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A place of fun for the young or cheap thrills on a budget? The
island of Ibiza means different things to different people, so is
SEAT's supermini the automotive equivalent? The hot Cupra version
has just been launched, and looks set to continue SEAT's history of
sales success in this class. But while the appeal of the racy Ibiza
is unquestionable, it has yet to achieve the cult status of many
pocket rocket rivals. Is this set to change with the latest
Available only as a three-door SC, the Cupra sits above the
'warm' FR model in the Ibiza line-up. Flagship status is reserved
for the special-edition Bocanegra, although this offers no
performance advantage over the standard Cupra - so our test model
remains the purist's choice for thrills on a budget.
But rather than following the traditional 'simple is best'
approach to hot hatch success, SEAT has tried to make the new Cupra
the most advanced car in its class. Under the bonnet is the VW
Group's latest 1.4-litre petrol engine, which is fitted with both a
supercharger and a turbocharger.
It's mated to a seven-speed dual-clutch DSG transmission - so
few could argue that the SEAT is one of the most hi-tech models in
its price bracket. Start up the flagship Ibiza for the first time,
and the unusual thrum of the engine could fool you into thinking
the car is powered by a flat-four. Instead, the soundtrack is the
combination of the supercharger's whine, the turbocharger's whistle
and a boy racer exhaust.
The sight of an automatic gearlever in the cabin will be just as
unexpected to the uninitiated as the engine note. But the shifter
controls the excellent two-pedal manual gearbox. You can also
change ratios using the steering wheel-mounted paddles, and
although they don't have a particularly high-quality feel, they
move with the steering wheel and are always at your fingertips.
On the road, the gearbox makes the Ibiza's 178bhp performance
really accessible. Changes are completed in a flash and the SEAT
gains speed with ease: it covered 0-60mph in 6.8 seconds - that's
1.5 seconds up on the Alfa.
While the Cupra doesn't have anything as advanced as a
limited-slip differential, engineers have developed a clever
traction control system that has a similar effect to the costly
mechanical package. It restricts wheelspin well, and helps the
Ibiza to put its power to good use when cornering - although we
found the handling varied greatly according to the road
On wet surfaces, a shortage of front-end grip causes the nose to
push wide in corners, yet when the road is dry, the SEAT turns into
bends much more willingly. It doesn't have the playful nature of a
conventional hot hatch - although the Cupra goes some way to making
up for this by providing a surprisingly smooth ride.
The newcomer is a usable hot hatch with a mature, grown-up feel
- you could not have said that about the previous-generation