With the current SEAT Ibiza nearing the end of a lengthy lifecycle, the Cupra has been hotted-up for one final fling. Is this Ibiza still up for all-night rave, or is it now more last tango in Benidorm?You remember 2008, right? A time when George W. Bush was still President of the United States, ‘Rockstar’ by Nickelback was inescapable, and the world was facing a humongous financial catastrophe. Ring any bells? At the same time as all that, SEAT was unleashing the fourth-generation Ibiza on the public. Cutting to the chase, this Ibiza has been around the block a few times.
After eight years, the fourth-gen Ibiza looks remarkably similar to the original Luc Donckerwolke design, despite having had two facelifts. It’s still an attractive car and, with the evolution of hot hatch styling in that time, manages to actually be relatively subtle compared to its rivals. Aside from the extra cut outs below the front grille, and the bespoke rear bumper and diffuser, you’d be hard-pressed to tell it apart from a cooking FR model.This particular test car was ‘Cupra Black’ spec, which means it gains black alloy wheels along with red brake calipers. There’s also additional interior equipment differences, but we’ll cover that later. Unless you have a serious dislike of gloss black alloy wheels, it’s most probably £800 well spent to upgrade.
The biggest alteration to this latest Ibiza Cupra is beneath the bonnet. Gone is the weird twincharged 1.4-litre petrol engine – which suffered a reputation for guzzling engine oil – that could only be had with a DSG dual-clutch gearbox. In comes a 1.8-litre turbocharged petrol engine from the EA888 VAG family. It has already seen service in the current Polo GTI and, as ESM’s Editor can attest, isn’t shy when it comes to twist.With 189hp and 236lb-ft of torque, the Cupra gains 12hp and 52lb-ft over the old 1.4 unit. As a result of the extra power, 0-62mph drops by 0.2 of a second to 6.7 seconds, whilst the top speed increases to 146mph. In case you’re wondering, both performance figures are identical to the Polo GTI, and are also ahead of the ubiquitous Ford Fiesta ST. So rest assured – you’ll have the bragging rights in a Halfords car park.
If you’re a fan of flappy-paddle gearboxes, you’ll be out of luck with the new Cupra. DSG doesn’t even make an appearance on the options list, leaving your choices as a six-speed manual or nothing. The three-door SC bodyshell is also your only choice, as it has been throughout the Ibiza Cupra’s history.
Enough talk of doors – how does the 2016 Ibiza Cupra drive? Quickly, is the short answer. Initial acceleration is strong, with minimal turbo lag proving that the old twincharger engine was a needless complexity. Where the Cupra feels especially punchy is in the mid-range, due to maximum torque being available from only 1,450rpm.There’s almost a slight muscle car hint to the Cupra, with the feeling of a relatively big engine in a small car. Whether it’s B road or motorway, the 1.8 TSI unit makes for easy progress. Although the Cupra is happy to rev to the redline, there’s a temptation to short-shift and make use of the low-down twist instead. Whatever gear you’re in, the Cupra pulls strongly, allowing you to exploit gaps in traffic with minimal effort.
Combine this with a light clutch pedal and a gearbox that feels nimble and precise, it makes driving the Ibiza Cupra seem pretty easy. The steering is also lighter than you might expect, although you’ll be less surprised by the fact there isn’t a huge amount of communication from the front end. Even with Sport mode engaged, adding extra weight to the steering, it still never quite feels as physical or hardcore as you might predict a Cupra-badged car would.In fact, we left the Ibiza Cupra in Sport mode around 80% of the time, such was the laidback nature of it. Sport mode also means stiffer suspension dampers, although even this proved to be less backbreaking than you might expect from a hot hatch. On rough tarmac there wasn’t the usual temptation to switch back to normal mode, begging the question of does that make Sport mode less special, or actually just more usable?
