Power and pace, handling balance, good amount of standard kit
Engine note can get droany, brand still struggles to stand out
What is it?
It’s the most powerful road-going Seat ever, and the car that lives in the sizeable shadow of the VW Golf GTI and Golf R. There are two body styles (five door hatch and the ST estate) with several different power outputs and transmissions – either 296bhp as standard or 306bhp in the ‘R’ five-door hatch, with power exclusively to the front wheels. The estate is only available with 296bhp, but comes with a choice of front- or four-wheel drive.
At the very top of the tree is the Seat Leon Cupra ST R with 4WD and the option of an ABT engine chip that boost power to 345bhp – it’s a car we wholly recommend if you’re in the market for a junior Audi RS6 (and don’t mind copper accents everywhere) but then again it is a £37,975 Seat.
All versions 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 £29,915 for a manual 296bhp 5dr hatch to nearly £38k for the ‘R’ wagon mentioned above. Relatively good value, but not quite the bargain we’d hoped for.
Crazy, isn’t it, that we live in an age when a 296bhp hatchback isn’t the peak of lunacy… not even close. What the Leon Cupra is, is an extremely quick, massively capable Swiss Army knife of a car surrounded by a hot hatch talent pool that’s never been deeper, or faster or more unhinged at the top end. Dare I say it, the Leon Cupra is a safe choice for those that don’t want a Golf but do want excitement… just not too much.
Our choice from the range
What's the verdict?
The Leon Cupra has come of age. The mix of civility and pace is as good as anything out there – it’s also fast, fun and focused enough to appeal to those who crave the Civic Type R’s manners, but deplore its looks.
It’s a well-rounded hot hatch, but there are a few caveats. It’s blessed with a nicely mobile rear end, which is fun, but the steering’s numb. It’s very fast, but lacks a little panache in its delivery. In other words it’s a very good car, but exists in a class of very, very strong contenders.
In fact, because we’re helpful like that, here’s a checklist for the next one: Find a Civic Type R and copy its seats, your ones are too high and lack support. Then steal a Golf R and nick its sound-symposer intake cleverness and seventh gear. Finally, do nothing at all to the bodywork. This is a really handsome hatch, subtle enough to be a Q-car but clocked by those in the know.