As we flick the SEAT Ibiza Cupster into a sharp right hander, balance the throttle around a long sweeping left and bury it as we blast down the straight, it’s hard to believe we’re driving a one-off show car insured for almost £200,000. Driving a concept is normally a case of tiptoeing around to get some dynamic photography, and hoping the doors don’t fall off in the process. But the SEAT Cupster is a little different.
Design to celebrate 30 years of the Ibiza supermini, and presented at the Worthersee tuning show in Austria earlier this year, it’s based on the road-going Ibiza Cupra and represented a chance for SEAT’s designers to express themselves, inject some flair into the brand and give the fans something to cheer about. We were invited to a closed track to experience what a SEAT speedster is like first hand.
We’ll be honest, when we first saw pictures of the Cupster its ungainly, elongated proportions smacked of a rushed job (the entire project from first sketch to completion took just four months), but in the flesh the shape is utterly captivating and the attention to detail is extraordinary, given the timeframe.
The chopped down speedster-style windscreen blends into slivers of glass down the sides, the three-layer ‘Cupster Orange’ paint looks fantastic in the Spanish sun, and the back seats have been ditched in favour of a fixed rear deck with intakes behind the occupants' heads. New wing mirrors, 18-inch wheels, an integrated spoiler and suspension dropped by 30mm complete the exterior renovation, while leather Recaro seats set 70mm lower and splashes of orange spice up the interior.
The powertrain is identical to the standard Ibiza Cupra, so consists of a 178bhp twin-charged 1.4-litre engine and a seven-speed twin-clutch DSG gearbox. But to compensate for the lack of roof extra strengthening has been added in the side sills, along with front and rear anti-roll bars and suspension stiffened by around 15 per cent.
Climb in and you drop noticeably lower into the sports seats, before clipping into the four-point harness. Your view is over the dash, straight through the tinted chopped-down windscreen and down the bonnet, while the switchgear and ergonomics are immediately familiar.
Fire up the engine and a freer-flowing exhaust pipe produces a throatier noise, even at idle. SEAT says the added weight of the chassis strengthening is cancelled out by the deletion of the roof, and on the move it feels every bit as fast as the standard car. It turns in precisely, too, and corners even flatter, although we were limited to fairly moderate speeds and had to sign a hefty liability waver before being handed the keys.
The Cupster is show of confidence from a company on the up, and while any suggestions of a small production run or an Ibiza cabriolet in the future were quickly quashed, design boss Alejandro Mesonero told us the Cupster’s “spirit” will live on the next-generation Ibiza. Exciting times.