What is it? The Leon Cupra is the performance version of SEAT’s latest family hatch
Key features: Three and five-door bodies, two outputs including SEAT’s most powerful yet.
Our view: Ticks all the boxes and can only enhance an already envied reputation
Performance car enthusiasts will immediately recognise the name Cupra, even if some do not realise it actually stands for ‘Cup Racer.’
And the name is appropriate, applied to the Spanish brand’s most powerful models for some years and these days regarded as an icon in itself.
SEAT stokes this status at every opportunity, and it was noticeable that the launch event for the Cupra version of the latest Leon family hatch included significant time pitching the car against a race circuit and boasted the presence of a real-life Cup Racer from SEAT’s European motorsport series.
The new Leon Cupra is likely to only boost that reputation. Starting point is the Leon itself, which greatly impressed with its style and performance when tested by The Car Expert in 2013. And SEAT ensures that buyers do not have to sacrifice a passion for pace in favour of practicality concerns by offering the Cupra in both three-door SC and five-door variants – in fact the most powerful engine is only available with the five-door.
Visuals are particularly important in this market and the Cupra fills the brief with a bespoke front-end treatment including large air intakes with honeycomb-effect grilles, LED headlamps, a revised rear bumper with a diffuser effect, twin oval exhaust pipes and exclusive alloy wheels, behind which can be seen red-finished brake calipers.
Buyers of the range-topping Leon Cupra 280 gain some extras, including alloy wheels extended from 18 to 19 inches and finished in titanium paint, and a roof-mounted spoiler.
Inside the visual impression is continued, from the sports seats in dark grey Alcantara leather (or black if preferred) with white stitching, to a bespoke sports steering wheel, all incorporated into a dash layout that impressed us with its practicality when we tested the first of the new Leon line.
The two engines are variations on a 2-litre turbo petrol unit, offering either 261 or 281bhp, and incidentally the same 258lbft of torque. The larger engine is SEAT’s most powerful yet in a production car, and equipped with it a Leon Cupra became the first front-wheel-drive production car to lap the 14-mile Nurburgring circuit in Germany – regarded as the ultimate test of any performance car – in under eight minutes, setting a 7m 58.44sec time.
The engines are matched to either a six-speed manual or six-speed DSG auto gearbox, and the Cupra is a practical performance car. The sub six-second 0-62mph is rapid enough for most, but is combined with plus-42mpg official fuel economy and emissions that with the DSG gearbox can dip under 150g/km. Standard-fit start-stop and energy recovery systems aid these figures.
It is not just about pace of course, handling of equal importance to this line and experiencing the Leon Cupra at the limit, on the short, tight and tricky Mallory Park race circuit in Leicestershire, shows that this is one impressive package.
Achieving this are the basics of low weight (55 kilos less than its predecessor) and a stiff shell, added to which are a host of electronic aids. The Dynamic Chassis Control is modified over that fitted to the Leon SC, its sensitivity increased to constantly adapt the chassis settings to road conditions.
The front differential lock effectively ensures the drive is weighted to which of the front wheels most needs it, while the progressive steering allows tiny movements and the most effective control at speed, while also ensuring this car is so very easy to park.
Of course the Electronic Stability Control can be deactivated for the significant number of Cupra owners who will want to use their car on a track – in fact it has two modes, partial and full deactivation, depending on the driver’s confidence.
Finally the there is the Cupra version of SEAT’s Drive Profile, again standard and which sets up various parameters of the car in either Comfort, Sport or in this car, Cupra mode. Choose this setting and the throttle response is at its most rapid and sensitive, the DSG gearbox shifts more rapidly, the DCC, steering and diff lock adopt their sportiest settings and a sound actuator even makes the most of the engine note.
On the road the Cupra is extremely well behaved. It rides in comfort, smothers bumps, and could easily be an effective daily driver giving no hint of the searing pace or handling prowess within – until one finds the open road, or better still a track. Then the car shows its full abilities – plentiful instant power with no unnerving torque steer, and inch-perfect handling even at the limit of grip.
Cupra prices start at £25,695 for the three-door SC with the 265 engine and manual gearbox, and range up to the 280 DSG, in five-door form, at £28,530. Cupra 280 models include satellite navigation as standard and overall these prices are impressive, particularly when the equipment levels are compared to the Golf of sister company Volkswagen.
The new Leon Cupra ticks all the boxes and can only enhance what is already an envied reputation for the brand’s performance models.
SEAT Leon Cupra – key specifications
Model Tested: SEAT Leon Cupra 2.0 TSI 265 PS, 280 PS
On Sale: June 2014
Engine: 2.0 TSI petrol
Power (bhp): 261, 281
Torque (lb/ft): 258, 258
0-62mph (sec): 5.9, 5.8 (5.7*)
Top speed (mph): 155, 155
Fuel economy (combined, mpg): 42.8, 42.8
CO2 emissions (g/km): 154, 154 (149*)
Key rivals: Ford Focus ST3, Renault Megane Renaultsport, Vauxhall Astra VXR
Test date: June 2014
* SC with DSG gearbox