SEAT Ibiza Cupra Kirkby Stephen

A place of fun for the young or cheap thrills on a budget? The island of Ibiza means different things to different people, so is SEAT’s supermini the automotive equivalent?

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SEAT Ibiza Cupra

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A place of fun for the young or cheap thrills on a budget? The island of Ibiza means different things to different people, so is SEAT’s supermini the automotive equivalent?

The hot Cupra version has just been launched, and looks set to continue SEAT’s history of sales success in this class. But while the appeal of the racy Ibiza is unquestionable, it has yet to achieve the cult status of many pocket rocket rivals. Is this set to change with the latest car?

Available only as a three-door SC, the Cupra sits above the ‘warm’ FR model in the Ibiza line-up. Flagship status is reserved for the special-edition Bocanegra, although this offers no performance advantage over the standard Cupra – so our test model remains the purist’s choice for thrills on a budget.

But rather than following the traditional ‘simple is best’ approach to hot hatch success, SEAT has tried to make the new Cupra the most advanced car in its class. Under the bonnet is the VW Group’s latest 1.4-litre petrol engine, which is fitted with both a supercharger and a turbocharger.

It’s mated to a seven-speed dual-clutch DSG transmission – so few could argue that the SEAT is one of the most hi-tech models in its price bracket. Start up the flagship Ibiza for the first time, and the unusual thrum of the engine could fool you into thinking the car is powered by a flat-four. Instead, the soundtrack is the combination of the supercharger’s whine, the turbocharger’s whistle and a boy racer exhaust.

The sight of an automatic gearlever in the cabin will be just as unexpected to the uninitiated as the engine note. But the shifter controls the excellent two-pedal manual gearbox. You can also change ratios using the steering wheel-mounted paddles, and although they don’t have a particularly high-quality feel, they move with the steering wheel and are always at your fingertips.

On the road, the gearbox makes the Ibiza’s 178bhp performance really accessible. Changes are completed in a flash and the SEAT gains speed with ease: it covered 0-60mph in 6.8 seconds – that’s 1.5 seconds up on the Alfa.

While the Cupra doesn’t have anything as advanced as a limited-slip differential, engineers have developed a clever traction control system that has a similar effect to the costly mechanical package. It restricts wheelspin well, and helps the Ibiza to put its power to good use when cornering – although we found the handling varied greatly according to the road conditions.

On wet surfaces, a shortage of front-end grip causes the nose to push wide in corners, yet when the road is dry, the SEAT turns into bends much more willingly. It doesn’t have the playful nature of a conventional hot hatch – although the Cupra goes some way to making up for this by providing a surprisingly smooth ride.

The newcomer is a usable hot hatch with a mature, grown-up feel – you could not have said that about the previous-generation model.

Priced at £15,995, the SEAT is £500 more expensive than its Italian competitor. That puts the Ibiza into VW Golf territory, but SEAT has carved a new niche for its performance supermini. It will appeal to buyers looking for a model packed with technology that stands out from the crowd. Will this be enough to see off the traditionally more emotive appeal of the Alfa?

SEAT Ibiza Cupra