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Seventh heaven? Image by Andy Morgan.

Seventh heaven?
SEAT's new Ibiza Cupra model arrives, but does its seven-speed dual-clutch gearbox suit the hot hatch?

 



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| First Drive | Barcelona, Spain | SEAT Ibiza Cupra & Bocanegra |

One hundred and eighty bhp in a small hatchback with a decent chassis should add up to a whole lot of fun. SEAT's Cupra models have traditionally offered this, but the new Ibiza Cupra and its Bocanegra (black mouth) limited-run relative have grown up a bit. Great looks, a grippy chassis and enough power make it a compelling choice among hot hatch rivals, but SEAT seems to have engineered out some of the fun by adding a seven-speed DSG transmission as standard.

In the Metal

It's stunning. Really. If there's a better looking hatchback out there then we've yet to see it. The Ibiza in SC form is a great looker in its non-sporting guises, but add larger air intakes, big alloy wheels and naughty exhausts and you've arguably got the most visually appealing hot hatch on the market. In profile the various slashes in its flanks give it tension, while the assertive front end adds to the menacing look. More so if you opt for the Bocanegra, a limited-production (SEAT only making 1,000 a year) model with black backed headlamps a black bumper insert and black Bocanegra badging on the rear boot lid.

The sporting look continues inside with Cupra detailing on the seats and steering wheel (the Bocanegra gets its own versions). The seats are heavily bolstered and finished in a quilted design, the less fussy seats in the Cupra's FR relative arguably better looking. Neat details like the satnav dock on top of the dashboard and smart styling of the dashboard are leagues ahead of the rather dowdy interiors of its hot hatch rivals, though some of the materials - the door trims in particular - feel a bit hard and cheap.

What you get for your Money

The Ibiza Cupra offers a compelling on-paper package. The 1.4-litre 'twin charged' engine delivers 180bhp, there's a seven-speed DSG paddle-shifted transmission and decent levels of standard kit: climate control, cruise control, ESP, Hill Hold Control and a tyre pressure monitoring system are all included. SEAT typically offers a good package against rivals and adding the expensive seven-speed DSG transmission gives the Cupra a unique selling point over its manual-only rivals. Thing is, if SEAT offered a regular manual in the Cupra and kept the DSG for the Bocanegra it could lower the Cupra's price point a bit and better justify the fairly hefty price jump to the Bocanegra, which arguably brings nothing more than a few minor trim alterations and that shiny black nose for a rather optimistic 700.

Driving it

With rivals offering power outputs of around 200bhp the Ibiza Cupra doesn't follow its predecessors in providing the best firepower in its class. Its 180bhp actually looks fairly conservative in the rapid small hatch marketplace, though the twin-charged (super and turbocharged) engine does promise decent performance and delivers a credible 7.2-second 0-62mph time against the clock. It never feels that quick though, the engine working very hard to produce its performance. That's exacerbated by the DSG transmission, the artificial feel to the shifts and detachment it brings distancing the driver from the car's real potential.

The engine always seems to be at odds with the transmissions' seven ratios too, either working hard in its upper rev ranges or slugging away down low. The jump from second to third gear in particular leaves you stabbing at the paddles constantly in the search for the correct ratio, ruining flow and leaving you with little engine braking. As a result the brake pedal goes soft fairly quickly when you're pushing on, as you ask a lot from the brakes. The Cupra never flows down a road like its manual rivals will, as it's difficult to get into any sort of rhythm with the gearbox second-guessing you and often overriding your ratio choices.

Ultimately that's disappointing, as the SEAT's chassis delivers decent poise and rides well despite its sporting focus. There's plenty of grip and when it does start to relinquish its hold on the tarmac it does so predictably and without any snappiness. The steering is quick and weighted well enough, though feel isn't high on its agenda. A RenaultSport Clio or MINI Cooper S would quickly outrun the Cupra on a winding road, not necessarily thanks to their greater outputs, but their ability to exploit their engines better. The DSG dominates the proceedings in the Cupra - for all the wrong reasons.

Worth Noting

The Ibiza Cupra comes with the same XDS system as Volkswagen's latest Golf GTI, this electronic device effectively mimicking the effect of a limited slip differential on the Cupra. Its effect is difficult to ascertain, as all the time we were driving it we were trying to work out how to get the gearbox to work properly rather than indulging in the finer nuances of the ride and handling. The front end does seem to grip well, though. SEAT's use of the 1.4-litre TSI engine combined with the DSG transmission does mean that the Cupra and Bocanegra can offer very respectable emissions and economy figures - with over 44mg possible and CO2 emissions at just 148g/km.

Summary

The Cupra represents something of a missed opportunity from SEAT. The adoption of the DSG ruins the interaction and flow of the car, the seven-speed paddle-shifter taking the edge off any excitement the Cupra could potentially deliver. That's not just because we're manual die-hards here, but because the seven speeds are ill-suited to the engine's delivery and the software doesn't ever seem to allow full manual control. The small hot hatch marketplace is one still dominated by those who like to feel part of the drive and the DSG transmission denies them that pleasure. The Cupra's great looks, economy, emissions, decent equipment and chassis would all be better suited to a manual gearbox, especially as SEAT could offer it at a lower price point to really take the fight to the competition. As it is, it's a competent, quick car, but one that doesn't deliver much in the way of fun. And that's a serious problem when so many of its competitors can do that so convincingly.

Kyle Fortune - 3 Jul 2009









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2009 SEAT Ibiza Bocanegra. Image by Andy Morgan.2009 SEAT Ibiza Bocanegra. Image by Andy Morgan.2009 SEAT Ibiza Bocanegra. Image by Andy Morgan.2009 SEAT Ibiza Bocanegra. Image by Andy Morgan.2009 SEAT Ibiza Bocanegra. Image by Andy Morgan.

2009 SEAT Ibiza Bocanegra. Image by Andy Morgan.2009 SEAT Ibiza Bocanegra. Image by Andy Morgan.2009 SEAT Ibiza Bocanegra. Image by Andy Morgan.2009 SEAT Ibiza Bocanegra. Image by Andy Morgan.2009 SEAT Ibiza Bocanegra. Image by Andy Morgan.



2009 SEAT Ibiza Bocanegra. Image by Andy Morgan.
 

2009 SEAT Ibiza Bocanegra. Image by Andy Morgan.
 

2009 SEAT Ibiza Bocanegra. Image by Andy Morgan.
 

2009 SEAT Ibiza Bocanegra. Image by Andy Morgan.
 

2009 SEAT Ibiza Bocanegra. Image by Andy Morgan.
 

2009 SEAT Ibiza Bocanegra. Image by Andy Morgan.
 






 

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