SEAT Leon Cupra

Latest Spanish flier blends style, pace and great value.

You can rely on SEAT to inject some flair into the hot hatch market. Its Cupra models have gained a loyal following over the years, as they serve up a desirable blend of style, performance and value. The latest Leon Cupra benefits from a host of visual and mechanical tweaks. Not that you’d know it from the outside, as it retains the previous model’s stylish lines, with only the tail-lamps and door mirrors being updated.

As before, the Cupra gets a deeper front bumper than the regular Leon, along with extra cooling slots in the grille and an oval tailpipe. Our car’s £540 Kiwi Green paint and contrasting white wheels add to the drama.

Inside, the updates are more obvious. The dashboard offers improved materials, while the controls for the air-con and stereo are revised. There’s also a new set of dials, complete with a race-inspired centrally mounted rev counter. Standard kit includes cruise control, a tyre pressure monitor and a USB/aux-in port. But the three-spoke leather steering wheel has a nasty plastic base, which is at odds with the rest of the classy, multifunction design.

A five-door layout means you can make the most of the reasonably spacious cabin, while lifting the tailgate reveals a 347-litre boot. Fold the rear bench flat and capacity increases to 1,166 litres (142 litres more than in the Mégane). Yet all this practicality doesn’t come at the expense of performance.

While the SEAT couldn’t match its rival for outright pace at the test track, in real world driving there’s not much between the two. The Leon’s in-gear responses are impressive and it covered 30-50mph in 4.1 seconds – that’s two-tenths up on the more powerful Renault. Plus, the 237bhp 2.0-litre turbo engine benefits from a specially tuned induction system, which delivers a menacing growl – although some of our testers felt it sounded artificial and intrusive.

On the road, the SEAT is fast, and has excellent cornering poise. Its steering can’t match the Mégane’s set-up for weight and feel, but the Cupra still turns in sharply. And the new XDS electronic differential (first seen on the latest VW Golf GTI) gives the SEAT great traction out of slow bends.

But the biggest surprise is the Leon’s new-found ride comfort. The suspension takes poor roads in its stride and helps make the car a fine long-distance cruiser. It’s just a shame the brakes are so sensitive – stopping smoothly is a tricky task.

If the SEAT’s looks, performance and handling don’t grab you, the price will, as it undercuts the Renault by £1,545. For hot hatch buyers on a budget, then, the revised Leon is an incredibly tempting proposition.

In detail - SEAT Leon Cupra * Price: £20,450 * Engine: 2.0-litre 4cyl, 237bhp * 0-60mph: 6.6 seconds * 30-70mph: 5.5 seconds * Economy: 26.4mpg * CO2: 190g/km * Why? Cupra’s styling and mechanical tweaks aim to make Leon the hot hatch king.

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