Good: great value, very fast, looks good, competent on the road
Not so good: unrefined, but not in a good way, frustrating gearbox
I'm not sure it's fair to line the SEAT Ibiza Cupra up alongside some of the best junior hot hatches we've ever seen, as we've done below. In a very short period of time we've witnessed the launch of the Ford Fiesta ST, Peugeot 208 GTi and the Clio Renaultsport 200 Turbo. They're all very different, and though most here at CompleteCar.ie agree that they'd have the Fiesta, none of us would feel short-changed by having to 'make do' with the others. Into this battleground wades SEAT's hot new Ibiza. Or does it?
You see, the Ibiza Cupra costs just €22,875, which is about €3,000 cheaper than the next nearest of that trio - and that's the rather spartan entry-level Fiesta ST. in contrast, the Ibiza comes loaded to the gunwales with equipment, including bi-Xenon headlights with LED daytime running lamps, 17-inch alloys, sports seat and steering wheel and SEAT Touch, the removable satnav/computer system. The other cars can't compete in terms of value for money (though the Peugeot 208 GTi is well-equipped). The SEAT's running costs are just as low as the Peugeot's and Ford's too. Although its turbocharged 1.4-litre TSI engine produces 180hp and 250Nm of, it emits just 139g/km and the official combined consumption figure is 5.9litres/100km (47.9mpg), even if it's nigh on impossible to get close to that in real world conditions.
And in truth (and in isolation), the Ibiza Cupra feels as quick as any road car needs to be. A 0-100km/h time of 6.9 seconds is fast in most people's books and it does feel decently rapid on the open road. Indeed, put your foot down and there's a purposeful roar from the intake (thanks to a sound actuator) and centrally mounted exhaust system. It's more impressive in the mid-range than it is off the line in terms of pace, though that's partly to do with the DSG dual-clutch transmission.
It's the only gearbox option in the Ibiza Cupra and while, as keen drivers, we'd like to have the option of a manual transmission, we'd put up with the automatic if it was a good one. Sadly, in the car we tested, it was not. In standard mode it's all too keen to change up a gear to conserve fuel, which means you put your foot down more than you want to for a quick burst of acceleration. This then results in a drop in two gears as the engine screams towards the redline. The subsequent delay is far from ideal. Taking control via the wheel-mounted paddles doesn't seem to improve this response. There's a Sport mode too, though that takes things a little too far the other way, holding onto gears much too long, even if you have only part-throttle applied. In about 600 kilometres of varied driving we couldn't get used to its calibration and in the end it just frustrated us.
On twisty mountain roads the chassis itself does well. The steering wheel is a joy to hold and turn-in is direct. There's not all that much feel through the rim, but we've come to expect that of a lot of modern cars. The brakes are strong and the pedal firmly modulated, which we like. Body and wheel control are exemplary, though we guess that's due to an inherently stiff spring, damper and anti-roll bar set-up. This makes itself felt when you hit a lateral ridge mid-corner and the rear end skips a little. Low profile tyres probably don't help either, though we love the look of the 17-inch alloys.
Back in mundane driving world the lack of give in the suspension, presumably in the form of firmer bushing, results in high levels of road noise transmitted into the cabin. This is not a car you'd choose to do a regular long motorway commute in.
In fairness, that can be said of most of the alternatives listed here (Peugeot aside). Money no object we'd still take the Fiesta ST, but who lives in a world where money is no object? For the price, the Ibiza Cupra stands alone in the market at a distinctly different price point to the other junior hot hatches. It may not be a perfect car, but it's still a desirable one.