Test Drive: Seat Ibiza Bocanegra

By Guy Bird for Sunday Express, Jul 2009

Spain's hottest hatch breaks out...

Ford Focus RS, Volkswagen's Golf GTI, Vauxhall's VXR, there's no doubt that the hot hatch is back in fashion. And Seat, a major player in the go-faster market in the past, is keen to join the party with three sporty new versions of its Ibiza. The trio of FR, Cupra and flagship Bocanegra models will sit alongside the Sport and eventually account for a significant third of all sales while potentially influencing countless sales of lesser Ibiza models too.

Doesn’t flooding showrooms with three, three-door sporty models of the leftfield supermini at the same time make things just a tiny bit confusing to the customer?

But doesn’t flooding showrooms with three, three-door sporty models of the leftfield supermini at the same time make things just a tiny bit confusing to the customer? Perhaps, but upon closer inspection the differences are simple enough to explain. All of the new cars utilise a 1.4-litre twin-charge petrol engine with the seven-speed sequential DSG gearbox and steering wheel shift paddles as standard but the FR offers 150PS while the other two deliver 180PS and are differentiated by exclusive styling, including the Bocanegra’s signature exterior frontage where the grille and air intake join up to become one solid area – or ‘black mouth’ – to give the literal translation of ‘Bocanegra’ from Spanish.

The top-end Bocanegra is a new trim designation for the Ibiza range but also draws on Seat’s Spanish market heritage, referencing the similar ‘black mouth’ of the Seat 1200 Sport of 34 years past which fast earned the nickname ‘Bocanegra’. For a more recent reference look no further than the 2008 Sport Coupe Bocanegra prototype shown at the Geneva Motor Show – which this model clearly stays very faithful to. The Bocanegra’s numbers will be limited to 1000 per year worldwide in a move that Seat hopes will make this version a real collector’s item. Indeed the rear of the car only sports the word ‘Bocanegra’ in black letters – rather than Ibiza – to ram home the point and also includes an enhanced interior with sporty red-stitched diamond quilted bucket seats and a signature ‘B’ under the headrests. It's a good and distinctive look. Such has been the success of the Ibiza’s sportier models in Britain on previous generations of the car, the UK will be the first country in Europe to launch the car too.

Beyond the go-faster ‘show’ is some real substance in the shape of the VW-sourced 1.4-litre TSI petrol engine under the bonnet. The Bocanegra (and Cupra) are the first models within the entire VW Group to use the 180bhp version of this unit that sprints to 60mph in a rapid 7.2 seconds and goes on to 140mph top speed. However, it still manages to record a 44.2mpg economy figure and just 148g/km of CO2 meaning low (£125 per year) band F road tax – amazing for such a petrol-powered pocket rocket.

In the hyperbolic world of car marketing where almost every car is described as ‘fun to drive’ the Bocanegra really does live up to its hype. 180bhp turns this 1172kg supermini into a white-hot hatch

In the hyperbolic world of car marketing where almost every car is described as ‘fun to drive’ the Bocanegra really does live up to its hype. 180bhp of power turns this 1172kg supermini into a white-hot hatch. The seven-speed sequential DSG dual clutch gearbox with easy-to-use steering wheel paddles for up and down shifts makes getting the most out of the considerable power available a smooth and simple process. With a specially engineered and rather pleasing engine note, decently taut steering, firm brakes and an agile chassis with 10mm lower ground clearance compared to the Sport model to lower its centre of gravity, it feels – and more importantly acts – like a consummate hot hatch. Another clever piece of kit that helps when driving becomes faster and twistier is Seat’s XDS system that works in tandem with the electronic stability control system to improve traction to wheels that might start losing power in such circumstances by braking the appropriate individual wheel, but electronically, rather than with a mechanical solution which, says Seat’s engineers, can be more complex, heavier and less smooth.

The Bocanegra goes on sale at £16,695 – not cheap for a small hot hatch – but compared to the less fun and whinier-sounding 150bhp version of the 1.4 engine in the FR for £14,995 and the less exclusive and more regular Ibiza-feeling and looking Cupra model for £15,995, the Bocanegra could well be worth the extra cash. Kit levels for all these halo models are strong with climate control, air-conditioning, cruise control, electronic stability control with electronic brake assist, tyre pressure monitoring and hill hold control – to make driving off from steep inclines easier – all fitted as standard.

Seat already has a very young customer base – by car brand standards at least – with an average age of 37 and Seat UK’s top brass expect the drivers of this trio of models to be even younger given their genuinely sporty attributes. The range-topping Bocanegra certainly has enough poke and presence to get it noticed among the likes of the Mini Cooper S, Fiesta ST and 2010 Renault Clio Sport – despite the latter model also now sporting a ‘black mouth’ grille rather annoyingly for Seat – and its limited numbers, measured in the low hundreds, not high thousands in the UK, should ensure that those that do plump for the car will feel suitably special. It’s not quite the best handling car in the hot hatch house, but it’s knocking heavily on the door.

 

Logbook lowdown

 

  • Model: Seat Ibiza Bocanegra
  • On sale: October
  • Price range: £16,695
  • Engine range: Petrol – 180bhp 1.4 twin-charge petrol
  • Power: 0 to 60mph in 7.2 seconds, 140mph top speed
  • Average fuel economy: 44.2mpg
  • CO2 emissions: 148/km
  • Insurance groups: 14E
  • Rivals: Ford Fiesta ST, Mini Cooper S, Renault Clio Sport
  • Stars: ***

 


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