F1 tech in a big, seven-seat Swedish SUV? You'd better believe it...
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£27,975 when new
How does Seat do it? The all-new Leon Cupra - the quickest Seat ever - has 49bhp more than the Performance Pack-equipped Golf GTI, is 0.6secs faster 0-62mph and uses the same MQB underpinnings. But Seat charges £180 less than VW does for the PP GTI. And VW owns Seat. Broadly speaking, the Leon has the same 2.0-litre turbocharged engine as the GTI and produces the same 258lb ft of torque, but Seat’s engineers have upped the boost pressure, fiddled with the ECU and also altered some of the components, including the cylinder head and exhaust valves. All of which has helped them bump up the power. Useful. Elsewhere, tech highlights include adjustable dampers and an electronically controlled mechanical limited-slip diff, which bodes well. There are three pre-set ‘Drive Profile’ modes to choose from - Comfort, Sport and Cupra - which tighten up the adjustable dampers, alter the exhaust note, sharpen the throttle and add weight to the steering. Unusually, the pick of the bunch is Cupra, a setting you used to steer well clear of as it made everything unbearably stiff. And that was the thing about previous Cupras. We loved the Golf GTI, so a GTI-in-flamenco-dress, with more power, was surely a no-brainer, right? Well, no. Previous Cupras rode like an Aga in a supermarket trolley. They crashed and scrabbled about, and generally lacked finesse.
This one is different. Yes, it’s got huge power, but it deploys it accurately, and the torque builds progressively… it doesn’t feel like torque steer is going to tear the wheel out of your hands. It’s worth pointing out that we’ve only driven it on smooth Spanish roads, but the way it turns in and then blasts out of a corner feels good. It’s got a compliance that breeds confidence. And, boy, is it quick.
Complaints? Not many, but the Cupra definitely isn’t as adjustable and fun as, say, the Ford Focus ST or Megane RenaultSport 265. All the Leon’s controls are precise and smooth, but it’s missing that last tiny bit of control. There is a lower-powered 265 version available (with 261bhp, confusingly), but Seat reckons only 10 per cent of buyers will opt for it. It’s the 90 per cent who are wrong. The 265 feels just as fast as the 280, and on smaller 18-inch wheels, shouldn’t be as susceptible to camber changes on British roads. Either way, though, you won’t have bought a dud. The Cupra is one of the new breed of hot hatches - a civilised car, capable of either chomping through the miles or carving along a B-road. Fans of the last Cupra might miss some of the old car’s rawness, but the world has moved on. People want the bipolar hot hatch. And, for that, the Cupra is about as good as they come.
£18,325 – £35,065
It was already great. Now it's even better. It's easy to see why this is many people's default hot hatch
£18,100 – £27,990
A fun car with a practical side, but no longer one of the sharpest hot hatches on sale
Breathes even more fire but is now able to deploy it with more finesse.