First Drive

2016 Seat Ibiza Cupra review

A grown-up feeling hot hatch that's not the most fun in the class, but still has real appeal for those after an easy-going but fast and enjoyable small car

Words ByVicky Parrott

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The Seat Ibiza Cupra has always trailed in the wake of more boisterous characters in the hot hatch class, but this major overhaul is intended to change that.

A new 1.8 turbocharged engine and a manual gearbox replace the 1.4 motor and dual-clutch auto 'box that featured previously, and new dampers and tweaked springs are also key updates. So does the new motor and tweaked chassis put it up there with the likes of the Ford Fiesta ST and Mini Cooper S?

What’s the 2016 Seat Ibiza Cupra like to drive?

It’s one of those hot hatches that feels determined not to compromise on everyday usability. The engine has a predictable build of power, with a long-lived stretch of torque that gives it really zesty response without having to venture into the higher revs if you don’t want to.

Hit the Sport button on the dashboard, which activates a firmer damper setting, heavier steering and slightly more rorty exhaust note (although it’s always a little too muted to be really entertaining-sounding), and the Cupra suddenly reveals the β€˜hot’ in its hatch and you can really enjoy wringing it out.

The steering never feels very connected in the way that Fiesta’s does, though, but it is precise in its response and gives you a good idea of how much traction there is left. You feel confident in really leaning on the Cupra through corners, thanks to tightly controlled body movement and generally benign handling that’s helped by a system that brakes an inside wheel in hard cornering, to keep the nose from washing wide too eagerly.

Ultimately, it’s fast and wieldy enough to thrill even on awkward roads, but it never really feels like the encouraging, truly playful and involving thing that some may want it to be.

It’s quite comfortable, though. In the softer mode, it resists thumping too harshly even over bigger bumps, and while it can feel firm over high-speed compressions or mid-corner bumps, it’s one of the more settled everyday drives of the typically quite choppy and hard-riding cars in this class.

Combined with the light gearshift and clutch action, and well-judged throttle and brake feel, you can mooch about in the Ibiza Cupra with real ease and you’d barely know it was a hot hatch. Engine noise is fairly well suppressed, and the distant rush of road noise is easily ignored, although there’s a fair bit of wind flutter past the windscreen pillars. However, the Cupra is certainly one of the quieter, more long-distance appropriate of its ilk.

What’s the 2016 Seat Ibiza Cupra like inside?

A little drab, to be honest. There are few contrasting materials breaking up the very grey dashboard, other than gloss surrounds to the air vents. It feels pretty solid and durable, it just doesn’t look as good as the interior of its mechanical twin, the VW Polo GTI, and certainly not as quirky and fun as a Mini Cooper S or even a Peugeot 208 GTI.

The heavily bolstered seats are supportive and comfortable even on longer journeys, though, and you can add Alcantara upholstery for Β£400, which does ratchet up the interior’s appeal quite a bit. Standard auto lights and wipers, and cruise control add to the comfort features.

You only get a 5.0in colour touchscreen as standard, albeit complete with a DAB radio, Bluetooth and USB connectivity, so most buyers will opt to add sat-nav, complete with the 6.5in screen for Β£580. Apple CarPlay, Google Android Auto and Mirror Link (all ways of getting full integration of your smartphone features, including handsfree phone calls, just by plugging your phone into the USB) are an extra Β£145 once you’ve added that.

Provided you spec these features, the Seat’s infotainment system has all the functionality you could possibly want, and it’s fairly easy to hop between menus and features although even the bigger screen suffers from a few awkwardly-placed, small icons that are hard to hit precisely on the move.

The Seat Ibiza Cupra is only available in three-door β€˜SC’ guise. There have been no interior packaging changes for this facelift, so those getting into the back will still struggle through a small gap, and it’s not that roomy once they’re in, either. Taller adults will be outright uncomfortable, but shorter adults and children will be okay – if perhaps a little claustrophobic due to the narrowing windowline.

The boot is perfectly fit for purpose, and you do get 60/40 split rear seats as standard; you’ll easily get a big weekly shop in there, but there’s no variable-height boot floor.

Should I buy one?

Maybe. The Cupra is fun when driven hard and well-mannered the rest of the time, and many buyers will like the sound of that. Seat hasn’t confirmed prices yet, though, and that’s going to be critical to the success of this baby Cupra. As long as it undercuts the VW Polo GTI and Mini Cooper S by enough then it’ll have real appeal in this class, and Seat’s typically very competitive finance deals will be another sweetener.

There’s another, bigger problem here, though, and that’s the Ford Fiesta ST, our prevailing champion in the class and general subject of wonder and joy amongst enthusiasts and motoring media alike. Is the Ibiza Cupra as fun as the Fiesta ST? No, not at all. It’s more deadpan, even when driven hard. It will be easier to live with, though, and if that really matters to you then you should give this grown-up little hot hatch serious consideration.

What Car? says...


Rivals:

Ford Fiesta ST

Volkswagen Polo GTI

Seat Ibiza Cupra

Engine size 1.8-litre petrol

Price from Β£18,400 (est)

Power 189bhp

Torque 236lb ft

0-62mph 6.7 seconds

Top speed 146mph

Fuel economy 47.1mpg

CO2 139g/km