SEAT's sharply styled Ibiza supermini enters the crowded junior hot-hatch market in range-topping Cupra (Cup Racing) form. Offering credible performance, it comes with a unique engine and a near-instant shifting twin-clutch gearbox. However, with some deeply able rivals it will have to offer something more than slick tech to compete. We ran one for a week to find out how it compares.

What is it?

The vindaloo version of the SEAT Ibiza supermini. Where the standard model is ideal for learner drivers, the Cupra will appeal to those who crave more performance but that don’t want to sacrifice urban practicality, economy or ease of use by trading up to a bigger car. Indeed it may well tempt drivers out of larger hot hatches with its powerful 178bhp engine. Despite only being 1.4-litres, its complex turbo and supercharging system means the Cupra will get from 0-62mph in 6.9 seconds and sail up to a top speed of 142mph. In this respect it is identical to its sister car, the Volkswagen Polo GTI, with which it shares nearly all its underpinnings, including its seven-speed DSG gearbox, the only transmission option available.

To visually match its performance, SEAT has dressed the Ibiza Cupra in 17-inch alloys, dropped the ride-height by 15mm and fitted a centre-mounted trapezoidal exhaust pipe into a new, more heavily sculpted rear bumper.

What is it like to drive?

There is certainly no denying the performance the Cupra offers. The turbo and supercharger force feed that tiny engine with fuel and it offers power low in the rev-range and zings freely to its redline. The near-instant shifts of the gearbox only heighten the sense of speed, with no let up in acceleration through the gears. Do this too often, though, and you’ll find the Cupra will come up way short of it its claimed fuel economy claims. We saw 23mpg over two days of hard driving.

Keener drivers will bemoan the lack of involvement you get with a manual gearbox. They also won’t like the steering. While the wheel itself is well shaped, with a sporty-looking flat bottom, it’s connected to an electric system which offers no feedback as to what the front wheels are doing, meaning you simply don’t have the confidence to drive the car hard.

?This lack of interaction is ultimately where the Cupra falls down. Where the best hot hatchbacks feel more alive the harder you push them, the Ibiza starts feeling raggedy; it’s more happy at a medium pace where its safety-first handling balance intrudes less on the fun.

Wind back the enthusiasm even further and the Cupra becomes an accomplished city car. With the diminutive dimensions of the standard Ibiza and a silky smooth auto ‘box it is a doddle to drive in traffic. Only a harsh ride, thanks to the big wheels and suspension drop, ruins the relaxed feel.

What is it like inside?

The Ibiza’s cabin shares both the strengths and weaknesses of its Polo sister: construction quality and fit and finish is superb, with almost everything having a built-to-last feel. The overall ambience, however, is drab thanks to expanses of grey plastic that make the interior feel a tad dark and claustrophobic. This isn’t helped by the narrow body that sees larger passengers nearly rubbing shoulders.

With all the under-bonnet technology and striking styling outside, the interior also lets itself down with a dated dot-matrix style display for the stereo and trip computer. It’s more GameBoy than Xbox and it’s unlikely to sit well with the younger drivers the Ibiza is aimed at. The cabin is only lifted by the Cupra model’s two-tone sports seats and a smattering of flag badges denoting the car’s sporting intent.

Passengers will also suffer excessive tyre and wind noise at speed, which can become wearisome, as can the loud exhaust system. A fruity overtone is great when you’re in the mood, but a monotonous drone on a long drive certainly isn’t.

Is it practical?

Unlike the VW Polo, the Ibiza Cupra is available in rakish three-door form only, meaning its appeal to those with children will be limited. Getting into the back is a squeeze, and adults will find head, leg and shoulder room pinched. Factor in the small, tinted windows and the rear cabin isn’t a pleasant place to be. Those in the front are better catered for, though broader passengers may find the sports seats a touch narrow.

At 236 litres the boot is some 40 litres smaller than that of the class stalwart Ford Fiesta. It is also very shallow, with a high floor and a low lying parcel shelf. It’s no way near as bad as the boot you’d find on a Mini Cooper, but even those with a single child may struggle with the amount of room on offer.

On the whole visibility is good, but the thick C-pillars obstruct the rear view. Thankfully rear parking sensors are a standard-fit item. The alloys aren’t without their problems either; the slender spokes protrude wider than the tyre, meaning any parking mistakes could result in an expensive kerbing incident.

Should I buy one?

Objectively there isn’t a reason you wouldn’t consider this car. Fast, good looking and easy to live with, it so very nearly fulfils the brief of a hot hatch, but it is its lack of driver involvement that means it can’t be recommended. Rival cars such as the sublime Ford Fiesta ST and recently launched Renault Clio RS will give drivers greater thrills, and don’t fall short in either the practicality or desirability stakes.

That’s not to say the Cupra is without appeal. For some it will be a perfect combination of solid Germanic engineering, tech and quality, that offers greater value and a youthful, less stuffy image than its Volkswagen stablemate.

You can browse our SEAT Ibiza classified ads here.

The facts

SEAT Ibiza Cupra

Price: £18,575?
Engine: 1.4-litre, twin-charged, petrol
?Power: 178bhp
?Top speed: 142mph?
0-62mph: 6.9 seconds?
Fuel economy: 37.7mpg (urban), 55.4mpg (extra-urban), 47.9mpg (combined)
?Emissions: 139g/km C02