SEAT Leon

There’s now even more choice for hot hatch buyers as the Leon Cupra adds power, poise and style to the already popular FR

Overall Auto Express Rating

5.0 out of 5

There’s now even more choice for hot hatch buyers as the Leon Cupra adds power, poise and style to the already popular FR. The 237bhp 2.0-litre engine is highly entertaining, while the new exhaust emits a pleasant rasp at high revs. Braking power has improved, and the Cupra model has even sharper, if harsher, handling than the FR. It’s £2,600 more, but this is surely the ultimate sporty SEAT.

Some decisions in life are harder to make than others - working out when to get on the property ladder or whether to get married are choices that should not be rushed. But when it comes to choosing a hot hatch, speed is everything.

The problem is, making a quick judgement is getting even tougher, particularly now SEAT has launched its Leon Cupra. Sitting above the already popular FR, the Cupra develops 237bhp. It's equal second in the hot hatch performance league, behind Mazda's 3 MPS and matching the Vauxhall Astra VXR.

Video: watch CarBuyer's video review of the SEAT Leon

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Unlike its two rivals, however, the SEAT has enjoyed considerable success in this year's British Touring Car Championship - but will that be enough to ensure the newcomer's success and enable the Spanish firm to sell 1,000 models a year in the UK? Auto Express climbed behind the wheel to find out.

There's no doubt the engine under the Cupra's bonnet is absolutely fabulous - a real firecracker with a good balance of low-down driveability and frenetic top-end pace. It pulls cleanly from around 2,000rpm and really gets into its stride after 3,500rpm, the rev counter charging hard for the red line. There's no turbo lag, but there is a definite power band - a characteristic which makes this free-revving unit, exclusive to SEAT, so desirable.

Amazingly, there's no torque steer, despite all the power being fed through the front wheels. The handling is just as impressive, with plenty of grip and virtually no body roll through corners. The only downside is that the direct steering doesn't offer as much feedback as the likes of Ford's Focus ST.

However, the Cupra has considerable style. The hottest Leon is much more imposing than many rivals, and is distinguished from the lesser FR variant by a lower ride height, 18-inch wheels, red brake calipers and Cupra badging. Inside it can't quite match the quality of the VW Golf GTI, but it feels more sporty thanks to white dials, a chunky steering wheel and gearknob plus excellent bucket seats.

At £19,595 the Leon Cupra undercuts its VW cousin by nearly £1,000. For that, you also get extensive standard equipment, such as bi-xenon headlamps, and more power. But does that make it the best all-round hot hatch? It's a tough decision, and one we will make when we test the Cupra against its key rivals on UK roads.

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