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SEAT Ibiza Cupra review (2013 onwards)
Despite a punchy engine allied to a mature-feeling and capable chassis, SEAT's Ibiza Cupra lacks sparkle and personality
What: SEAT Ibiza Cupra (2013 onwards)
Where: Barcelona, Spain
Date: January 2013
Available: On sale now
Key rivals: MINI Cooper S, Fiat 500 Abarth esseesse, Renault Clio Renaultsport, Vauxhall Corsa VXR
We like: Strong engine, composed ride, racy, sharp styling
We don't like: No manual option, dual-clutch gearbox can prove frustrating, not as characterful as competitors
The standard SEAT Ibiza is a sharp looking car, so in adding some chunky 17-inch alloy wheels, a deep front bumper and toning up the rear end for this 2013 Cupra version - including a gaping central-exit exhaust pipe - the Spanish firm has created a rather sporty looking vehicle.
The Ibiza looks as promising on paper
The Cupra is SEAT's hot version of its Ibiza supermini, designed to go head-to-head with the MINI Cooper S and even more powerful rivals, such as Renault's Clio Renaultsport. It'll also battle Ford's forthcoming Fiesta ST, set to cost £16,995 - £1,575 less than the £18,570 SEAT.
The Ibiza looks as promising on paper as it does in the metal, too: 180hp, a dual-clutch gearbox, even better fuel efficiency and lower CO2 emissions than its predecessor all bode well, but the Ibiza range-topper doesn't delight in the way the numbers might suggest.
The Cupra nametag is derived from "Cup Racing", hinting at the car's performance. The Ibiza gets a 180hp 1.4-litre twin-charged engine - that's turbocharged and supercharged - and is a gutsy unit.
It pulls harder than its capacity would suggest and in a very linear fashion, the supercharger providing strong low-down performance with the turbo taking over at higher engine speeds.
Mated to a seven-speed dual-clutch gearbox it means 0-62mph comes up in 6.9 seconds, with a top speed of 142mph on offer.
The DSG transmission is ruthlessly competent when pootling around and cruising along at swifter speeds - switching gears up and down with little fuss - but stretch the Cupra's engine further and it can become an annoyance.
It's not the quickest unit to react - when you approach the red line, pulling the right paddle to shift up, the lag between hand action and gear change means the engine hits its limiter, initiating an automatic upshift. As a result the 'box changes up twice, halting progress.
It also leaves you feeling cold. The engine is potent and makes a nice gruff, grainy noise, but the lack of a six-speed manual removes you from the action one step more and leaves the car's powertrain feeling a touch soulless.
The standard brakes give decent stopping power and feel, but there's an optional £1,000 AP Racing setup - featuring 312mm front discs and four-piston calipers - available in the UK too, for those wanting a bit more bite.
Ride and handling
The Ibiza Cupra's chassis is 20mm lower than the standard car and 15% stiffer than the cooking FR model. It manages to pull off the trick of being soft and supple enough at town speeds to damp out intrusive bumps, but supportive and firm enough for a back road sortie.
A day-to-day performance hatchback
Unfortunately the steering doesn't quite match up. It's light and doesn't weight up much, meaning it can be difficult to judge the level of grip available.
Inputs at the wheel are direct though, and even if it's not telegraphed in great detail, there is plenty of traction to exploit aided by an electronic locking front differential.
The Cupra errs on the side of a day-to-day performance hatchback that can still handle a spirited drive for when the mood takes - but a lack of detailed feedback means the driving experience doesn't fully engage you or leave you wanting for more.
The interior strikes a similar balance between every-day comfort and sportiness. There's a pair of two-tone leather-trimmed sports seats that give good support - although we found even in the lowest position, the bases were set too high.
The Cupra gets climate and cruise control, as well as SEAT's portable system fitted as standard - a five-inch colour touchscreen featuring sat nav and Bluetooth with voice control and audio streaming. Access to online apps via a smartphone will be available in the spring.
It feels well built and solid inside the SEAT's cabin. The seat position issue aside, ergonomics are good - this would be an easy car to live with thanks to some nice interior detailing and a decent level of equipment as standard.
Economy and safety
The standard SEAT Ibiza gets a full five-star Euro NCAP crash safety rating, meaning the Cupra does too. Emergency Brake Assist and electronic stability control come fitted as standard as well as a throng of airbags.
The Ibiza Cupra is 8% more fuel efficient than the car it replaces, returning 47.9mpg combined, and emits 9g/km CO2 less at 139g/km - a welcome benefit given it's also 0.3 seconds faster from 0-62mph.
The MSN Cars verdict
Despite tangible improvements in many areas the Ibiza Cupra still doesn't come close to the thrills that Renault's Clio Renaultsport offers.
If your focus is on driving dynamics then you'll be better off with the sporty French supermini - although there is a new 1.6-litre turbocharged model featuring a dual-clutch transmission coming later this year. We wait with crossed fingers that Renault hasn't ruined the recipe there.
Unfortunately, the SEAT lacks character next to the competition, and while that less frenetic edge might be welcome on a dreary commute, hot hatchbacks are all about personality. In that regard, the Ibiza Cupra doesn't excite quite as much as its rivals.