The launch of the face-lifted Seat Ibiza Cupra couldn't come at a better time for the company, because the battle for hot hatch domination is reaching boiling point.
Until now, the Mini Cooper S and Skoda Fabia vRS have been the Cupra's only notable rivals, but with the new Ford Fiesta ST going on sale and the arrival of the Peugeot 208 GTi and new Renaultsport Clio imminent, that's no longer the case.
Visually, revisions to the Cupra bring it into line with the rest of the Ibiza range, although there are quite a few styling tweaks unique to this flagship model.
Beefier bumpers, 17-inch alloys, a 15mm reduction in ride height and a trapezoidal exhaust pipe all add to the Cupra's more aggressive stance.
What’s the 2013 Seat Ibiza Cupra like to drive?
Power for the Cupra comes from a 1.4-litre petrol engine, but because it is supercharged and turbocharged it generates a feisty 178bhp and 184lb ft of torque.
The engine is mated to a seven-speed DSG gearbox, complete with steering wheel-mounted paddles. The Cupra will sprint from 0-62mph in 6.9 seconds and on to a top speed of 142mph. That's pretty impressive, but hot hatches are just as much about how they handle their power, and in this respect the Cupra fails to deliver.
The steering, although quick enough to encourage the front end of the car to turn into bends, is also extremely light and short on the feedback that's essential to drive quickly with confidence.
As a result, you're never truly able to experience the feeling of balancing the car on its limit and the chassis working to its full potential.
There also seems to be something of a mismatch between the front and rear suspension settings. So much so, that while the front of the car is reasonably compliant, the rear feels brittle and jittery over most road surfaces.
The firm set-up also means that larger bumps and motorway expansion joints thump into the cabin, even if it does keep body roll to a minimum in bends.
On more mundane journeys, the full automatic mode of the twin-clutch gearbox combines with the light steering to let you tootle around as effortlessly as you would in any other Ibiza supermini.
Engine noise isn’t an issue either, thanks to the tall seventh gear keeping revs just below 3000rpm at 70mph. However, the Cupra’s larger wheels and tyres mean it generates a considerable amount of noise over coarse surfaces.
What’s the 2013 Seat Ibiza Cupra like inside?
Inside, the Cupra is marked out from the rest of the Ibiza range by its leather-bound, flat-bottomed steering wheel, heavily bolstered front seats and aluminium-effect pedals.
The Cupra also comes with a removable infotainment system that incorporates sat-nav, Bluetooth and a trip computer.
On a practicality note, there's a decent amount of head- and legroom up front, although getting into the back is a bit of a squeeze.
Once you're in, that raked roofline means headroom is rather limited and, along with tight rear legroom and blacked-out windows, the rear of the Cupra is not a pleasant place to spend time.
At least there's a decent amount of luggage space, thanks to a 292-litre boot, which can be boosted further by the standard split-folding rear seats.
Options include rear parking sensors (£215), a full-length panoramic sunroof (£490) and leather seats (£785) – although we'd avoid them considering how cheap they felt in our test car.
Should I buy one?
The Cupra feels far more sensible and grown-up than a Mini Cooper S, but that's not really what hot hatches are all about.
Cars of this ilk demand a premium and live or die by the amount of fun they deliver – and this is where the Ibiza falls flat.
It's simply too detached and uninvolving. To describe it as a hot hatch would do a huge disservice to this exciting class of cars.
What Car? says...
Ford Fiesta ST
Mini Cooper S
Our reviews are based on hard data and thorough testing in the real world.
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