Meet the Bradford boys giving restomod a good name
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£29,525 when new
Another new Seat Leon Cupra? Unbelievably, yes. Since it first arrived in 2013 with a choice of either 265bhp or 280bhp, Seat killed off the 265bhp version, then boosted it to 290bhp, and sometime after having had a crack at the Nürburgring lap record, messed around with the bumpers, ruined the infotainment and gave us this: the Leon Cupra 300. Go on, guess how much power it’s got? Is it four-wheel drive, like a Spanish Golf R? No it’s not. Well, not unless you spec the estate version, with a DSG gearbox. How random is that? You can only have maximum launch control potential if you’re buying the one designed for carrying pets and lawnmowers (though not at the same time, hopefully). We’ve had a go in the more heartland model – the five-door hatchback, specced with a DSG gearbox, but undriven rear wheels. All 296bhp (300PS, y’see) and 280bhp is dealt with by the fronts alone, via a limited-slip differential. Does it torque-steer wildly?
No, it doesn’t. But then, neither does a Honda Civic Type R, which submits its front wheels to another 20bhp of punishment. What the Cupra 300 does suffer from is a lack of traction. I remember driving the original, 276bhp Cupra back when it was launched and marveling at how cleanly the DSG car in particular put its considerable poke down. The Cupra 300’s not a wheelspin fest, but you’re a lot more aware the electronic nannies are doing overtime. Top of third gear, the little yellow light blinks away merrily. This car needs no more power – it’s already wasting what it’s got. Is it fast? Efficiently and effortlessly so. With the six-speed paddleshift gearbox doing the legwork for you, it’ll get from 0-62mph in a claimed 5.8 seconds – but a lot more consistently than you’ll manage the same in a manual Civic Type R, say – and do the standard 155mph all out. As you’re no doubt familiar with this 2.0-litre direct-injection turbo engine from Golf GTI, Golf R, Skoda vRS, Audi and so on, it’ll come as no surprise that there’s very little turbo lag to work around. So it sounds good too? Um, no. It sounds flat. There is some audio-massaging going on, but it’s not as warbly as a Golf R or Audi S3. It’s as if Seat (and Skoda) are denied as rorty an engine note as their more premium cousins in an effort to create some clean air between the brands. But it’s not as if the Seat is a bargain – a DSG five-door Cupra is £31,805. That’s north of what the new Type R will cost you, and £2,445 less than a Golf R. Monthly payment-wise, an equally-specced Cupra is £405, and the Golf R is £445. So, one night out fewer a month and you get the VW. But no friends. It’s that close. Steady on there Rain Man, I was asking about the noise… Oh, right you are. There’s a very odd ‘crack’ on upchanges and the overrun in the new Cupra 300. It’s not a cheery pop or a rumble, it’s a ‘crack’, like something rubber and tensile under the car has snapped. Weird. Still, probably good to have an audible register that the car’s changed gear, because the ‘box is so damn fast. Much crisper than any of the rivals I’ve mentioned, and even the paddles themselves are wafer-thin and their travel is so short most of the movement is in your fingertip compressing around the button. It’s actually a really sorted gearbox, except for another odd piece of VW Group politics. It’s only a six-speed. The new S3 and Golfs have all graduated to seven gears, so they pull lower revs at a motorway cruise, At 75mph, the Cupra’s over 2,500rpm, which dents its refinement and economy. A seventh cog would cure that. Any idea where to get one?
When all’s said and done, is it fun to drive? Yes, it’s a well-rounded hot hatch, but with a few too many caveats. It’s blessed with a nicely mobile rear end, which is fun, but the steering’s numb. It’s very fast, but lacking panache in its delivery. It’s a good car in a class of very, very strong contenders. So given Seat can’t stop fiddling with it, what should they change next? I actually pulled over and made a list. Here’s the tweak checklist, in no particular order. Seat, 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. Do not borrow its uprated 306bhp engine. The Cupra 300 has breached its sweet spot of power. Next, dig out a 2013 Leon Cupra and plumb its infotainment back in. Stop deleting all the buttons, the cabin looks dated and pretending it’s minimalist isn’t going to change that. 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. Think four tailpipes on a hatch is overkill? Allergic to wings? The Cupra’s under-the-radar get-up is exceedingly cool. It’s just a measure of how tough the hot hatch game is right now, that this really good car isn’t up there with the very best overall, any more.
£18,325 – £33,785
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 – £31,085
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.