Back in August I received a hushed message from Seat PR. Fancy coming down to Farnborough with a bunch of bloggers and sampling a few of our cars? There’ll be free cake? Free cake…count me in. So on a shockingly warm Sunday in October, we found ourselves in Farnborough and finally able to talk about the first car manufacturer organised #tweetup.
Seat have been operating in the UK since 1985, and it’s fair to say they’ve come on a lot since then. Sales are up (and increasing in the currently shrinking market) to a record market share of 2%, to give that some perspective, year to date they’ve sold more than Volvo or Mazda, equal with Land Rover, and snapping at the heels of Mini & Fiat! So on to the cars…
The baby of the line up is the Seat Ibiza, a great looking supermini, and so it should be the designer has form, previous work includes the Lambo Diablo, Murciélago & Gallardo no less… Available in 3 door ‘SC’ coupe, 5 door & ‘ST’ estate versions, with engines ranging from the economic ‘Ecomotive’ range with the 1.2TDI up to the rip snorting 1.4TSI petrol with 178bhp in the 3dr SC. On the day I drove the Ibiza FR 2.0TDI & the Cupra Bocanegra 1.4TSI, first up I’ll cover the FR diesel. The FR is pitched at the sporting end of the Seat line ups, so this model comes with 141bhp 2.0TDI, 17″ alloys, sports seats, FR ‘styling details’, twin chrome exhaust pipes and costs £17,720. On the road it was pretty quick, handled the road nicely and even after a day being driven hard around a handling course by a bunch of journos was returning an average of 40mpg, so friendly on the wallet too, but despite any ‘sporting’ hot hatch aspirations, it didn’t tingle your soul.
However, for a miserly £200 more, you can have the Ibiza Cupra, or for a further £800 the Ibiza Cupra Bocanegra (black mouth in case your Spanish isn’t up to scratch), and in my opinion this is ‘the one’. It features the VAG 1.4TSI with 178bhp and is mated to the 7 speed DSG semi automatic gearbox. OK you’ve lost two doors, and you’re more likely to see 30mpg than 40mpg whilst giving it a good thrashing, you’ll get to the other end with a huge huge grin. On paper it’s only a second quicker than its diesel brother, on the road though it feels so much faster. This then is a proper hot hatch, unlike the diesel stirs you heart & leaves you grinning. It has lots of useable power, and not too much grip allowing you to take it round your favourite A/B road giving and just drive & enjoy it, without having to keep such a constant watch on the speedo. It was so much fun I took this car for an extra loop of the handling course. The ride was firm but not too harsh, and despite so much power in such a small car, the traction control or tyres were rarely troubled in the dry. I was harsh of the DSG box earlier in the year in the Golf, but in this, it seemed much better set up & suited to it, which is probably fortunate as it’s not available with a manual box.
Styling wise the Bocanegra will split opinions, you’ll either love or hate the black mouth, if you dislike it, then go for the Cupra which has a body coloured bumper. Both feature aggressive front & rear bumpers, with a matt diffuser on the rear with a nice chromed central exit trapezoid opening around the exhausts, though I still have a thing against ‘fake grills’ in bumpers etc.
The interior is well specced, and I rather liked the red quilting in the Bocanegra, standard kit includes paddle shift, climate control, cruise control, MP3 compatible CD player, aux in, & plenty of airbags. Some of the plastics if you were being harsh are a bit cheap & glossy, but I’ve had some years of driving old Audis which had bomb proof matt plastics. It didn’t matter though, I still loved this and got out with a real “yes I’d buy one of these”.
Next up is the Seat Leon, based on the Golf but with sportier styling (the designer of the Leon is responsible for amongst others the Alfa SZ & GTV, Audi R8 & Leica M9 Titanium (neatly tying in my other hobby)). I drove the Ibiza FR+ and Cupra, on paper, the FR+ sounds pretty much like the Golf GTI mk6 I drove & hated earlier in the year in my post accident grumpy state. Matching 208bhp, DSG gear box, though at least the Leon comes with the much needed 18s as standard to fill the arches. Unfortunately inside, it loses the excellent Golf seats & chunky steering wheel, but turn the key, get it out on the road & all will be forgiven. Where the Golf rode harsh, the Seat has revised front suspension and covers ridges in the road a lot more smoothly, a much better drive. I’d also be tempted to say the DSG ECU has had a bit of work too, but hard to say for sure in a 10 min drive. You also get a lot more toys for your bargain £22,700, not only are those 18″ wheels standard, but you get the essential Bluetooth & DAB, touch screen sat nav, Xenon lights, parking sensors, cruise control…
Top dog in the Seat hot hatch line up is the Leon Cupra R, the most powerful car from Seat with 261bhp being sent to the front wheels via a manual 6 speed gearbox (strangely unlike the Golf R DSG isn’t an option on this car). It’s got a lot more presence than the Golf R too with more agressive front & rear bumpers (though prefer the rear diffusers in the matt style as per the Ibiza than the gloss on the Leon) & 19″ wheels as standard. Actually it’s hard to say what it hasn’t got as standard, standard kit includes quilted black leather, bluetooth, cruise control, DAB, touch screen sat nav, parking sensors, 19″ wheels… I think I’ve found four options, which are rear airbags (£230), sunroof (£700), wheels painted white (£300), & two styles of metallic paint (£420/560). Tick the lot and you take the price from a bargain £26,000 to £27,800, but a similar specced Golf R is £37,000.
It’d be easy to look at the Cupra R as a loaded FR with a bit more power, but it’s soon clear that it’s not. The R engine is a different beast to that in the FR+ and Seat have done a lot of work in changing it’s aural qualities. The delivery is a lot more savage and it shouts about it too with a pleasant roar as you push the throttle down, encouraging you to flex it’s muscles. Delivery of all those horses to the front wheels is kept well in check by the electronic diff so you can push on in confidence as torque steer & understeer is kept well in check, and if you push too hard the brakes are superb, quickly reeling in any excess speed. If anything excess speed is possibly this cars worst feature, in order to explore the car as a driver, you are very soon the wrong side of the posted limit. No doubt this is a faster and more rounded car than the Ibiza Cupra, but it’s for that reason I prefer the Ibiza, it’s more accessible fun on UK roads (and I don’t need a 5 door).
But still the Cupra makes for a great all rounder, practical, base Golf GTI money, lots of toys, happy to tootle comfortably to shops, and a monster lurking beneath the bonnet for when you find yourself on a great bit of tarmac.