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SEAT Ibiza Cupra (2008 - 2017) Review

Speedy, stylish, safe and (relatively) practical. Is the Ibiza Cupra the perfect daily driver?

By Phil Gardner
Sep 01, 2016
Buy and save on quality approved and used cars
From £18,100
Pros:
  • Exceptional in the mid-range
  • Looks, arguably, best in class
  • Simple but effective interior
Cons:
  • Runs out of oomph high in the revs
  • Not as fun as Peugeot 208 GTi
  • Rear seats are sub-par

Introduction

“It looks mint and goes like stink!” SEAT re-enter the supermini hot-hatch market with this Ibiza Cupra. Bigger engine, more torque, more horsepower and plenty more character than the old model. Can the Cupra compete with the likes of the Ford Fiesta ST, Peugeot 208 GTi, Vauxhall Corsa VXR and MINI Cooper S? Read on to find out...

On The Road

Performance

There’s something innately brilliant about proper hot-hatches like the Ibiza Cupra. It’s still amazing that such a small package can deliver wondrous performance while balancing its duties with navigating city centres and supermarket car parks. It is just so easy to live with. The Ibiza Cupra is an absolute riot to drive. The car sticks to the tarmac like glue and the 1.8tsi engine will prove to be a bit of a gem for the younger generation of drivers. Older drivers might have to do a bit of adapting; hot-hatches have changed. Legends like the 205GTi and Mk1 Golf GTi had a nice linear powerband, due to the naturally aspirated engines, but this breed all use turbochargers. It’s not as much about maintaining momentum through the bends as it is about torque-ing your way out of them and strangling the turbo’s sweet-spot.

You’ve got 180hp to play with in the Ibiza Cupra but, more noticeably, you’ve got 236lb-ft of torque which is available between 1,450-4,200rpm. Yes, this does mean you’ve got plenty of pulling power once you’re going but be wary of the momentary nothingness while you climb to 1,450rpm and don’t feel the need to hold a gear above and beyond 5k rpm, there’s nothing there either - I’ve checked. Fortunately that mid-range thwack takes you from 0-60mph in just 6.7 seconds - perfect for merging onto the dual carriageway after socialising with other hot-hatches in McDonalds car park. Don’t feel obliged to test the 142mph top speed though, young’uns, just take the manufacturer's word for it...

Ride Handling

As a motoring journalist I feel obliged to follow suit and bellow: ‘oh well they’ve fitted an electrical diff to mimic a mechanical diff by braking the front wheels - it’s all just a gimmick, a facade, a farce!’ In reality, this electric differential is a triumph, sorry fellow journalists. Named he ‘XDS electronic differential lock’, it is a standard feature on the Ibiza Cupra although on the mechanically identical Polo GTi it is a £245 optional extra.

Brakes are impressive too - the plentiful power is well harnessed by the front discs which are now 310mm in diameter, up from 288mm in the previous model.

The car does have two very different characteristics; comfort mode for pootling and sport mode for sport-ing. Hitting the sport mode button does two things, firstly it stiffens the electronically adjustable dampers by about 20% and secondly it tightens the steering rack. The difference is blindingly obvious in corners where the Ibiza refuses to even lean, nevermind roll, thanks to the firmer suspension - without Sport mode the Ibiza is guilty of swaying in the bends rather worryingly.

Yes, the Ibiza Cupra is a great car for a B-road jaunt through the countryside but pick your route carefully because once you’re in sports mode, hitting even the smallest of potholes at pace is a particularly traumatic experience.

Styling

As we’ve come to expect from the VAG brands, the car is refined to a high standard. Road and wind noise is hushed significantly and the most intrusive noise coming into the cabin is the best kind; engine noise. The accelerator vibrates comfortably as you plant your foot down and the sounds emitted from the back-end truly are delightful. You won’t get an ASBO for being too loud but you’ll get re-assuring nods from pedestrians as the front wheels claw the car forward in search of traction.

In The Car

Behind the Wheel

Material selection is reaching dizzy heights. The inside of the Ibiza Cupra is a place where just about everything you touch is dampened. The alcantara seats, the leather steering wheel, the soft touch dashboard and pretty much every button on the centre console is a pleasure to prod at.

Some will argue that the cabin does fall short on the design and layout. It’s all very utilitarian, as to not distract you from the job ahead. Passengers who don’t get the pleasure of driving the Ibiza Cupra will probably comment that the dash is all a bit simplistic. Equally they should also compliment how tremendously comfortable the seats are, although not quite as supporting as those in the 208 GTi. Drivers will get on fine with the interior.

Space & Practicality

The Ibiza is only available as a three door coupé in the Cupra variant. Bad news for parents who want to carry growing children to school, but that’s not really the target market for hot superminis, look at the Leon Cupra instead. If it’s only the front two seats that are used often in your current car, with the rear seats only occasionally occupied, the Ibiza Cupra is still a sure-fire hit. Not to mention the fact that out of the Fiesta ST, 208 GTi & Clio RS, it’s only the Clio that comes in a 5-door.

In the front you’ve got plenty of space and barely any buttons cluttering the centre console. All functions are still easy to use though and navigating the touch screen display is intuitive and needs no introduction.

Boot space is bang-average for this segment, 292-litres with the seats in place and exceeding 800 litres with the rear row folded. As much as you would expect, really.

Ownership

Running Costs

Gone are the days of hot-hatches offering horrific economy figures. This Ibiza Cupra will return you 47.1mpg on the combined cycle if you keep your foot restrained - which you won’t. A 6th gear helps tick the economy above and beyond the 50mpg mark on motorway journeys and cruise control will keep you there. Road tax is £130 a year, much the same as all the alternatives really.

Quality & Reliability

This update to the Cupra marque appears to have corrected previous shortcomings. The cabin is quite clearly built to a much more VAG-standard. Buttons all feel solid and everything is tightly fixed in place. It would be dishonest of me not to mention that our press-car suffered from a reluctant starter motor and would vibrate noticeably when idling, perhaps loose engine mounts? This was a car on a 16 plate (so about 4 months old when we tested it) and it had already done about 7,000 miles - all of which were from the press. Snooping around the interwebs I found pretty much every other automotive news outlet had tested this exact car too. Tough 4 months! We dismissed the shortcomings on the basis that this specific model will have been used and abused by the press since day 1. No motoring journalist ever got into a press car and said “oooh it’s only done 120 miles, best take it easy!” More realistically; “oooh it’s only done 120 miles, Sport mode!”

We anticipate the Ibiza Cupra will face the test of time as well as it’s mechanically identical sibling, the Polo GTi, is already doing.

Safety & Security

Shopping for your over-demanding child? Yes the Ibiza Cupra is very fast. Yes your son/ daughter will want to show off. Yes, they will be (relatively) safe doing so. The ibiza Cupra comes with a maximum 5-star safety rating on the euro NCAP safety tests. Anti-lock brakes, electronic stability control and front and side airbags all as standard.

Buy and save on quality approved and used cars
By Phil Gardner
Sep 01, 2016