This is the new range-topping Seat Leon: the Leon Cupra, and it’s the new fastest front-wheel drive car on sale. The hot hatch performance model has up to 276bhp, and performance to embarrass bona fide sports cars.
With prices ranging from £26k-£28k, the Leon Cupra costs much the same as a Golf GTI – but packs a more socking punch – and a proper limited slip differential.
Two new Seat Leon Cupras, two power outputs
On the three-door Leon SC (Sport Coupe) only, you have a choice of 261bhp or 276bhp variants. The slower car (Cupra 265) costs from £25,260, and is only available with a manual gearbox. All other Leon Cupras are designated ‘Cupra 280’, meaning 280PS, or 276bhp. These uprated cars can be specced with either a six-speed manual, or six-speed DSG automatic gearbox, and three- or five-door bodystyles.
How fast is the new Seat Leon Cupra?
For a purely front-wheel drive family hatchback, it’s blindingly quick. Seat claims that the fastest version, the Cupra 280 DSG, launches from standstill to 62mph in a staggering 5.7sec. In other words, this fire-breathing Leon will see off a Lotus Elise, a Porsche Boxster, and every front-wheel drive hot hatchback on sale right now. For circa £30k, only the all-wheel drive Audi S3, Mercedes A45 AMG and VW Golf R will cart your family and kids to 62mph faster.
The manual Cupra takes 5.8sec, and the entry level Cupra 265 is slowest (to use the term loosely) at 5.9sec to 62mph. All have a top speed limited to 155mph. The 2.0-litre turbo four-pot is no highly strung special though – it’s a familiar VW group lump, good for a claimed 44mpg and emitting 50g of CO2 fewer per kilometre than the old Seat Leon Cupra R.
What about the dynamics?
It should just be a fun drive. Not only is the car 55kg lighter than its predecessor, but all Leon Cupras boast the hot hatch Holy Grail: a mechanical limited-slip front differential. No ESP fakery here, thank you Mr Golf GTI.
The slippery diff aims to reduce understeer and improving traction. Seat also claims it has eliminated torque-steer, and that new dual-stage ESC settings will look after inexperienced drivers on track, but allow expert helmsman to switch all assistance off (which the Golf GTI has forbidden since the Mk VI).
>> Click here for CAR’s review of the VW Golf GTI
Meanwhile, an Audi Drive Select-style interface allows you to pick between Comfort, Sport and Cupra modes. These settings alter the response of the engine, steering feel, locking front diff, and stability control. Here’s hoping Seat hasn’t muddied the waters of a fine-looking hot hatch with too much electronic complication…
Sounds the part, looks it too...
We agree. Seat design boss Alejandro Mesonero-Romanos’ standard Leon is already a looker, and the Cupra makeover does it no harm at all. Spot the go-faster version by its larger main grille (with cross-hatched mesh) and trademark triple nostrils below the Seat badge.
Gloss-black mirrors, a subtle rear diffuser and twin exhaust combo, plus an extended roof spoiler complete the body alterations, but it’s the tasty 19in two-tone alloys we really like, set against the red brake callipers of the uprated brake system. Think the Audi S3 and Golf R look too tame, the Ford Focus ST and Vauxhall Astra VXR too boy-racer? Here’s your happy medium.
>> Click here for CAR’s verdict on the 296bhp Audi S3
The entry-level Cupra 265 misses out on the bigger wheels and black trim, but does score 18s, as well as DAB radio, full LED headlights, and automatic lights and wipers.
Not as exciting inside though?
Not to look at – the cabin is still rather dour, lifted only by a dimpled steering wheel, red stitching, bolstered front seats and grey-backed dials that look to have been pinched from a BMW M car.
Still, if it’s as well built as regular Leon’s we’ve tested at CAR – and as much fun as a Golf GTI, we might be in for one hell of a pocket rocket.