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First drive: SEAT Leon Cupra. Image by Max Earey.

First drive: SEAT Leon Cupra
SEAT launches its new Leon Cupra onto the hot hatch battleground - with the 280hp version being its fastest car yet.

 



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| First Drive | Barcelona, Spain | SEAT Leon Cupra |

Overall rating: 4.5 4.5 4.5 4.5 4.5

The third generation of the SEAT Leon Cupra is here, this time toting two power outputs - 265- and 280hp, the latter of which makes it the fastest, most powerful SEAT yet built. You can also have it with either a manual or DSG automatic gearbox, and in three- and five-door variants.

Key Facts

Model tested: SEAT Leon Cupra 280
Pricing: £25,690 for SC 265 manual; rising to £28,525 for Cupra 280 DSG
Engine: 2.0-litre turbocharged four-cylinder petrol engine
Transmission: six-speed manual, front-wheel drive
Body style: five-door hatch
Rivals: Ford Focus ST-3, Renaultsport Mégane 265, Volkswagen Golf GTI
CO2 emissions: 154g/km
Combined economy: 42.8mpg
Top speed: 155mph
0-62mph: 5.7- to 5.9 seconds
Power: 265- or 280hp at 5,350- to 6,600rpm
Torque: 350Nm at 1,750- to 5,300rpm

In the Metal: 5 5 5 5 5

Turning the already-handsome SEAT Leon and Leon SC models into Cupras has not diminished their visual menace, and both machines clearly convey their sporting intent. No matter what the door count is, you'll spot a Cupra thanks to its larger front air intakes, lack of front fog lights, twin rear exhausts with oval exits on either side of the car and lovely alloys - 18 inches on the 265hp car, 19-inch titanium-effect rims on the Cupra 280. The more powerful of the fast Leons also gets a wealth of gloss black detailing on the door mirrors, front grille and rear spoiler, plus red Cupra-branded brake callipers.

Inside, the ambience matches the exterior promise, with the now de rigueur flat-bottomed steering wheel of all performance cars the first thing to catch your eye. The sports seats in Alcantara offer a decent driving position - we're told, though, that even sexier bucket seats will be an option later in the year for the 280 model only - and there are grey instrument dials with the Cupra logo too. Aluminium pedals and entry sills can be found on all Cupras, while the 280 gets a gloss black dashboard to further mark out its prowess. The net outcome of all of the above is that the Leon Cupra is a superb-looking creation inside and out.

Driving it: 4.5 4.5 4.5 4.5 4.5

On paper, there are some juicy gems in the Cupra's spec. Not least is the inclusion of an electronically-controlled mechanical front differential lock, which can shuffle 100 per cent of the available power to whichever front wheel can utilise it best. The Cupra is also blessed with Dynamic Chassis Control (DCC), the first application of adaptive suspension in any production SEAT. This alters the damping according to the road surface and the driving style being employed for maximum road-holding benefit. The Cupra has progressive steering too, which quickens up according to road speed. All very promising, but how does this translate to road and track?

The first thing that strikes you is how mature the Leon feels. If you're expecting a nervous, fidgety ride from something over-sprung and under-damped, you'll be pleasantly surprised. The Cupra 280, riding on its goliath 19s, manages to smooth out almost all undulations and keeps wind noise, tyre roar and engine/exhaust boom to the barest minimum. So far, so very Golf GTI. You start to wonder if Volkswagen has shot itself in the foot by making the more-powerful, cheaper-by-spec Leon this mature in comparison.

Luckily, however, when you start to up the pace, the Leon's inherent playfulness comes back to the fore. The steering is well weighted and quick to react, if a little bereft of outright feel, but the brakes are magnificent in terms of progression and bite. Like the bucket seats, optional four-pot Brembo brakes will be exclusively available for the 280, but we're not sure you'd need them unless you do a lot of track days. The gearbox and clutch are a little bit lighter than desired, but they allow you to utilise the Cupra's massive traction.

