Leon Estate VZ3
Cupra Leon vs Golf R: which is the best AWD hot hatch?
I've been happy with the Cupra Leon wagon. But then I heard Ollie Kew was getting his mitts on a Golf R. The real thing, if you will. FOMO's baleful shadow cast itself across my contentment.
He'd have a vast 320bhp, versus my car's weakling 310. Three per cent is a night-and-day power difference to my finely honed driving senses, as I'm sure it is to yours my friends. Kew also gets his cornering smarts enhanced by a torque-vectoring pair of rear clutches, and because he has the Performance Pack, the software for an actual drift mode. I have to get by with a so-yesterday passive rear diff.
Oh and that option allows his car to burst up to 168mph, while I'm stuck with the paltry 155 limiter. In any case, the greater power and lesser weight of the Golf mean it propels itself to 62mph 0.2sec sooner than the Leon manages. One could write a novel in that interlude.
How will I look Ollie in the eye? I must, because I've agreed to meet him in a run-what-you-brung drive down one of my favourite byways. It's got good vision and enough width, with a fascinating and testing assortment of curves in both the horizontal and vertical planes.
To make it more of a test, today it's filthy-slimy wintry. So today, unlike, let me see, most other days, my inability to reach 156mph won't be a handicap.
To be fair, in other ways we are level. Bar that absent 10bhp, we both have basically the same VW Group engine, seven-speed twin-clutch transmission, all-wheel-drive, multi-link rear suspension and a 15-stage control slider for adaptive damping. Because 14 is never enough.
Off we go then. I start in the Golf, he in the Leon. The VW is impressive. The engine pulls hard and with useful bite. Its steering is sharp, well-weighted and reasonably informative. With the dampers set just above midway on the scale, it follows the contours without float or slam. Get on the power half-way round a bend and you can feel the rear tyres doing their propulsive bit, and the car continuing to pivot – confidently, although not what you'd call friskily.
But it really doesn't do anything different from my memory of the Leon. To make sure, Ollie and I swap for the return run down the road and compare notes again. Really, the driving experience of these cars is functionally indistinguishable. Even his expensive optional Akrapovic titanium exhaust doesn't really sound that great, any more than the Cupra's electronic enhancement does.
Next stage is the motorway. There's nothing to split their driving positions, comfort, refinement. It's all terrific. They share the VW Group's infuriating control interface, except it's a small win for me because I have actual switches on the steering wheel – I keep accidentally brushing the Golf's inconsistent spoke touchpads.
Over the months, I've also been ensnared by the Leon's extra usefulness. Its longer wheelbase – 2683mm versus the Golf's 2636 – adds rear legroom, and the boot is beyond comparison, at 620 litres versus 374.
I knew I liked the Cupra, but I really didn't expect it to be as good to drive as the vaunted Golf R. Today I've stared down the green-eyed monster.