Refined and efficient, but lacking the flair and energy you’d expect

What is it?

This is the new Seat Ibiza Cupra, complete with 178bhp 1.4 TSI engine and seven-speed double-clutch gearbox as standard.

Here we’re also testing the Cupra complete with its striking Bocanegra style-kit that includes the black grille, unique 17-inch alloy design, a sunroof and a variety of interior styling tweaks.

What’s it like?

The Ibiza Cupra is an easy car to like but in essence lacks the flair you would expect of the hottest small Seat.

It’s rare that you can criticise a car for being too composed or over-engineered, but drive the new Cupra in virtually any situation and the overwhelming impression is one of comfort, composure and a relative lack of encouragement when it comes to the moment you want to explore the Cupra in your Ibiza.

That’s not to say that this isn’t a competent performance hatch. The 1.4 TSI engine is free-revving and endows the Ibiza with ample pace and acceleration, and the DSG box does an excellent job of swapping cogs smoothly.

In fact the Cupra excels as a relaxed drive, but as soon as you want to wring some performance out of it the gearbox becomes more of a hindrance than a help. In automatic ‘S’ mode it often changes down unexpectedly with little reward from the engine, and in manual mode it will still kick-down if you accelerate hard, resulting in the same over-revving and lack of response from the engine. Often this ends up leaving you in the upper rev ranges with the engine making a lot of noise with little actual progress being made.

However the high grip levels, well-judged damping and good body control goes a long way to proving that the Ibiza Cupra is still a worthy hot hatch. You can throw it gamely into corners and it will grip-and-go with little hassle and plenty of entertainment – mostly thanks to the combination of good chassis and the new ‘XDS’ system that electronically mimics a mechanical limited-slip differential.

Closer to the limits you also get a decent level of feedback as to what the tyres are doing and when they might lose traction, though much of the time the steering is quite sterile and uninvolving.

Should I buy one?

There is plenty of incentive to buy the new Seat Ibiza Cupra. Even without the optional Bocanegra styling pack you get a good equipment list, flamboyant styling and a truly tempting combination of economy and performance. For this reason it should appeal to a different kind of buyer than the Renault Clio, where you sacrifice build quality for undeniably brilliant and addictive performance.

Still, it’s difficult not to feel that if Seat had chosen to offer a standard manual box and a lower list price this could have been a genuinely excellent hot hatch contender. As it is, it’s good but still less than satisfying.

Join the debate

Add a comment…
truezplaya 17 May 2010

Re: Seat Ibiza Cupra 1.4 TSI 180 Bocanegra

I agree with the not a used buy however I have recently been looking to buy one, seat offer a extended warantee and they said to me once the normal warantee is up it would cost me £250 per year/20000miles which covers everything except warable parts.

I understand that there is plenty of talk of a R version but if there was going to be why would the bocanegra not be that version? You can make it sportier by buying the uprateed brakes however these seem far to expensive(for road use) considering the brakes already fitted stop the car extreamly well. I asked the difference between the cupra and the bocanegra and it is simply some bumpers and the interior design. You can add the leather and the xeons to the cupra for a similar price as the bocanegra, seems like a no brainer since the salesperson answered the question whats the difference in resale value which is 1-2% difference. You also have more colours to choose from!!

I have test drove the bocanegra and it is fantastic to drive and I was saying why not a manual however the car can give you that control and should you forget that you are in control of the gears it will take over. If you had a manual do you think you could get the economy of the dsg? With the supercharger working at low range you would have to keep changing gear to keep fuel economy. I love a manual like any other but i wouldn't knock the dsg until you have had a good test of one.
BriMarsh 12 July 2009

Re: Seat Ibiza Cupra 1.4 TSI 180 Bocanegra

"...178bhp 1.4 twin-turbocharged TSI engine and seven-speed double-clutch gearbox ..."

Can't help thinking once this is out of warranty, it's an expensive maintenance time-bomb, especially as most will have been ragged mercilessly. Not a used buy I'd make...

aceman 12 July 2009

Re: Seat Ibiza Cupra 1.4 TSI 180 Bocanegra

I like this car a lot. The name is odd but no matter it's still a good car. I disagree with autocar's statement - " It’s rare that you can criticise a car for being too composed or over-engineered"

It's not over-engineered how can it be? It's just a very good comfortable car.

The gear-changing is smooth and controled - thanks to the DSG box that is. It's comfortable inside and the interior is not too tacky in my opinion. The and the handling is quite impressive too, very controled when turning corners and smooth over un-even surfaces. As for the fuel emissions it goes slightly downhill from here. Because 42mpg isn't very good to say that this is isn't thirsty MPV type thing.

But in my case I would buy one, the fuel emissions doesn't hold it back too much. The Ibiza Cupra certainly looks the part - and performance is close to outstanding.