The SEAT Ibiza had a bit of a makeover in 2012 but until now the Cupra performance version was left untouched. That’s all changed now - and just in time, too, because Ford is gearing up to release its Fiesta ST any day now and Renault is looking to replace the Renaultsport Clio this year.
The Ibiza Cupra looks prepared for a fight, though, and while it’s always been a good-looking car, this facelifted model is even better looking. The exterior changes amount to a new nose, a set of bi-xenon headlights with a stylish LED shape and some new taillights at the rear.
Power comes from the same twin-charged 178bhp 1.4-litre TSI but with an engine re-map that’s dropped the 0-62mph time by three-tenths to 6.9 seconds – that’s exactly the same as the forthcoming Fiesta ST.
Impressively, the same engine remap has improved fuel economy by 8 per cent, up to 47.9mpg and dropped CO2 emissions by 9g/km to 139g/km.
Changes to the way the Cupra drives are pretty minimal, with a few tweaks to the suspension aimed at improving comfort. There’s a noticeable improvement to the ride, though, which feels a lot more forgiving over bumpy roads. Potholes are heard as a ‘thud’ more than they’re actually felt in the cabin.
Handling is seriously impressive thanks to the near complete lack of body roll and a quick steering rack, which lets you throw the Cupra from corner to corner. There’s loads of grip, too, and an XDS electronic differential to help snub out understeer. However, the steering itself is a little light and could do with more providing more feedback.
The 1.4 TSI engine is fantastic during any kind of driving, with enough low-end torque for dawdling around town and plenty of punch at the top end. It sounds great as well, with a low growling exhaust note combined with the whoosh of turbo waste gates.
Our car was fitted with larger optional racing brakes, which are an extra £1,000 and while they provided immense stopping power and good pedal feel, we’ve never had complaints about the standard brakes on the Cupra.
The seven-speed DSG auto is as fantastic as ever, making the Cupra seriously usable in traffic and around town. It still can’t match the purity of a manual but selecting your own gears using the steering wheel-mounted paddles comes close.
There are some improvements to the interior, including a redesigned centre console. The gearshift surround is finished in gloss black along with the door handles and the steering wheel insert, helping to make the Cupra feel more premium.
Buyers will no doubt be impressed by the amount of gadgets included as standard like climate control, cruise control, Bluetooth and SEAT’s Portable system, which includes touchscreen sat-nav.
The Ibiza Cupra costs £18,570, which is about £600 more than the new Fiesta ST-2. The Cupra is the better equipped of the two but there’s definitely room for the Fiesta and the new Renaultsport Clio to offer more fun from behind the wheel.