£17,460 Price range
The SEAT Ibiza Cupra is the range-topping performance version of the Spanish manufacturer’s Ibiza range. Its rivals are the VW Polo GTI, Ford Fiesta ST and Renault Clio Renaultsport. The Ibiza Cupra was facelifted in late 2015 and received a bigger engine and more in-car technology.
The biggest improvement over the old model is the engine – it’s now a 1.8-litre and its broad spread of pulling power coupled with impressive fuel economy are much better than what the old 1.4-litre could offer. The only downside is the muted exhaust note.
The way the Cupra drives has also been improved thanks to better suspension and a clever traction control system that can help the car corner more quickly. Thanks to its different driving modes, the Ibiza Cupra can be sharp or comfortable depending on your mood.
When the Ibiza Cupra was updated in 2015, its interior was overhauled. It’s standout feature is the increased connectivity of the infotainment system – it can mirror most smartphone apps and display them on the car’s screen. Other than that the Ibiza Cupra has the same supportive front sport seats and cramped rear ones as the pre-facelift model.
Sitting at the top of the Ibiza range, the Cupra is well-equipped from the factory with bi-xenon headlamps, tinted windows, 17-inch alloy wheels plus climate and cruise control.
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It’s a snappy looker on the outside and the angular theme continues inside, too. It’s a symphony in black, but the chunky flat-bottomed steering wheel, aluminium pedals and sports seats make the racy intentions obvious. It still has the same VW quality fit and finish as the rest of the Ibiza range and there are fewer buttons to clutter the dashboard thanks to the increased functionality of the infotainment system.
Seat Ibiza Cupra passenger space
The Ibiza Cupra can only be ordered as a three-door hatchback – which SEAT calls the SC – and that’s its biggest downside. The rear headroom is considerably less than in the five-door Ibiza and rear legroom is made a little worse than the regular SC models thanks to the sports seats. The rear seats aren’t a place for adults to sit in comfort for any length of time.
Seat Ibiza Cupra bootspace
The boot isn’t small though, at 284 litres, so it’s relatively practical. The boot is the same size as in the VW Polo (284 litres), while the Ford Fiesta (290 litres) and the Renault Clio Renaultsport (300 litres) are roomier.
One of the strengths of the Ibiza range is that it has a good, compliant ride at the expense of a little driver involvement. Hot hatch buyers are known for wanting things the other way round and the Cupra delivers, but it’s not quite as fun to drive as rivals.
The standard adaptive dampers are the main reason the facelift version is so much better to drive than the old one. There are two driving modes to choose from – Comfort and Sport. They not only change the suspension set-up, but also the steering wheel weight, too. The steering is not as light and numb as the regular car but it’s still a little short on feedback. It’s a better car to drive than the normal Ibiza and unlike many hot hatches it’s comfortable on longer journeys.
There’s only one engine available for the Cupra and it’s a 1.8-litre turbocharged petrol. It’s equipped across the SEAT and VW ranges and replaces the curious 1.4-litre turbo and supercharged engine of the old model. Power is also up in the facelift version and is now 196hp compared to the 178hp of the old one.
Many reviewers say the engine is the best part of the car. There is a constant flood of torque regardless of where you are in the rev range – prodding the accelerator makes it go quite a great deal faster at any speed in any gear. The seven-speed DSG automatic gearbox with paddle-operated manual mode has been scrapped and now you can only get the Ibiza Cupra with a more involving manual gearbox. Even though it lost the near-instant gear changes of the DSG, the facelift Cupra shaves two tenths off the old car’s 0-62mph time and drops it down to 6.7 seconds, while it’s still able to return a fuel economy of 47mpg combined. CO2 emissions are 139g/km resulting in £130 for annual road tax.
It perhaps could have done better had the curtain airbags been standard, rather than an option. The Cupra does come with electronic stability control and an electronic differential to make life safer if you’ve gone into a corner a bit fast, adaptive xenon headlights to light up the way ahead and a huge set of sports brakes.
While the level of performance for what you pay is largely comparable to hot hatch rivals from Ford, Renault, Peugeot and Mini it doesn’t have as much to offer for driver involvement and seems pricey by comparison. It’s well-equipped for the money though with standard climate and cruise control. Bluetooth phone connectivity and music streaming is also standard.
This being a more youth-focused car means it can be equipped with a huge range of technology, especially for the infotainment system. An extra of £240 gets you a 6.5-inch touchscreen and for £145 more you can get SEAT’s Full Link smartphone connectivity system which includes Apple CarPlay, Android Auto as well as Mirrorlink.
It’s a strong looker in a sea of relatively mundane hatchbacks but, as a hot hatch, the Ibiza Cupra has some shortcomings. The lack of an automatic gearbox may put some buyers off for a start, though the manual is much more involving and adds another layer to the driving experience.
It’s really how it drives that will prove the deal-breaker because it’s just not that much fun to thread down a good driving road. Still, if you’re doing lots of motorway miles it’s far less harsh than rival offerings. The slightly larger VW Polo GTI addresses the Cupra’s shortage of rear seat space, while for ultimate driving fun the Ford Fiesta ST is still unbeatable.