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First drive: SEAT Leon Cupra 290. Image by SEAT.

First drive: SEAT Leon Cupra 290
An extra 10hp makes the SEAT Leon Cupra even more alluring.


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SEAT Leon Cupra 290

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SEAT has given another shot of performance in the arm of its larger hot hatch to create the Leon Cupra 290. For the even keener driving enthusiast there is also now the option of a 'Sub 8 Performance Pack' that adds uprated wheels, brakes and body kit.

Test Car Specifications

Model tested: SEAT Leon Cupra 290 five-door
Price: £31,785 (as tested); range starts at £28,375
Engine: 2.0-litre turbocharged four-cylinder petrol
Transmission: front-wheel drive, six-speed automatic
Body style: five-door, five-seat hatchback
CO2 emissions: 154g/km (Band G, £180 per year)
Combined economy: 42.8mpg
Top speed: 155mph
0-62mph: 5.7 seconds
Power: 290 at 5,900- to 6,400rpm
Torque 350Nm at 1,700- to 5,800rpm

What's this?

In the Leon Cupra 290, SEAT has created its ultimate expression of performance to date, while keeping its front-wheel drive hot hatch in the running against its now more commonly all-wheel drive competition. As you might have guessed by the name power has been increased to 290hp while the drivability of the engine has also been tweaked.

You can still have your choice of either six-speed manual or six-speed automatic gearboxes, the latter comprising of the familiar Volkswagen Group-sourced DSG unit, though this comes at a £1,355 premium. Tech fans will welcome the addition of an updated 'Full Link' 6.5-inch infotainment system that is now compatible with Android Auto, Apple CarPlay and MirrorLink, too.

If you want to add even more performance and presence to your £28,375 Leon Cupra 290 there is the Sub 8 Performance Pack, named after the car's record-setting Nürburgring lap time. For an additional £2,050 you can have lightweight 19-inch multi-spoke performance wheels, Brembo brake callipers that grip larger vented discs and beefier side skirts. And if you really want to try setting your personal best time on the way to work you can have SEAT shod those wheels in sticky Michelin Pilot Sport Cup 2 tyres for a further £460. Oh, and it is still available in three- and five-door hatchback guises or an estate if you need something fast and practical.

How does it drive?

Even existing owners might struggle to notice any real difference with this Leon Cupra 290 over its predecessor. On paper the maximum power is up 10hp while torque delivery has been ever-so-slightly spread further, now coming in at 1,700rpm and going on to 5,800rpm. So there is a big chunk of performance on tap almost anywhere in the rev range. No bad thing considering how much this engine likes to rev. In fact, when driving the manual version, it does still have a tendency to run into the rev limiter earlier than you would think, so you need to be a good judge with the upshifts to extract the most from it.

SEAT has also shaved 5.8kg with a new sports exhaust, which also has lower back pressure and apparently a better soundtrack, though the latter seems to be more for the benefit of the public rather than the car's occupants.

As fun as the manual transmission is, the slickness of the automatic, if left to do all the work, is genuinely impressive. It seems well suited to this particular engine tune and should you decide to do some of the gear shifting yourself via the small plastic wheel-mounted paddles, the immediacy of the changes is rewarding. Push on a little harder and the SEAT remains composed and even on the standard wheel and 265-section tyre combo it holds the road really well. The ride is compliant and quite well set up, and crucially it isn't over sprung so it is more than civilised enough for daily use. If we were to level any real criticism at it, it would be that the steering lacks any real sense of feel. It is precise, of course, but much like some performance Audis is somewhat lacking in proper weighting and feedback.

If you're a track day enthusiast you will want to upgrade to the 'Sub 8 Performance Pack' in order to avail of the Brembo callipers and vented brakes. During some harder driving the car's standard brakes did start to fade as the heat built up.


The more time spent with the Leon Cupra 290 the more you wonder just how the people at SEAT managed to get this car past the decision makers in Volkswagen Group HQ. It is a cracking car given its price point and if you're willing to forego the added security of all-wheel drive this is one car that ought to be on your shortlist. It might not have the same highly polished interior of say the Volkswagen Golf R or BMW M135i, but it is no worse than a Focus ST or Civic Type R. It is also noticeably cheaper than almost all of its rivals, a fact that can't be overlooked.

4 4 4 4 4 Exterior Design

3 3 3 3 3 Interior Ambience

3.5 3.5 3.5 3.5 3.5 Passenger Space

3.5 3.5 3.5 3.5 3.5 Luggage Space

4 4 4 4 4 Safety

4 4 4 4 4 Comfort

4 4 4 4 4 Driving Dynamics

4 4 4 4 4 Powertrain

Dave Humphreys - 1 Mar 2016    - SEAT road tests
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- Leon Cupra images

2016 SEAT Leon Cupra 290. Image by SEAT.2016 SEAT Leon Cupra 290. Image by SEAT.2016 SEAT Leon Cupra 290. Image by SEAT.2016 SEAT Leon Cupra 290. Image by SEAT.2016 SEAT Leon Cupra 290. Image by SEAT.

2016 SEAT Leon Cupra 290. Image by SEAT.2016 SEAT Leon Cupra 290. Image by SEAT.2016 SEAT Leon Cupra 290. Image by SEAT.2016 SEAT Leon Cupra 290. Image by SEAT.2016 SEAT Leon Cupra 290. Image by SEAT.


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