Hot hatchback fans have never had it so good. Cars like the Ford Focus ST and Mercedes A45 AMG, plus Volkswagen’s Golf GTI and R, are pushing the envelope of performance for small hatches to new limits.
One such hot hatch with a cult following is the SEAT Leon Cupra. As with past versions, the new third-generation model is the hottest and most focused driving machine in the brand’s line-up. So does the Cupra deliver the thrills to put it at the front of the pack, or will it trail behind a consistent benchmarker?
To find out, we’ve lined up the recently facelifted Renaultsport Megane – a hot hatch that delivers an intense driving experience few competitors can match. We see if the new SEAT has the talent to edge ahead.
Click the links above to read each review, and then read on for our verdict.
Our biggest gripe with the SEAT Leon Cupra is that it looks understated. While the Renaultsport’s black alloy wheels, red detailing and F1-inspired front spoiler won’t be to all tastes, the sporty touches at least make it stand out from the regular Megane Coupe. It’s only when you line up the Cupra next to a Leon FR that you can really see the differences between the standard version and SEAT’s new flagship model.
SEAT introduced the Cupra badge on the original Leon in 1999. Renaultsport has more heritage, having replaced the Alpine marque in 1994, and it’s synonymous with the Clio and Megane hot hatches. Both brands use their badges to promote motorsport activity and one-make racing across the globe.
On the test track, the Leon was faster than the Megane from 0-60mph thanks to the launch control on our DSG test model. There was nothing between the two under braking, but the SEAT was a more consistent performer.
The SEAT Leon Cupra delivers stunning performance and handling in a high-quality package, plus it represents decent value for money and won’t cost a lot to run. What's more, it can be civilised when you’re taking it easy. We think it’s the best front-wheel-drive hot hatchback you can buy today.
There’s no faulting the Renaultsport Megane’s performance on the limit, and it’s still a great-handling hot hatch. But its looks and cabin quality are starting to show their age. Also, the focused driving experience will be too much for most people on a daily basis.
|SEAT Leon SC Cupra 280 DSG||Renaultsport Megane 265|
|On-the-road price/total as tested||£28,230/£30,930||£26,930/£31,665|
|Residual value (after 3yrs/30,000)||£12,927/45.8%||£11,028/41.0%|
|Annual tax liability std/higher rate||£1,233/£2,467||£1,436/£2,871|
|Annual fuel cost (12k/20k miles)||£2,005/£3,342||£2,846/£4,744|
|Ins. group/quote/road tax band/cost||33/£340/F/£145||40/£422/H/£205|
|Cost of 1st/2nd/3rd service||£169/£199/£169||£299 (4yrs/48k)|
|Length/wheelbase||4,236/2,596 mm||4,299/2,636 mm|
|Height/width||1,423/1,810 mm||1,435/1,848 mm|
|Engine||4cyl in-line/1,984cc||4cyl in-line/1,998cc|
|Peak power||276/5,350 bhp/rpm||261/5,500 bhp/rpm|
|Peak torque||350/1,750 Nm/rpm||360/3,000 Nm/rpm|
|Transmission||6-spd auto/fwd||6-spd manual/fwd|
|Fuel tank capacity/spare wheel||50 litres/£95||60 litres/£95|
|Boot capacity (seats up/down)||380/1,210 litres||344/991 litres|
|Turning circle/drag coefficient||10.7 metres/N/A||11.4 metres/0.34Cd|
|Basic warranty (miles)/recovery||3yrs (60,000)/2yrs||4yrs (100,000)/4yrs|
|Service intervals/UK dealers||20k miles (2yrs)/128||18k miles (1yr)/153|
|Driver Power manufacturer/dealer pos.||27th/31st||21st/9th|
|Euro NCAP: Adult/child/ped./stars||94/92/70/5||5/4/2/87 pts (pre-2009)|
|0-60/30-70mph||5.5/4.4 secs||5.8/5.3 secs|
|30-50mph in 3rd/4th||2.5/3.6 secs||2.6/3.9 secs|
|50-70mph in 5th/6th||4.8/6.6 secs||5.2/7.3 secs|
|Top speed/rpm at 70mph||155mph/2,400rpm||158mph/2,500rpm|
|Braking 70-0/60-0/30-0mph||49.9/36.7/9.3 m||49.8/36.3/9.4m|
|Noise levels outside/idle/30/70mph||61/45/66/72dB||63/46/69/74dB|
|Auto Express econ (mpg/mpl)/range||35.2/7.7/387 miles||24.8/5.5/327 miles|
|Actual/claimed CO2/tax bracket||185/149g/km/22%||263/174g/km/27%|
|Auto box/stab/adaptive cruise ctrl||Yes/yes/£500||No/yes/no|
|Climate ctrl/leather/heated seats||Yes/£755/£350||Yes/£1,250/£1,250*|
|Metallic paint/xenons/keyless go||£495^/LEDs/no||£525/no/yes|