There is, however, one downside to Sport Mode – a slightly strange warble from the sound resonator with it turned on. It’s hard to describe, but seems almost like the Ibiza Cupra is trying to do a bad impression of a five-cylinder Audi Quattro. Whilst not unpleasant, it does sound a little unnatural. The centre-exit trapezoidal exhaust trim is also a bit too gauche for our liking – especially when you see the small tailpipes hiding inside it.Braking is strong and consistent, whilst the XDS system does a good job of maintaining traction should you use all that torque mid-corner. It all makes for a hot hatch package that is eminently usable, but lacking outright edge. Ultimately the Cupra feels more GT than GTI at times, which for many buyers, might not necessarily be a bad thing.
Living with it
In 2016 you (perhaps) can’t really buy an eight-year-old supermini and expect the moon on a stick when it comes to cutting edge interior design. However, as the range-topping model, you can’t help but think SEAT has phoned this in a little. Aside from grippy sports seats, aluminium pedals, and a flat-bottomed steering wheel, there is very little inside to mark this out as the fastest Ibiza.There are no trinkets, no extra dials, or even just bits of fancy trim to make it look special. You’re left with swathes of black plastic that, whilst solid-looking, can be a bit rattily on rough roads. Despite this, the interior certainly isn’t a deal-breaker, unless you’re too large to fit in the rather cosseting front sports seats.
Fuel economy probably shouldn’t be a major concern if you’re buying a petrol-powered hot hatch. Regardless, the Ibiza Cupra managed to be fairly sensible, showing an average of 35mpg across a mixture of roads, with the climate control on. Try harder and 40mpg would be easily achievable.Boot space clocks in at a competitive 292 litres and, if you peer beneath the boot floor, you’ll find the battery hiding under the spare wheel. You can tell your friends it’s to aid weight distribution, but really it’s due to the huge airbox the 1.8 TSI engine needs. Realistically, the Cupra will do all the things you could want from a supermini, but just do them quicker than most.
When the fourth-generation Ibiza Cupra hit the UK in 2009, prices started from £16,750. Following general inflation the Cupra should now retail at over £20,000. So essentially you’re getting a bargain, with a starting price of £18,100 in 2016.
There are numerous deals out there, with some Internet brokers offering discounts of over £4,000 on the Cupra or Cupra Black. SEAT’s own finance offerings are also particularly strong, with PCP deposit contributions of £2,250 available at the time of writing. That means, on a 48-month PCP deal, you can pay just £286 a month with a £286 personal deposit before any additional haggling.
The biggest decision with the Cupra is whether to go Black. The £800 premium of the Cupra Black adds the bigger touchscreen and satellite navigation, along with those black alloy wheels and red brake calipers. If you really do have a severe allergy to gloss black rims, you can add the 6.5” screen, Apple CarPlay link, and sat nav to a normal Cupra for £730. However, we imagine most will take the easy route of spec’ing the Cupra Black from the factory.
We started this review with some cliché music references, so we should probably end with them too. There is still life left in the Ibiza Cupra, even if things are more chilled-out than fully hardcore. It’s easily more mature than a Ford Fiesta ST, but that also means it’s less playful as a result.The grownup nature of the Ibiza Cupra means it pitches almost directly against its cousin, the Polo GTI. That is a specific challenge that we’ll address very soon.Whilst it might not be the sharpest hot hatch on the market, the Cupra is certainly quick and muscular. Combine that with a comprehensive standard specification, competitive pricing, and all-round general usability, and the Ibiza Cupra becomes a persuasive package.
ESM Rating: 7.5/10
Specs – 2016 SEAT Ibiza Cupra
Engine: 1.8-litre four-cylinder turbocharged petrol
Gearbox: Six-speed manual
Power: 189hp [192PS]
Torque: 236lb-ft [320Nm]
0-62mph: 6.7 seconds
Top Speed: 146mph
Economy: 45.6mpg – official combined
Basic Price: £18,100 (£18,900 Cupra Black)
As Tested: £19,180 (Cupra Black with: Rear Parking Sensors £220 Ambient Lighting £60)