Ah, a sporty Leon. That’ll be the FR, yes?
No. Despite looking identical to the 197bhp Leon FR hot hatch, this is the red hot, 237bhp new Cupra. Not that you’d really know from the pictures. If it were in any other colour than black you’d spot the ebano black mirrors, and if you’re really up to speed on Leon styling, a different front bumper. It’s a bit more obvious around the back, where Cupra badging replaces Leon across the boot lid, and there’s an oval tailpipe too. Finishing off the external makeover are unique 18-inch alloy wheels. Inside, there’s a pair of excellent big-bolstered sports seats, dark and moody black headlining and a smattering of Cupra branding.
It looks little different, what else have they changed?
Well, the power of the 2.0-litre turbo engine has been increased to 237bhp. Seat suits claim this enhanced engine is theirs alone within the VW Group, but don’t rule out seeing it wearing other badges in the future. To liberate that extra power there’s a revised turbocharger, while the pistons and connecting rods have been strengthened. Larger injectors and a new cylinder head also feature.
Yeah, yeah, what’ll it do?
Seat claims 62mph arrives in just 6.4sec, and the top speed is 153mph. That’s comfortably faster than the Golf GTI, but you’d have a job shaking a Focus ST at Santa Pod. Thing is, it doesn’t feel appreciably faster than the VW, which is perhaps something to do with the way the Cupra goes about delivering its performance. That peak power figure is reached from 5700-6300rpm, and the 221lbft of torque from 2200-5500rpm. You might think that with 237bhp Seat would have gone down the four-wheel-drive route, but no.
Surprisingly, no. Even with the ESP switched off you need to be really brutal to get those front wheels to relinquish their grip. There’s no thuggish Vauxhall Astra VXR-style fight from the steering either, the Cupra proving remarkably civilised when accelerating hard. Indeed, if anything it could do with feeling a bit more manic, aside from the rate at which the speedometer needle sweeps around the white-faced, Cupra-branded dial there’s little in the way of drama.
You’re saying it’s a bit boring then?
A little bit, though what is hugely impressive is just how accomplished the Cupra is. It’s deceptively fast, there’s loads of grip, and it makes a pretty decent noise too. The chunky leather-covered Cupra steering wheel isn’t exactly loaded with feel, but its nicely weighted, and is precise and quick to react. The ride is firm, but not overly compromised by its intensity, and body control is very good indeed. A preposterously shaped gearknob operates the slick six-speed manual gearbox. It needs to be precise, as you’ll be using it a fair bit to get the most out of the Cupra.
So where does it sit in the hot hatch heirachy?
The Cupra’s FR sibling fulfils its role as a cheap Golf GTI alternative, so we’d expected the Cupra to take us to an entirely different Leon level, perhaps even upsetting the super hatch market dominated by the R32 Golf and Audi S3. It doesn’t, though. It’s certainly appreciably faster than the Golf GTi but ultimately you’ll have as much, if not more, fun in the VW. The Vauxhall Astra VXR delivers a far bigger adrenaline shot, and the Focus ST betters it in both amusement factor and is cheaper, too.
Seat may be pitching the Leon Cupra as a more hardcore, more exclusive take on the FR hot hatch, but it’s not the manic road rocket we’d anticipated. Given its positioning and 237bhp engine, the Cupra should be more raucous and entertaining. It’s undoubtedly able, but also slightly anodyne.