Having brought the Leon up from the ranks of also-ran to a serious contender in the family hatchback market, Spanish brand Seat has now turned up the wick and unleashed it onto the hot-hatchback market in the form of the Leon Cupra. With some talented competition, not least in the form of its sister car the Volkswagen Golf, the Cupra has its work cut out. We took to our favourite local B-roads to find out if it stands up.
What is it?
The return of the Cupra (short for Cup Racer) nomenclature to the Leon model line up, or in other words a turbo-nutter-range topper that majors on performance and handling finesse. It’s available in both five-door and three-door SC body styles, and in two separate states of tune. The standard version develops a meaty 261bhp, while the ‘280’ version puts out exactly er… 276bhp – enough to outgun all rivals in its price range, bar the raucous Vauxhall Astra VXR, which it matches. In its higher-powered guise, the Cupra will cover the 0-62mph sprint in 5.7 seconds and go on to a top speed of 155mph. It isn’t just a straight line monster, though. With the Cupra, Seat has taken the lap record for front-wheel-drive production cars at the Nurburgring – which certainly gives confidence as to its handling abilities, not to mention ultimate pub bragging rights.
What is it like to drive?
From the moment you set off the Cupra feels muscular. That powerful turbocharged motor is allied to a relatively light body, and the way it picks up speed – particularly when equipped with the quick-shifting DSG automatic gearbox – is pleasantly surprising. While it lacks the light-on-its-feet, tip-toe feeling of some rivals, namely the Ford Focus ST, it feels planted to the road, particularly in the corners where the standard-fit limited-slip differential makes the most of the grip available from those wide tyres. As a result, cross-country speed is very impressive, but this grip-and-go demeanour won’t sit well with hot-hatch drivers used to more lairy offerings. What the Cupra does brilliantly, however, is play the daily cruiser. Thanks to Dynamic Chassis Control, the suspension and throttle settings can be adjusted at the push of a button, meaning its hard-edged ride and sharp throttle response can be softened when you just want to get to work in the morning.
What is it like inside?
The cabin proves to be something of a disappointment. There is nothing wrong with the basic design, quality or ergonomics – everything is constructed from expensive plastics and the driving position is good. Our issue was that it is too much is shared with the basic 1.2-litre model. Seat has attempted to inject some sporty ambience by fitting two-tone sports seats, some chrome finished pedals and a flat-bottomed steering wheel, but there is little else to suggest you’re in a near £30,000 flagship model. Thankfully, the Cupra is well specified as standard coming with dual-zone climate control, DAB digital radio, Bluetooth audio streaming, automatic lights and wipers, sat nav (280 model only) and a host of other creature comforts.
Is it practical?
Being available as a five-door, the Cupra loses none of the practicality of the standard Leon, so it’s got a spacious cabin with room (at a pinch) for three in the back, with plenty of legroom and sufficient headroom. The boot, too, is impressively large, deep and square in size, making it an ideal tool for families. In terms of maneuverability, the wider tyres and aggressive suspension haven’t harmed the turning circle unduly, though the thick C-pillars can make reverse parking more arduous than necessary. Thankfully front and rear parking sensors are fitted as standard and include both an audio and visual proximity guide.
Should I buy one?
We would. The Cupra combines the high quality of its VW Golf sibling with a more youthful and appealing image. It’s a credible performance car, too, that rewards drivers who enjoy driving for the sake of it. It stacks up favourably against its main rivals, being cheaper than the Golf and better equipped than the Vauxhall Astra VXR. The only thing that might put-off some buyers is the subtle looks – it’s certainly not as attention grabbing as hot Leons of old. Those who just want an everyday car that has the minerals to give sports cars a fright, on the other hand, will love it.
Don't want to buy new? You can browse for a used Seat Leon in our classifieds here.
Seat Leon Cupra 280 DSG
List price: £28,530
Price as tested: £30,735
Engine: 2.0-litre, four-cylinder, turbocharged
Top speed: 155mph
0-62mph: 5.7 seconds
Fuel economy: 33.6mpg (urban), 49.6mpg (extra-urban) 42.8mpg (combined)
Emissions: 149g/km CO2
Euro NCAP rating: Five stars