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What’s this? It’s the new Seat Ibiza Cupra hot hatch. And do you know that the Cupra badge has been around since 1996? In a world of eternal rebranding, that makes Cupra a bona fide performance brand. And the first model it appeared on almost 20 years ago was the Ibiza. It looks a lot like the old model – what’s changed? Seat has taken a leaf out of parent company Volkswagen’s book and done the same to the Ibiza Cupra as Wolfsburg has done to the Polo GTI.
So the old 1.4-litre super- and turbocharged petrol engine, making 178bhp and 184lb ft, has gone, replaced by a turbocharged-only 1.8-litre four-cylinder TSI unit with even healthier stats of 189bhp and 236lb ft. That means 0-62mph in 6.7 seconds and a top speed of 146mph. Is it a good idea to copy the Polo? It is when Seat decides to add extra kit, make the Ibiza look, drive and sound better, and then charge less money for the privilege of owning it. Standard equipment is generous on the Ibiza, including such pleasantries as cruise control, the XDS electronic front diff lock, adaptive dampers and bi-Xenon adaptive front lights among a long list of kit. Is it better than a Polo GTI, or – more to the point – a Ford Fiesta ST? The Ibiza Cupra has excellent steering, masses of grip, strong brakes, superb body control and an exhaust note that’s more exciting than the Volkswagen’s. Coming as a three-door SC model with a six-speed manual gearbox only, Seat is predicting a UK starting price of around £18,000 for the Cupra. So it has the measure of the grown-up and slightly staid Polo in our opinion.
But how about that Ford? Trickier. The Seat is about the first car in class to give the Fiesta a run for its money on both value and driving excitement terms. No doubt the Ibiza would be easier to live with day-to-day: in Normal mode, its adaptive dampers offer a smooth ride that show the bouncy ST up for the hooligan it is. But the worry is that the Seat never quite matches the dynamic highs of the Ford. And with proper hot hatch buyers putting driving fun ahead of refinement, we’d be inclined to say, um, stick with the Fiesta. Is it on the podium at least? We’d certainly say so. The Ibiza Cupra is up there with the Peugeot 208 GTi and the Vauxhall Corsa VXR Performance Pack for involvement behind the wheel, while offering more bang per buck than both. It comfortably sees off the Polo GTI and Renaultsport Clio 200 as well. But the Ford Fiesta ST remains an annoying nose ahead of the Spanish car – unless you’re really sensitive to a rough ride. In which case, this could be the motor for you. Is there anything you don’t like about the Cupra? The Ibiza has a rather dull interior, and the two weedy exhaust pipes sticking out of the centre-mounted trapezoidal finisher in the rear bumper are a poor piece of design. Other than that, it’s an excellent wee hot hatch.