What is it?
It’s the most powerful road-going Seat ever. There are two body styles (three and five door) with two different power outputs – either 261bhp or 276bhp. Both use the VW Group’s 2.0-litre turbocharged petrol – the same one as in the Golf GTI – but Seat’s engineers have tweaked the boost pressure, altered the cylinder head and generally fiddled around under the bonnet to give all the extra power. Prices range from £25,695 to £28,530 – relatively good value, but not quite the bargain we’d hoped for.
Is it just an illusion, or do the Cupra and FR feel just a little bit harsher than the Golf GTI they share their underpinnings with? The firm ride isn’t for everyone, and the cabin is a notch down on the Golf, but the Leon remains a hot hatch that’s easy to live with.
On the inside
Unsurprisingly, a family hatch with all that power isn’t slow. 0-62mph is seen off in just 5.7 seconds in the 280 DSG model, but it’s the way the power builds that’s impressive. There’s no sudden dump of torque, just a crescendo of turbo boost that doesn’t let up until you’re well north of, ahem, legality. But the good thing is that the Cupra isn’t manic. Unlike the Astra VXR, the Cupra feels civilised and capable, and it’s just as happy pottering as it is blasting along.
The Dynamic Chassis Control and mechanical front diff help. The former is a system for controlling the adjustable dampers and lets the driver select various levels of stiffness. The good thing is that unlike as with previous models, none are too hard, so the Cupra manages the bi-polar hot hatch trick well. You don’t have to drive this thing flat out all the time. But it responds jolly well if you do...
Inside, the Cupra is much the same as the normal Leon but with various nods to hot hatchery, such as the flat-bottomed steering wheel and Cupra badges. It’s a comfortable place to be, especially if you opt for the bucket seats. One criticism, though, is that the seats don’t go low enough – it feels like you’re sat on top of the car rather than in it. A minor dig, admittedly, but in a hot hatch you should feel like you’re at the centre of the action.