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.