Seat Leon Cupra 290 SC first drive review
The Latest Leon Cupra looks set to ruffle the feathers of the Honda Civic Type R and Volkswagen Golf GTi. With effortless power and poise, it’s fast and agile, but it can also be a bit of a bad lad when let off the leash
- On sale now, with prices from £28,375
- Available in three bodystyles
- Strategically placed between a Golf GTi and Golf R
On the other hand, it could simply be a case that the Leon is unique in offering mega-hatch thrills in a full suite of body styles.
Drawn to that super clean, less-is-more look? No worries, the 3dr Cupra SC has it covered. Looking to factor in the school run? No sweat, the 5dr hatch provides the requisite versatility. Blimey, even if the family pooch turns out to be a closet speed freak, then the ST estate is the perfect Cupra to satisfy Fido’s rabid cravings.
What’s more, if you like the idea of hanging on tight with both hands when unleashing the Cupra’s tidal wave of torque, a sweet-shifting DSG automatic 'box, complete with wheel-mounted paddle shift, is also available with all three body styles.
Still not enough choice? Then a ‘Black pack’, which includes Alcantara-trimmed Cupra sports seats, black 19-inch alloys and glossy black door mirror caps and grille surrounds, is also available.
For us, though, if you’re in the market for a no-holds-barred hot hatch, then the default choice has to be the edgy 3dr SC. With this in mind, we went to Seat’s backyard in Barcelona to take a test drive.
Deselect the electronics, stamp on the throttle as if you were crushing a drinks can and, despite the Cupra’s dogged determination to maintain a straight line, ultimately, the combined forces of 286bhp and 258lb ft of torque will win out, forcing the front tyres into a proper 1980s' smoking and squirming dizzy fit.
Take a more considered approach and you can’t help but notice a fair degree of turbo lag below 2500rpm, too; but, once you're above that crunch point, the Cupra feels phenomenally strong and genuinely quick. Take a cheeky shortcut from sixth to fourth, twang a metatarsal and you’ll simply nuke past slower-moving traffic like they're heading in the opposite direction.
The Cupra sounds pretty quick, too, thanks to a big-bore sports exhaust that rasps under hard acceleration and pops and bangs in protest as you hone in on the rev limiter.
Even so, despite this foolproof adherence, given the freedom, the Cupra will also respond to more advanced driving techniques.
Make the most of the torque-over-traction dominance and it's simply a case of figuring out the requisite amount of controlled aggression in order to adjust the Cupra’s cornering attitude by powering and drifting the front wheels.
Just as well, really, because although the Cupra’s steering is appropriately weighted and can be adjusted via the different driving modes, it always feels quite wooden, lacking the steely precision of a Ford Focus RS.
There’s also something quite ponderous about the six-speed manual gearbox, which is made to looks all the more slothful by the super-quick DSG auto’s precision shifts. Consequently, it’s a bit of a no-brainer where any spare cash of ours would be spent.
Select comfort mode from the drive menu and the Cupra’s touchy-feely side goes up another notch. Dialling back the exhaust content, slackening the steering efforts and relaxing the damping maximises touring comfort, providing a duality that few other hot hatches possess.
Inside, things aren’t quite so impressive, but they’re far from shabby. Obviously there’s the familiar Volkswagen group ergonomic excellence, so you get almost all the same head-, leg- and elbow room that you’ll find in a Golf; but, apart from the sports seats, aluminium-faced pedals and flat-bottomed sports steering wheel, you can’t help feeling the cabin looks a bit like it’s decked out in its posher cousin’s hand-me-downs.
At least there’s a full gamut of up-to-date communication tech, including MirrorLink, Android Auto and Apple CarPlay, alongside a 6.5-inch infotainment screen and DAB radio, to play with.
- Model: Seat Leon Cupra SC
- Price: £28,375
- Engine: 2.0-litre 4-cyl, six-speed manual
- Power/Torque: 286bhp/258lb ft
- 0-62mph: 5.7sec
- Top speed: 155mph
- Economy: 51.4mpg
- CO2/BIK: 156g/km/28%
- Boot space: 380 litres
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