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

First UK drive: SEAT Leon Cupra
Our first drive of SEAT's scorching hot hatch on UK roads proves that the Leon Cupra is as excellent as we suspected.


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| First Drive | Mallory Park, England | SEAT Leon Cupra SC |

Overall rating: 4.5 4.5 4.5 4.5 4.5

In three-door 265hp guise as tested here, the rapid SEAT Leon Cupra represents something of a bargain. It's well specified, attractive inside and out and plenty quick enough for most. In wet conditions it is also ever so slightly more tractable than the 280 and the Leon Cupra range as a whole has translated its initial, sparkling promise into real-world UK road capability. The SEAT is one of our favourite hot hatches right now.

Key Facts

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

In the Metal: 5 5 5 5 5

SEAT's UK press officers must feel they can't do right for wrong. At the car's Spanish launch back in February, mutterings and mumblings from the assembled hacks revolved around the subdued six-shade palette offered for the Cupra, with the odd lament for something a bit snazzier overheard. So the team here has wrapped a few of its cars in Dayglo yellow and orange... which are a bit too far the other way. We'd be all for some Mediterranean, bright colours becoming available but perhaps ones that are a tad less Stabilo Boss than these. Maybe the burnished ochre of a Spanish sunset, or the rich, saffron yellow of a paella... sorry, I've gone off on a tangent there.

Never mind, though, whether the Leon is in three- or five-door formats, wearing one of its factory hues or searing the retinas of all within range, it's a great-looking car. Understated but with enough sharp lines and visual clues as to its potential, we're big fans of the Cupra. Inside is also good, the hot model enlivened by gloss black detailing and the contrast colours on the doors and seats and floor all ensuring it is just a touch more special inside compared to, say, an FR.

Driving it: 4.5 4.5 4.5 4.5 4.5

We wrote during our initial impressions that it may be worth avoiding the 265hp model, purely because the cash outlay up to a 280hp is not that significant. However, we didn't mean that the 265hp model was a bad car; far from it, in fact, and so we decided to spend the most time in a near-to-standard spec Cupra in three-door SC trim for its UK debut.

On the day of our test, the weather forecast simply read 'deluge', which are precisely the kind of conditions you want when you're behind the wheel of a front-driven machine with 350Nm. The Cupra gives nothing away on that score to the 280; it's just 15hp down on peak power across the same rev range - which suggests an aftermarket ECU re-flash on the cheaper 265 might be the choice of the modifiers.

What was amazing about the SC was that, with traction control switched off and the SEAT Drive Profile in Cupra mode, the Leon did not turn into some torque-steering nightmare that demanded less than 50 per cent throttle. Sure, in first and second, even the limited-slip differential couldn't quite keep up but - and I'm sorry to labour this - it really was quite appallingly wet. You'd have thought twice about unleashing full grunt in a Lancer Evo VI, never mind a front-wheel drive SEAT.

Once into third, though, the Leon's grip was unimpeachable and it proceeded to prove what a little belter it is in the dynamics department. The steering is not totally flawless but it has enough feedback and beautiful weighting to make you ultra-confident of what the front axle is doing under a variety of load conditions. The super-slick six-speed gearbox is a joy to scythe about the gate, while the brakes are strong and modulating them is a cinch. The EA888 engine also makes a fabulous, throaty roar, with the exhaust adding in some neat, overlaid burbles.

Drop back to more socially acceptable driving standards and cutting through the aquatic murk of the M1 and A42 remained comfortable. The ride is noticeably smoother if you switch out of Cupra mode, but even in its most focused setting the Leon never jars or jolts in a manner that can make you feel queasy. The drivetrain noise also melts away to a refined hush, with the 18-inch tyres' passage over the tarmac the loudest sound in the cabin; even that's not unbearable. It is a cultured car in day-to-day use and that is not something you could easily say about any Leon Cupra that's gone before.

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

It's hardly overpriced as a 280 but at the sub-£26k price of the Cupra SC, it's in Ford Focus territory - one of the more affordable of the current crop of 250hp+ motors out there. Yet it'll do 0-62mph in less than six seconds; maybe a meaningless stat to some, but to people who want to buy hot hatches, this kind of thing is pivotal. As is its Nürburgring lap time, being the first front-driver to dip below the eight-minute mark. One thing you don't get on the Cupra that is standard on the 280 is satnav.

Worth Noting

The DSG dual-clutch gearbox is only offered on the 280 and we drove an example of each transmission on the higher-powered cars on the road, plus had a blast around Mallory Park's impromptu lake masquerading as a race circuit. While we can see the appeal of owning a DSG if you do 95 per cent humdrum mile-munching and the occasional back-road blast/track day, the excellent manual gearbox is the more involving option. The DSG will always shift up for you, no matter what mode you're in, which is frustrating if you're a tenth of a second slower than the software (and you frequently will be) - if there's any wheel spin, you end up quick-shifting to a ratio two gears higher than the one you were in coming out of a corner.


While we'd still say go for the 280 - and SEAT is expecting as much, with the five-door manual and then DSG models expected to take the lion's share of sales - the 265hp Cupra is a cracking car. Even in abysmal, sodden conditions, with stability control fully disabled it found a level of traction that was scarcely believable for such a powerful front-drive machine. And when not driving it as if you're in a hurry, the Cupra maintains its unruffled, grown-up cruising demeanour on the UK's pockmarked surfaces. If you didn't know the 280 existed, you'd be quite happy with the entry-level Cupra. It really is a sensational step up from its already-appealing predecessors; we maintain that it is up there with the market leaders, if not the market leader itself. For now, at least...

Matt Robinson - 16 Jun 2014    - SEAT road tests
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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 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.


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