Piers Ward11 February 2014

First drive: the new Seat Leon Cupra

This is the fastest and most powerful Seat ever built. Pay attention

What is it?

The fastest and most powerful Seat ever. Simple really.

Now you've got me excited. How much poweeerrr?

A lot.

The Leon Cupra uses the same 2.0-litre turbocharged petrol engine as the Golf GTI, but with considerably more power. You can get one with 261bhp or the top-whack version with 276bhp. Both have 258lb ft of torque, and the more powerful one will complete the headline sprint in 5.7 seconds with the optional DSG gearbox (both states of tune come with a six-speed manual as standard). Top speed in either is 155mph.

Unsurprisingly, then, it's not slow. The way the speed builds from low revs (peak torque is available from just 1,500rpm) is impressive enough, but how it keeps going all the way to the red line is the really startling part. It never seems to run out of puff. For a family hatch, it's one hell of a weapon.

But with all that power going through the front wheels, what about torque steer?

This is our only concern. We drove it on Spanish roads so things may be different elsewhere. It didn't feel too bad, but then the tarmac was smooth and dry. I'm afraid it needs a test in the UK to be really sure.

To be fair to Seat, they have fitted adjustable dampers and an electronically-controlled limited slip diff, both as standard. And both of which help keep things pointing in the right direction.

The dampers form part of a suite of adjustments called Seat Drive Profile, and there are three pre-set modes to choose from: Comfort, Sport or Cupra. Oddly enough, it's the hardest Cupra mode that works best.

It makes the exhaust noisier, adds weight to the steering, sharpens up the throttle response and stiffens up the dampers. But crucially, and unlike other sport buttons, none of it to the extreme. And that's the key point with this Cupra. It might be ballistically fast, but it doesn't get too much - it still feels like a car you could commute in.

And presumably because it's a Seat, it's good value?

Sort of. Prices start from £25,690 for the 265, rising to £28,525 for the 280 DSG - cheaper than certain rivals, but not quite the bargain we expected.

Anything else I should know?

Most definitely. The rumour mill suggests that a Leon Cupra ST will arrive before the end of the year, and an estate car with this engine will be absolutely brilliant.

Another thing to bear in mind is Seat's history with the Cupra brand - it's got form with the letter ‘R'. A four-wheel drive version with even more power? Don't rule it out - we know the platform can take it because the Golf R exists. Exciting times ahead.

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