Ex-Lamborghini designer Luc Donckerwolke added some much-needed dynamism to the latest Seat Ibiza, and now the Cupra is here to give it the punch to match the promise served up by those aggressive creases and angular headlights. It’s also incredibly important because it shares its underpinnings with the forthcoming Polo GTI, yet beats it to market by half a year, maybe more.
What engine powers the Seat Ibiza Cupra? Is it a 2.0-litre turbo?
It’s just a 1.4-litre, but don’t get too despondent. Why? Because it's a 1.4TSI nestling under the Ibiza’s snout, so it's a supercharged and turbocharged firecracker that delivers 177bhp and 155lb ft. That’s good enough for a 7.2sec dash to 62mph and a credible 140mph top end while turning in 44mpg and emitting just 148g/km CO2 – performance that’s on a par with the Clio 200 in a package that’s far, far cleaner.
The Cupra also comes with a seven-speed DSG paddleshift gearbox as standard, a first in the hot hatch segment. When you consider that the Golf GTI has to stick with the six-speeder due to its small power advantage, yet weighs over 150kg extra, you suddenly realise what a potent package this is shaping up to be.
How does it drive?
So far we’ve only be able to try the Cupra on track, but first impressions are very good. The engine is smooth and linear, pulls from nothing and yet, despite its civilised manners, still feels punchy at either end of the rev range. The gearbox, too, expertly walks that tightrope between daily driving manners (yes, honestly, we did find time to pootle in between flat-out blasts) and satisfyingly fast, clean shifts when you’re really gunning it.
>> Click 'Next' below to read more of our Seat Ibiza Cupra first drive
And what of the handling?
Also good. There’s a decent amount of front-end grip that runs out with the gradual onset of understeer, while the rear end does get engagingly mobile under braking or throttle lifts to help you tuck the nose into a corner – though it’s not quite as playful as the Clio 200.
The brakes will surely be strong enough for road use (they faded under track use, but we were very, very unkind and the straights were long), and the steering serves up a decent mix of user-friendly lightness on first acquaintance with a reassuring resistance that builds when you commit to faster bends.
A judgement on ride quality will have to wait for a road outing. However, an engineer told CAR that he’d gone to great lengths to find a rear shock that was adjustable for compression and rebound at very low speeds, which, so the story goes, will give a good balance of high-speed control and low-speed compliance.
What’s it like inside?
Pretty good. The seats are both comfy and well-bolstered, something that worked brilliantly on track and bodes well for longer schleps; there’s a dock for portable sat-navs to avoid messy wires; and the plastics are given added visual interest with some nice textures. Criticisms? The back seats are usable if a little too tight for six footers to be truly happy (a Clio does this better), and some of the plastics feel cheap (especially the shroud around the electric window winders).
We may only have driven it on track, but the Ibiza Cupra appears to be a good, fun, well-built, sharp-looking car. Its main problem is the Renault Clio 200 Cup that just undercuts it and the fully equipped Clio 200 for £16,750 that goes head-to-head with the Bocanegra (essentially a Cupra with a few mild cosmetic tweaks and a £16,695 price tag).
There have been, I’d say, two missed opportunities for Seat to combat its pesky French rival. Firstly, not offering a manual is a bold move, but it impacts on that list price. A manual option might just provide enough financial incentive for Clio buyers to jump ship. Secondly, the Bocanegra should have turned up the Cupra wick by a few more degrees, taking the fight directly to the Clio Cup.
Ultimately, then, the Clio is the sharper, more enjoyable steer, but that’s not to say the Ibiza won’t put a broad grin on your face.
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