SEAT Ibiza SC Cupra review

Our Rating: 
3
3.0/5.0
By Auto Express Test TeamComments

The SEAT Ibiza SC Cupra is a stylish pocket rocket hot hatch with a paddleshift gearbox

For: 
Head-turning looks, strong performance, competitive price
Against: 
Vague handling and stiff ride, small boot, poor fuel economy

The sleek SEAT Ibiza SC Cupra is one of the most stylish hot hatches money can buy, but that hasn’t stopped SEAT from facelifting it. 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.

Styling

4.5

Few superminis have as much kerb appeal as the Ibiza. With its blend of sleek coupe lines, soft curves and sharp creases, the distinctive SC has always stood out from the crowd. And the SEAT designers haven’t messed with the winning formula for this facelift. In fact, the main change is at the front, where the subtly revised headlamps and reprofiled grille mirror those of the larger Leon.

The range-topping Cupra also benefits from a set of smart 17-inch alloys, a bold trapezoidal centre-exit exhaust and a gloss black finish for the door mirrors. Further highlights include the standard bi-xenon headlamps and dark-tinted rear windows.

At a glance, the SEAT’s interior is almost identical to its predecessor’s. However, look closely and you’ll find higher-quality plastics and a more user-friendly stereo layout. Sporty touches include a thick-rimmed three-spoke steering wheel, metal-finish pedals and a smattering of chequered Cupra badges.

Overall, the cabin doesn’t feel as upmarket as in the Ford Fiesta ST or VW Polo GTI, but it’s classier than the cheap-feeling Renaultsport Clio. It also comes with plenty of equipment as standard, including Bluetooth and sat-nav – although some of our testers had to stretch to reach the dash-top-mounted Navigon system.

Driving

3.8

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 was quicker in all our in-gear tests than the more powerful Renault. And it only narrowly missed 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 our 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 better than the rather muted noise from the Clio Renaultsport.

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, while the stiff suspension set-up is unsettled by mid-corner bumps. On the plus side, our car’s uprated £1,000 AP Racing brakes offered reassuring bite and stopping power.

As with the standard Ibiza, comfort and refinement are adequate rather than class-leading. Wind noise is well suppressed, but big bumps and potholes send a shudder through the cabin, while the firm set-up causes the car to fidget on the motorway. Still, standard cruise control takes the strain out of long journeys.

Reliability

Although it’s powered by familiar VW Group engines, the SEAT Ibiza finished in a lowly 144th place in our Driver Power 2013 survey, with owners complaining about poor build quality in particular. However, the latest round of updates includes improved fit and better materials, and as a result the SEAT 
feels more solid and durable than before.

The dealers delivered a disappointing performance in our Driver Power survey, too, placing 27th out of 32 manufacturers. As with other models in the brand’s line-up, the Cupra is covered by a three-year/60,000-mile warranty, plus a two-year roadside recovery package. Buyers wanting extra peace of mind can extend the guarantee to four years and 75,000 miles for £429, or five years and 90,000 miles for £729.

A raft of standard safety kit helped the Ibiza achieve its five-star Euro NCAP crash test score. This includes six airbags, electronic stability control and a tyre pressure warning indicator. The Cupra adds xenon headlamps and LED running lights to this list, while rear seat curtain airbags are available for £195.

Practicality

3.2

With its three-door layout, the Ibiza can’t match rivals such as five-door Clio for practicality. Not
only will taller passengers struggle to squeeze through the gap behind the front seats, the car’s sloping roofline also results in significantly reduced headroom.
Like in the VW Polo GTI, the Cupra’s battery is mounted under the boot floor, which reduces the capacity to 236 litres – that’s 48 litres less than in the standard SC.

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.

Running Costs

3.6

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.

Last updated: 24 Sep, 2013
Issue 1346
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