There is an inherent rightness about the looks of the Ibiza SC’s 3-door body shell, so much so that despite reaching the market after the 5-door version, it looks as though it designed first and its more practical sibling’s styling was derived from it.
They share the same basic nose design, with purposeful crease lines converging in a V-formation to shape the headlights and grille aperture. It’s immediately obvious that this model is a cut above regular Ibizas though, with the whole nose panel painted a menacing gloss black – hence the Bocanegra name, which is Spanish for black mouth. Not the most sporting of names, certainly, but one that taps into SEAT’s history.
In the 1970s, when still under state control, SEAT acquired the rights to produce a sporty coupé that was originally destined to become an NSU. Sales commenced in 1976 and although the official moniker was simply 1200S, it become colloquially known as the Bocanegra by virtue of its black rubber safety nosecone. Imagine the one fitted to 1970s MGBs but causing less offence to the eyes and you’re there.
The shallower, more sloping glass house of the rear gives the 3-door Ibiza a more coupé-esque profile than the 5-door (the SC suffix stands for Sport Coupé), which provides a more purposeful, forward-projecting stance. There’s further power suggested by those swollen rear haunches too, where those wing creases appear to bulge out and frame the tail lights, rather than simply merging into them.
Being a sports hatchback, aggressive styling details adorn the basic shape. Under the main grille is a series of slots hinting at the engine’s extra hunger for air. The bumper corners, both at the front and rear, have faux grilles, which look great from afar, but a little contrived up close. What is more successful at the back end is the matte grey diffuser panel in the centre of the bumper, neatly enveloping a trapezoidal, centrally mounted exhaust outlet.
And what an exhaust! Fire up the Bocanegra’s 1.4-litre engine and you’re greeted with a satisfyingly throaty burble. Blip the throttle and the small motor rasps zingingly. Appetite now whetted, the desire to slot into that chunkily bolstered driver’s seat and experience what the Ibiza’s got to offer becomes stronger.
Those seats hold you in place fantastically well, helped by an abrasive fabric itself adorned with a frenzy of red stitching. Quality-wise, it’s the same story as the other Ibizas in the range – that padded dashboard swathe is one of few soft-touches in a cabin full of harder, less expensive materials. That said, quality of build at least is good and SEAT has been bold in terms of making the interior much darker – all the plastics, carpets and even the headlining are close to black, the only relief being a smattering a ‘B’ logos here and there.
Bocanegra customers will find their hot hatch has been well-specified, featuring 17” gunmetal coloured alloys, climate control, cruise control, trip computer, electric windows and mirrors, front fog lights with cornering function and a leather covered steering wheel and gearknob on the standard equipment list.
The 3-door Ibiza remains a practical proposition when it needs to be, too. The front of the cabin remains as spacious as the 5-door, whilst the back seat isn’t too uncomfortable for a pair of adults on shorter journeys, although that more aggressive roof angle naturally encroaches into the headroom available. Boot capacity is marginally cut at 284l, losing 8l to the 5-door, but the rear seat still folds to maximise carrying capacity when the cargo demands it.
Where the Ibiza Bocanegra really delights is on the road, blending two distinct but eminently desirable characters. Having already started the 1390cc common rail petrol engine, its heady exhaust note leaving a tingle in the ears and a smile on the face, it’s time to set off.
Around town, it remains largely subdued, offering a tasty crackle from the exhaust only when driven with a little more vigour. With its small capacity, it performs economically in urban environs, but the ease of use is further heightened by the standard fitment of the Volkswagen Group’s DSG gearbox – there is no conventional manual box available.
DSG? Direct Shift Gearbox – it’s a manual gearbox rather than a traditional automatic, but gearchanges are made sequentially using either a fore/aft motion on the gear lever or steering wheel paddles. However, because the gearbox has two clutches those shift are seamless and it can be driven like a regular automatic, taking the stress out of the chore of swapping cogs on a stop-start city drive.
But leave the city behind and the Bocanegra comes alive. That engine, producing a remarkable 178bhp from its small capacity due to being both turbocharged and supercharged, is intoxicating. It revs willingly, thriving near the red line, mixing a rasping metallic thrum with whines and whooshes from the forced induction.
And those rapidly building revs, powering the Ibiza through each of its seven ratios, ensures acceleration is fun and rapid, without being savage. This is a car that you can really enjoy exploring the limits of on conventional back roads, cornering sublimely and making swift progress from A to B. For fans of old skool hot hatches from the 80s, the Bocanegra will feel very familiar – and that’s certainly not a criticism, this is a car that can entertain massively on the road, without the need to take it near a racing circuit to push its boundaries.
That DSG box works equally well you’re taming those B roads too. Obviously, it can remain in fully automatic mode, where it does a mature job of allowing revs to rise before deciding to change ratios, but many will choose to rock the gear lever into manual mode or, more likely, become Sebastian Vettel (in their heads at least) and flip those steering column paddles – down changes on the left, ups on the right.
It’s the best such system I’ve experienced, and after a short time does become intuitive to use, the digital display in the centre of the instruments reminding you which gear you’re in. Driving this way allows you to cruise and maximise economy by short shifting up through the gears or start hooning about by dropping down a cog or two extra on the approach to bends, allowing for a more rapid corner exit accompanied by a howling backing track.
Thankfully, the Ibiza’s chassis has been tuned to make the most of the great drivetrain with sports suspension offering great handling and providing a decent measure of feedback through the chunky three-spoke steering wheel. Naturally, the ride is harder than lesser Ibizas, but sensibly so. Poise is retained at high speeds and for fast cornering, but around town it still retains enough suppleness to ensure your change for the car park doesn’t get bounced out onto the carpets.
Climbing out of the Ibiza Cupra Bocanegra and it’s impossible not to have a big smile on your face and a strong desire to get back in and have another blast. It’s a fun hot hatch, providing an engaging driving experience and a throaty sound track. Those interior plastics quibbles aside, I thoroughly enjoyed it – but not all will. SEAT made a bold choice not offering its fastest Ibizas with a conventional manual – theoretically the combination’s possible but sales forecasts may never warrant it.
However, if you find that nose just a little too much, the regular Cupra has a body-coloured snout, is mechanically identical and is a useful £700 cheaper, although it does forego some equipment too. For me, that DSG box is a great attribute and I’d definitely take my Ibiza with its menacing black mouth snarling at the world.
On Sunday 2 October, SEAT invited a small group of predominantly online motoring writers to experience a selection of its models, using the Aviator Hotel in Farnborough as its base. The #SEATtweetUP was the first such event of its kind organised by a major manufacturer.
Thumbs Up: Looks great, engaging fun, rasping engine, superb gearbox, big grin factor
Thumbs Down: Regular Cupra is £700 cheaper, interior plastics are a let down, some customers will want a conventional manual gearbox
Model Tested: SEAT Ibiza Cupra Bocanegra 1.4 TSI DSG
Top Speed: 140mph
Average fuel consumption: 44.1mpg
CO2 emissions: 148g/km
Engine size: 4/1390cc common rail fuel injection turbocharged and supercharged petrol
Price: £18,370 (July 2011)
All photographs © SEAT 2011 – not of actual model tested and for illustrative purposes only