For such a small car, the Cupra packs a relatively big engine. While similarly sized hot hatches from the likes of Ford, Peugeot and Renault have turbocharged 1.6-litre engines, the Ibiza has a 1.8-litre lump with forced induction. It may not be the most powerful car in its class but you come to appreciate the torque reserves on offer. You can happily leave it in a high gear and still build pace with a decent amount of urge.
If you want to go faster, the six-speed manual gearbox has a light yet precise action that makes changing gear easy if not overly engaging. In a lower ratio, the engine pulls hard enough without ever really pushing you back into the seat. That said, its sub-seven second 0-62mph time isn’t too shabby at all.
Even if you do use all of the revs, the engine's noise isn't exactly one to have you coming back for more. The exhaust note is flat and a little too quiet and although it has a throaty edge when you’re really on it, the noise sounds a little contrived to these ears.
But we can forgive a hot hatch plenty if it can put a smile on your face down a decent B-road. Things look good initially thanks to a standard Sport button that firms up the dampers and adds weight to the steering when pressed.
The trouble is, no matter if Sport mode is engaged or left off, the steering feels light and devoid of any feedback, preventing you from fully connecting with the car. The difference in the suspension is more marked; while it feels quite soft normally, Sport firms things up to a point where it’s often a little harsh.
Drive along a scruffy bit of road and you’ll feel the asphalt's topography all too well, although at least body roll is reduced and turn-in is slightly keener. Even so, the handling feels geared towards stability rather than out and out agility, and you have to work very hard to get the tail moving about off the throttle and under heavy braking as you would experience in, say, a Ford Fiesta ST.
Not helping is stability control that can’t ever be fully turned off. You can minimise its intervention but even this option is within a sub-menu of the infotainment system. Considering the number of blank buttons around the cabin, we’re sure Seat could have come up with an easier option.
On the plus side, it’s actually quite a relaxed companion with Sport off and under normal driving conditions. Apart from over sharp-edged bumps, the ride is actually quite comfortable, while the engine is flexible and capable of more than 40mpg. Think of it as a GT hatch and it sort of makes sense.
Inside, the cabin receives the same improvements in material quality as the rest of the Ibiza range – it’s better but still behind the class best. At least the infotainment system scores for being both easy to use and offering some of the best connectivity in its class.