Because, for a front-driver, it puts its 280hp and 350Nm down to the tarmac in an incredibly tidy manner. Torque steer is non-existent and the diff apportions power to each wheel in an unobtrusive way. Time on SEAT's remote Castellolí circuit revealed a back end that could be provoked into reasonably easy lift-off oversteer, plus wonderful mid-range and high-rev power delivery that makes the Leon Cupra feel properly rapid. Adjust the dampers through Comfort, Sport and Cupra settings and you'll notice the difference between them, yet the car never becomes too soft or uncomfortable at either extreme. It's all very commendable.

What you get for your Money: 4.5 4.5 4.5 4.5 4.5

SEAT claims that the car may look to be about the same price as its key competitors, give or take a few grand, but spec-for-spec its rivals will be pricier. That's because the Leon Cupras come loaded with equipment. Perhaps the most telling comparison isn't with an 'external' manufacturer's product, but with the Volkswagen Golf GTI: in standard manual three-door trim, the Wolfsburg car starts at £26,125. The basic Leon SC is £25,690, £435 less and better equipped for it - plus it has 45hp more. Go for a five-door Leon Cupra 280 DSG and it'll be £28,525 - with 60hp more than the equivalent £28,195 GTI. The Leon, in 280 spec, comes with practically everything fitted, including satellite navigation, while the Golf does not.

Worth Noting

If you were the kind of person who thought a Crono Yellow Mk1 Leon Cupra looked the business, the muted six-colour palette of the Mk3 launch models might not be your cup of tea. There's red, black and a number of variations on grey and silver - the oddest of which is Nevada Grey, which is an off-white car that can appear blue in certain lights. Which may come as a surprise to those that have been blinded by the retina-searing orange paintwork of the UK-registered car in our photographs...

Summary

Ignore the 265hp model, as it's an exercise in price-point marketing and in the UK, one of the Cupra's biggest markets, everyone is going to shell out for the 280hp version. And it's a cracker. Much more resolved and impressive than the second-generation Leon Cupra, it handles its massive power with aplomb. It's so impressive at balancing refinement with enjoyment of performance that it leaves us asking a big question: why would you need a Golf GTI? The Leon is better looking, better equipped and therefore cheaper spec-for-spec, pretty much as smooth as the Volkswagen and quicker to boot. Volkswagen must be gambling on badge snobbery and residuals playing a big part in determining who buys the Golf and who buys the Leon, but the Spanish hot hatch looks to be the smart choice if you want something of its ilk from the Volkswagen Group right now.


Matt Robinson - 11 Feb 2014









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2014 SEAT Leon Cupra. Image by SEAT.2014 SEAT Leon Cupra. Image by SEAT.2014 SEAT Leon Cupra. Image by SEAT.2014 SEAT Leon Cupra. Image by SEAT.2014 SEAT Leon Cupra. Image by SEAT.

2014 SEAT Leon Cupra. Image by SEAT.2014 SEAT Leon Cupra. Image by SEAT.2014 SEAT Leon Cupra. Image by SEAT.2014 SEAT Leon Cupra. Image by SEAT.2014 SEAT Leon Cupra. Image by SEAT.



2014 SEAT Leon Cupra. Image by Max Earey.
 

2014 SEAT Leon Cupra. Image by Max Earey.
 

2014 SEAT Leon Cupra. Image by Max Earey.
 

2014 SEAT Leon Cupra. Image by Max Earey.
 

2014 SEAT Leon Cupra. Image by Max Earey.
 

2014 SEAT Leon Cupra. Image by Max Earey.
 

2014 SEAT Leon Cupra. Image by Max Earey.
 

2014 SEAT Leon Cupra. Image by Max Earey.
 

2014 SEAT Leon Cupra. Image by Max Earey.
 

2014 SEAT Leon Cupra. Image by Max Earey.
 

2014 SEAT Leon Cupra. Image by Max Earey.
 






 

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