SEAT Ibiza Cupra 2016 review

With new 189bhp turbo, can the latest SEAT Ibiza Cupra hot hatch take the fight to Ford Fiesta ST

Overall Auto Express Rating

4.0 out of 5

SEAT has been producing hot hatches for decades and it clearly shows with the latest Ibiza Cupra. It’s much quicker than SEAT will lead you to believe, easy to live with day-to-day and relatively inexpensive to keep on the road. It’s also £1,000 less than the mechanically identical VW Polo GTI, despite being better to drive. In short, it’s a cracker and the best Ibiza Cupra to date. But you’d be a fool to buy one without considering the brilliant Fiesta ST. For all the Cupra’s ability, the fast Ford still outshines it. But then, the Fiesta outshines everything else, too.

SEAT first stuck a Cupra badge onto the back of its Ibiza supermini many years ago in 1999 - followed by the brilliant Leon Cupra a year later. In the process, the company created a badge which would become as revered as VW's GTI line. 

The latest version of the Ibiza Cupra has strong rivals in the shape of the Peugeot 208 GTi, Volkswagen Polo GTI and Ford Fiesta ST - but it hasn't held back, and the Ibiza Cupra is more powerful than before, while still remaining great value. There's a new Ibiza just round the corner though, so do the nips and tucks on this model still keep it competitive?

Despite appearances, there have been some rather drastic but welcome changes to the hottest Ibiza supermini. The old 1.4-litre supercharged and turbocharged engine is out – along with the clunky automatic gearbox – and in comes a punchy 189bhp 1.8-litre turbo mated to a six-speed manual gearbox. It’s the same basic powertrain combination found in the Volkswagen Polo GTI

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Attached to the front axle is an XDS electronic differential to help govern the additional 70Nm of torque (now 320Nm), while adjustable dampers have also been added as standard for the first time. You’ll have to fork out some extra cash if you want the same set-up on your Polo GTI. Still, the first thing you’ll notice when you jump inside is that the Polo still has the upper hand, despite the new dash and centre console design. The VW has a far more premium look and feel than the SEAT; it’s much more aligned to a baby Golf than the Ibiza is to a shrunken Leon. 

However, that thought soon fades away when you hit the road. SEAT says the Cupra will chase its way from 0-62mph in 6.7 seconds, but it feels much faster – so much faster we timed at less with little effort. It’s down to a slug of torque that arrives at 1,450rpm, and the long gearing that sees you nudge 70mph in second gear. 

The engine revs to just shy of 7,000rpm, but it’s largely out of puff by 5,500rpm. So rather than chase the red line, it’s best to shift up early and ride that wave of torque. The Cupra is deceptively fast and sounds good, too. Selecting Sport mode stiffens up the dampers slightly, adds more weight to the steering and turns up the volume in the cabin. It’s largely synthetic, but you get a lovely rasp from the exhaust as the revs build. It just makes the whole experience a bit more characterful – a trait hot hatches need more than most sports cars. 

Rifling through the gears is no longer the clunky and arduous task it once was, either, thanks to the new and standard six-speed manual box. Changes are weighty and slick, plus the steering has a directness to it that you just don’t get in the Polo. In its normal setting it’s a touch too light, but in Sport it gives the Cupra a feeling of agility that the VW lacks. Having said that, you’ll definitely have a bigger grin on your face if you were behind the wheel of a Fiesta ST.     

But when you’re not squeezing out every last ounce of performance, the Cupra will get you home in far more comfort. Considering the performance and fun you can have behind the wheel, the ride is excellent with a suspiciously Germanic feel. The same can’t be said of the Fiesta...  

There are a few gripes, though, largely concerning the interior. At £18,100 (add another £800 for the Black pack on our test car), it’s the most expensive Ibiza in the range. Yet gaze down at the centre console and you’ll still find half a dozen blanked-off buttons. The Cupra remains great value against the Vauxhall Corsa VXR and Peugeot 208 GTi by Peugeot Sport, but you can see where some corners have been cut. Even so, the cabin is packed with new tech, with a raft of smartphone connectivity options that includes Apple CarPlay, Android Auto and MirrorLink. 

The Cupra remains a strict three-door, but once in the back, there’s decent space for adult passengers on longer journeys and a 292-litre boot on par with class standards.

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