SEAT Leon Cupra R

It's the most powerful SEAT ever produced, but is this hot hatch the best?

Overall Auto Express Rating

4.0 out of 5

Despite spot-the-difference looks and subdued interior, the Leon Cupra R remains a hot hatch, and a quick one at that. But, while it's very fast, it's not quite as fiery as it could be – the steering, in particular, lacks feedback. And with a congested market that includes class leading driver's cars like the Ford Focus RS and forthcoming RenaultSport Megane, the Leon Cupra R faces a tough time. However, it's still a great all-rounder and a worthy flagship for the Leon range.

You’re looking at the most powerful SEAT in history! This is the 261bhp SEAT Leon Cupra R and it’s going straight to the top of the Spanish brand’s hot hatch hierarchy.

Taking the Leon Cupra’s turbocharged 2.0-litre unit as its base, engineers have re-tuned the engine ECU and raised turbo pressure to 1.9bar (from 1.8) to increase power output from 236bhp to 261bhp and generate a whopping 350Nm of torque. It also gets stiffer suspension, new ventilated disc brakes, a revised six-speed manual gearbox and a bigger exhaust.

The Leon Cupra R has been given styling tweaks and a scattering of ‘R’ logos from ex-Lamborghini designer Luc Donckerwolke. But Kiwi Green paint aside, we reckon the cosmetic enhancements over a Leon Cupra are barely noticeable. The front gets a larger trapezoidal grille and ‘exclusive’ honeycomb mesh, while the door mirrors are now finished in black gloss and the bespoke 19-inch alloy rims can be ordered in white.

Apart from the white dials and an excellent pair of figure-hugging race chairs, the interior feels eerily conservative for an R model too. It’s very well built and there’s an excellent fit and finish, but it just lacks that sense of occasion.

Despite the extra turbo boost, firmer suspension and lower ride height, the Leon Cupra doesn’t behave like a feisty young latin relative of the VW group. It feels much more mature than that, though still possessing a 0-62mph sprint time of 6.1secs – that’s just 0.2secs slower than Ford’s Focus RS and is an identical time to the new Mazda 3 MPS. SEAT is also keen to point out that this car has a combined fuel consumption figure of 35mpg, and with CO2 emissions of just 190g/km, it’s the cleanest hot hatch too.

More interesting is how the Cupra R goes round corners with the use of SEAT’s XDS system. This works like an electronic differential, constantly improving traction by using the ESP to slow any wheel that loses grip. It seems to work very well on smooth Spanish test roads, the car also resisting roll, but the driving experience is numbed by steering that lacks feedback.

This may be the most powerful SEAT in history, but the headline figures don’t really tell the full story. The new SEAT Leon Cupra R has been engineered with a much broader performance sweetspot that should make it easier to live with on an everyday basis. It may not offer the visceral thrills of other models, but there’s certainly enough performance, practicality and excitement here to unsettle the new upcoming breed of hyper-hatches.

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