SEAT Ibiza SC Cupra review
The SEAT Ibiza SC Cupra is a stylish pocket rocket hot hatch with a paddleshift gearbox
The fourth-generation SEAT Ibiza has been on sale since 2008, and it’s offered in three body styles. There’s a five-door hatch, the three-door Sport Coupé (SC) and an ST estate, although the flagship Cupra comes exclusively as a three-door SC.
As with other models in the three-door SC line-up, the Cupra gets fresher looks, an uprated interior and a number of efficiency-boosting mechanical tweaks.
As before, the hottest Ibiza uses the brand’s novel 178bhp 1.4-litre engine, which features a turbo and a supercharger, while the only gearbox is the tried and tested VW Group seven-speed twin-clutch transmission.
Lowered and stiffened suspension combines with a clever electronic differential for sharper handling, while powerful AP Racing brakes are available as an option. The SEAT Ibiza SC Cupra doesn't have the attractive price of the Ford Fiesta ST, but it is well equipped and undercuts the Renaultsport Clio 200.
SEAT’s latest models feature sharp styling that helps them stand out from their VW Group siblings. The Ibiza was one of the first models to use the company’s current design philosophy when it was launched in 2008, and it still looks smart today. Its compact dimensions mean it looks taut and athletic.
The SC badge is a bit of a misnomer for the three-door Ibiza, because while it has a distinctive look, it’s more hatchback than sports car. What’s more, the Cupra model could do with a bit more visual impact to help it stand out from lower-spec models.
You get bigger bumpers with gaping air vents, large 17-inch alloys with low-profile tyres and a centre exit exhaust out back, but unless you’re a diehard SEAT fan, you’d struggle to tell the difference between the Cupra and the lower- spec FR model. Only the Cupra lettering across the bootlid distinguishes it, while the chequered flag badges are on the small side.
Inside, the Ibiza Cupra gets sports seats with a distinctive black-and-white fabric trim, plus gloss-black trim on the dashboard. However, hard plastics and a slightly confusing design let the interior down.
It seems as if the centre console has been designed without consideration for all of the functions required. As a result, most of the climate buttons are on the dash, but the heated rear screen button is placed down by the gearlever. Add in a stereo that takes practice to navigate properly, and the SEAT is harder to get on with than more recent touchscreen-equipped rivals.
Despite its small 1.4-litre capacity, the Ibiza SC Cupra's 178bhp twin-charged petrol engine punches well above its weight. Thanks to its muscular 250Nm torque output and the closely stacked ratios of its seven-speed twin-clutch transmission, the SEAT is quicker in in-gear tests than the more powerful Renaultsport Clio 200. And it only narrowly misses out in the 0-60mph sprint, where it was two-tenths slower, posting a time of 6.9 seconds.
On the road, the Cupra feels even faster than figures suggest. The throttle response is sharp and the DSG gearbox provides rapid-fire shifts via the steering wheel-mounted paddles. Better still, the supercharged and turbocharged engine sounds great.
So it’s a shame the SEAT doesn’t feel sharper when you go for a blast down a twisting back road. There’s more than enough grip and the XDS electronic differential boosts traction, but the steering is too light and delivers very little feedback.
There’s a bit of torque steer from the chassis under hard acceleration, while the stiff suspension causes the car to skip and dart over bumps, even in a straight line. This firm suspension set-up means the Ibiza never really feels settled on bumpy roads, and it’s never as composed as the Peugeot when taking it easy.
SEAT dealers performed poorly in the 2014 Driver Power survey, finishing rock-bottom of our dealer survey. The manufacturer is trying to address this by upgrading its network, but we will have to wait and see if the changes make a difference.
The Ibiza has been in production for a few years now, so most electrical and mechanical problems should be ironed out, although there have been reports of the seven-speed DSG gearbox being troublesome and proving quite costly to fix.
A raft of standard safety kit helped the Ibiza achieve its five-star Euro NCAP crash test score. Electronic stability control and a tyre pressure warning indicator come as standard, but there are only four airbags – curtain bags are a £200 option – but you do get tyre pressure monitors and hill hold control. The Cupra adds xenon headlamps and LED running lights to this list, while rear seat curtain airbags are available for £195.
The Cupra isn’t quite as practical as lower-spec Ibizas, as the battery is relocated from the cramped engine bay to the boot, reducing the capacity from 284 to 236 litres. However, you do get a low load lip and a wide opening. The back seats fold 60:40, although you need to flip up the bases to get a flat floor, which is fiddly.
Access to the back seats is tight thanks to a lower roofline and smaller doors, but once there, space is on a par with the likes of the Peugeot 208. There’s plenty of wheel and seat adjustment, and the sport seats are comfortable. The stereo is fiddly to use, but you do get a decent glovebox and useful door bins. The standard sat-nav clips into a slot on the dash top, although it has to be unclipped if you want to put it in the glovebox.
Still, there’s plenty of useful storage space in the cabin, including decent-sized door bins, a large glovebox and a deep centre console cubby. There’s also plenty of seat and steering wheel adjustment, so it’s easy to find a comfortable driving position.
THE Ibiza shouldn’t cost the earth to run, despite its scorching performance. There’s no stop-start technology, yet the car emits just 139g/km of CO2, making it a surprisingly cost-effective company choice. And that’s not all, because its residual values of 40 per cent over three years are only slightly lower than those of the more expensive Clio Renaultsport.
However, there are a few financial pitfalls. Unlike its major rivals, SEAT doesn’t offer a pre-paid servicing pack, meaning you’ll shell out more for scheduled maintenance. And despite having a smaller engine than the Clio, the Ibiza posted a poor 25.7mpg at the pumps.