dull as dishwasher should think that it's cool. It looks like something a comic book hero would drive.

25 July 2014
Sorry my friend. But this looks like someone tried to limbo it under a car-park barrier and failed. I don't think Dennis the Menace would even drive it.

28 July 2014
Of-course he wouldn't, he's not old enough to have a license.

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