Seat Ibiza Cupra 2015 review

20 Nov, 2015 2:15pm Lawrence Allan

Can a series of changes help the SEAT Ibiza Cupra compete with the excellent Ford Fiesta ST?


This is easily the most convincing SEAT Ibiza Cupra in the model’s two decades on sale. A sharper chassis, torquey new engine and the return of a manual gearbox are enough to make it more rewarding than ever. It doesn’t quite have the grin-inducing ability of a Ford Fiesta ST, but it’s easier to live with day-to-day.

Not one to shy away from a hot hatch battle, SEAT has given its ageing Ibiza Cupra a new lease of life and we’ve driven it for the first time.

You’ll have a hard time spotting the differences initially, with SEAT adding some extra gloss black trim and new LED daytime running lights. Yet, for a seven-year old design, the Ibiza remains one of the prettiest cars in its sector.

In the outgoing Ibiza Cupra, cabin quality and execution was a weak point. Some classier materials have given it a lift, but the most welcome addition is the new centre console which, for just £240, can be specced with a slick 6.5-inch touchscreen with Bluetooth and DAB.

A further £145 adds SEAT’s Full Link smartphone connectivity with Apple CarPlay, Android Auto and Mirrorlink. Unfortunately, the Ibiza Cupra still suffers from a lack of rear space, which could turn buyers towards the more spacious VW Polo GTI.

What the Ibiza Cupra now shares with the Polo, however, is the 1.8-litre TSI turbo petrol engine. Replacing the old twin-charged 1.4-litre unit, it brings with it an extra 11bhp and, more importantly, 70Nm of extra torque. It immediately feels potent, with a meaty torque delivery from 1,500rpm right up until 5000rpm.

Helping you make the most of that strong mid-range is the slick new manual gearbox. SEAT has now completely ditched the old seven-speed dual-clutch transmission as it claims buyers wanted smaller hot hatches to be more involving. Take note Renaultsport.

Better still, the Cupra is now more usable day to day thanks to standard-fit adaptive dampers, which are 10 per cent softer in Comfort mode and 10 per cent stiffer in Sport mode. Hit Sport and you’ll also notice the throttle response improves, the steering weights up and the exhaust takes on a bassier rumble. We’d say Normal is probably the best compromise, offering a firm but controlled ride over our Spanish test route.

But that added layer of comfort hasn’t come at the expense of handling. It feels softer than a Ford Fiesta ST on turn-in, but it still enters a bend keenly and body control is tight, especially with the adaptive dampers in sport. The standard-fit XDS electronic locking differential is effective in getting power down to the road, too. It feels agile and composed, but there isn't the same playful and adjustable feel as you get in the Ford or Peugeot 208 GTi.

Being a SEAT, another big lure for buyers will be in its price tag. Official figures are yet to be announced but SEAT is hoping to get the price down to around £18,000, undercutting the mechanically identical Polo by around £1,000.

Key specs

  • Price: £18,000 (est)
  • Engine: 1.8-litre 4cyl turbo
  • Power: 189bhp/320Nm
  • Transmission: Six-speed manual, front-wheel drive
  • 0-62mph: 6.7 seconds
  • Top speed: 146mph
  • Economy/CO2: 47.1mpg/139g/km
  • On sale: December 2015