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SEAT Leon Cupra Car Review | 1 January 2007

Driven January 2007

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Seat has been sending out mixed messages of late. It's meant to be the sporty brand of the Volkswagen Group, the quirky Spanish antithesis to the other more sober, Germanic brands. But the cars have never really lived up to this. 

There isn't a sports car among its ranks and its range is just too similar to other VW products. Sure, there have been hot models in the past, but they have lacked the kudos and pedigree of the GTI badge. 

Which is why this new Leon Cupra is so important to Seat. It fits in with the fact that the company has been doing a lot of Touring Car racing and it also provides the crucial headline model Seat has been lacking for the past few years. We've had the warmish FR, of course, but that just doesn't have the desirability of the Cupra badge. 

And this new Cupra is as hot as the Leon range will get. Any of the ranges, in fact; no other Seat will get the Cupra badge and the R section has also been dropped. Seat reckons that the FRs and Cupra will be enough for all markets now. 

Which is fair enough, given that this new Leon Cupra has got more power than the old Cupra R. In fact, with 237bhp, it sits firmly in the upper echelons of the hot hatch pack, mixing it with bad boys like the Vauxhall Astra VXR. This, and the 221lb ft of torque, comes from a two-litre turbo-charged engine which, in this state of tune, is exclusive to Seat. 

In fact, this power level is almost identical to the Golf R32 with the V6 and four-wheel drive, so you'd have thought that Seat would've made use of this readily available transmission. But Seat wanted to keep the Leon Cupra a more raw, front-wheel-drive offering, which is why it has also opted for the turbocharged four-cylinder. 

Which, theoretically, is great news because it should mean that the car's psychology will match its impressive performance figures; 0-62mph is dealt with in 6.4secs - not a class-leading time thanks to the new Mazda3 MPS, but quick all the same - and the top speed is 153mph. But ironically enough the engine is the weakest part of the package. If you're expecting fireworks from under the bonnet, you'll be disappointed. 

The positive aspects first. This is an extremely smooth unit. There's no massive whoomph of torque at any point - instead the shove just feeds in gradually from around 2,000rpm and it revs extremely easily, so it's a doddle to keep on-song and sitting in its powerband. There aren't many refinement issues, either, so it's pleasingly quiet on the motorway. 

But, sadly, the Cupra doesn't feel as fast as its claimed figures suggest. Below 2,000rpm there's no punch whatsoever, and even above this figure there's none of the strong, instant hit of acceleration that you get from the likes of the Golf GTI or Focus ST. In these cars, you get a kick in the back every time you floor your right foot, but in the Cupra you simply get more mild acceleration.

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