I’m about to hit a busy roundabout. As my eyes scan the traffic I realise there’s a gap about to open up so I leave my braking a little later than I originally planned. As my right foot moves over to the brake pedal I stretch a finger on my left hand and pull on the paddle for 1-2-3-4 fast, smooth gear changes, dropping from 7th to 3rd in an instant. With perfect timing I hit the gap on the roundabout, flick the steering left, right, left and I’m away again, accelerating hard and racing back up through the gears with no more than a flick of a finger on my right hand. It all seems so smooth, so easy.
This is just typical of the way the SEAT Ibiza Cupra covers ground so quickly. The 7-speed dual-clutch gearbox seems to have been honed to perfection and it’s coupled to an engine that’s always keen to play, thanks to both a turbo and supercharger boosting its output. With no clutch pedal or gear stick to worry about you can keep your hands on the wheel and concentrate on making rapid progress.
This is the revised Ibiza Cupra, freshened up for 2013. Although the basic ingredients remain the same the twin-charged 1.4 TSI has been remapped for better throttle response. It certainly feels a bit sharper than I remember from the Polo GTI and Fabia vRS (both share the same engine and gearbox) and it seems more keen to reach the top end but the quoted output stays the same at 178bhp and 184lb/ft. If this engine still has the same 178 ponies under the bonnet then they’ve been on a fitness regime because they’re friskier than they used to be.
Similarly that dual-clutch gearbox seems to much more effective than I remember. The seven-speed DSG has always been smooth but now it seems quicker to respond to a flick of the paddle, particularly when you’re asking for multiple downshifts. It really is very, very good, although the ‘Sport’ mode remains as a silly distraction that hangs onto revs for too long. If you’re in the mood to travel quickly it’s far better to slide the lever over to the manual setting and take control yourself.
When you stretch the engine you’re treated to an entertaining exhaust note. Sound pipes feed some of that into the cabin to add to the excitement and it works well, adding to the fun without ever becoming intrusive when you’re cruising. Meanwhile full-bore upshifts result in a characteristic ‘parp’ from the trapezoidal exhaust.
The chassis setup is largely the same and continues the bias towards front-end grip. Traction is rarely an issue and the XDS electronic differential does a respectable job of keeping things neat and tidy but ultimately it’s the purchase of the front tyres on the tarmac that decides your pace through corners. Compared to the class leading Fiesta ST it seems a little one-dimensional, although in terms of pace the two cars are evenly matched.
What the Cupra does do is ride surprisingly well. It’s firm without being crashy and that helps to make it a very easy car to live with. Travelling 60 miles a day on my commute was surpisingly relaxing, especially with the DSG handling gear-shifting duties in stop/start traffic.
There are some nice touches on the outside that make the Ibiza more distinctive. The LEDs built into the bi-xenon headlights give it an air of Germanic authority while the rear lights now feature a Nike-esque tick design that makes it very easy to identify from a distance.
Where the Ibiza has been most improved is in the cabin. The switches and buttons are familiar but some of the plastics feel like they’ve been spruced up. The red backlighting on the stereo and climate controls is replaced by white, making them seem sharper and easier to read.
One thing you can’t help but notice is the new PID device protruding from the top of the dashboard. It’s the same as you’d find in the smaller and cheaper Mii but in the Ibiza it looks like a bit of an afterthought. There’s no denying it’s a useful little thing, bringing Bluetooth phone and audio streaming to the Ibiza along with navigation and detailed trip computer displays, but both Peugeot’s and Renault’s large integrated touchscreens show how this should be done.
While I’m picking faults with the interior, just take a look at those seats. They’re comfortable and supportive with good side bolsters but that strip of white leather along the edges is just asking for trouble. Just how good is that going to look after a couple of years of wear and tear have turned brilliant white to a grubby grey?
Big On Value
When I saw the cost of the Ibiza Cupra I had to do a double take. With an on-the-road price of £16,765 the Ibiza Cupra is now the cheapest way to get yourself into a twin-charged TSI with DSG gearbox. Wind the clock back a couple of years and the Skoda Fabia vRS was the cheapest of the bunch and yet somehow the Ibiza seems to have avoided the effects of inflation. Now the Fabia is over £17k, the Volkswagen Polo GTI is £19.5k and the Audi A1 TFSI is well over £20k.
Other rivals fare little better with the new Clio 200 and 208 GTI hovering around £19k. Only the Fiesta ST gets close at a price of £16,995 but for that you get the base model with fewer toys. The Ibiza Cupra suddenly seems like rather good value .
Running costs are reasonably good too. The 1.4 TSI is officially rated at 47mpg and when driven with restraint I was able to squeeze 48mpg out of it. It helps to keep the gearbox in manual so that you can hang on to the higher gears for longer without the computer swapping up and down the ratios as much.
Of course, exercising the engine causes a big drop. Taking the long way home along my favourite roads saw the economy dropping into the mid 20s, but after a week and 403 miles of mixed driving the trip computer was showing 36mpg.
The Final Reckoning
Judging by the number of admiring glances that the Ibiza received I think it’s safe to say that its makeover has been successful. It may be subtle but that goes to show that the original sharp design was a good one.
The Cupra continues to benefit from a fantastic engine and wonderfully smooth automatic gearbox. The fact that you can’t have a Cupra with a manual ‘box seems to be less of an issue these days as the proliferation of automatics continues. The DSG system is right up there with the best.
The weakest point in the Cupra’s armour is its handling. It can’t match the Fiesta ST and Clio 200 for sheer on-limit entertainment but if you’d rather leave the tyre-squealing antics to the wannabe racers then you’ll be more than happy with the Cupra’s ability to cover ground.
It might not be the sharpest tool in the hot hatch box but the SEAT Ibiza Cupra now looks like being one of the best value. Combine that with an easy-going nature and plenty of pace and you have a very tempting package.
SEAT Ibiza Cupra Scores
|PERFORMANCE||Engine is strong throughout rev range||8|
|HANDLING||Capable and predictable||7|
|AFFORDABILITY||Looks like great value next to competition||9|
|DESIRABILITY||Cupra badge is popular in hot hatch market||8|
|DRIVING SPIRIT||Definitely quick but needs more of an edge||7|
SEAT Ibiza Cupra Specifications
|Engine:||1,390cc 4-cylinder turbocharged petrol|
|Transmission:||Seven-speed dual-clutch automatic, front-wheel drive|
|0-62 mph:||6.9 seconds|
|Top Speed:||142 mph|
|CO2 Emissions:||139g/km (Band E)|
*Prices taken from SEAT website, October 2013