Our bright yellow SEAT Leon FR TDI is making way for an even more distinctive Cupra version. So what are our first impressions – and is the flagship hatch worth the £1,500 price premium?

  • RIDE There’s a huge difference in the way the Cupra rides when compared to the FR. It’s a much more comfortable proposition if you’re driving it every day.<BR><BR>ENGINE We didn’t push the 2.0-litre TFSI above 4,000rpm for the first 2,000 miles, and it’s loosening up nicely. The car feels as fast as the figures suggest.<BR><BR>WHEELS We love the 18-inch BBS SEAT Sport black alloys. Not only do they look fantastic, they also highlight the Cupra’s stunning red brake calipers.
  • ECONOMY The fuel bills were always going to rise in our move from a 168bhp TDI diesel to a 237bhp petrol, but it still stings.

Don’t spread it around, but I have always been a SEAT fan. I’ve tried to hide it, and reassured those close to me that it’s just a ‘phase’ – something I would grow out of.

Over the years, I have owned a couple of the Spanish brand’s models. At one time, I had a ‘sporty’ Cordoba – basically an Ibiza with a boot. Back then, I loved it, but I will admit it wasn’t a high point of my driving career. Now, though, the latest generation of SEAT models is proving difficult to resist – and that’s stirred up emotions I hadn’t felt for years.

My love affair with the marque was reignited over the past 12 months, after I was handed the keys to our long-term Leon TDI FR. Despite its shortcomings, I grew very fond of the oil-burner. And I’m not the only person to have been won over – the model is the biggest seller in the Leon line-up.

But now we have upgraded to a flagship Leon Cupra. It costs £1,550 more than the diesel FR, so what do you get for your money? Well, a 237bhp version of the 2.0-litre TFSI engine isn’t bad for starters. The car has more power than any equivalent model in the entire VW Group line-up, apart from the Audi S3. The unit gives the Leon a 0-60mph time of 6.4 seconds – 0.4 seconds quicker than the Golf GTI Edition 30.

In terms of styling, there isn’t much to separate the newcomer from the FR – as you can see from our main picture. The Leon badge on the tailgate is replaced by Cupra lettering, while the grille and lower splitter are finished in black. The only other change sees stylish piano black trim used on the mirror housings and B-pillars.

Once on the move, however, you instantly notice a huge difference between the two: the ride quality. It was a major bugbear in the FR – all of my colleagues commented on this when they drove the Leon. But even though the Cupra is billed as the more hardcore machine of the two SEATs, it’s far superior in this department. On the country roads near my home, this Leon is composed and comfortable where the FR would crash and thump. Don’t get me wrong, the ride is still firm. But put simply, the Cupra feels far more grown-up.

Not that it got off to a perfect start. The wheels weren’t properly balanced when it was delivered, so I immediately took the car to local dealer Stoneacre SEAT in Peterborough, Cambs, who cured the juddering there and then.

During the 1,000-mile road test for this week’s special issue (Page 74), the Leon was even put to use as a photography car – and it didn’t miss a beat. Snappers can be a fussy bunch, as they rack up huge mileages and demand comfort. Few would even consider the FR, so this is proof that the Cupra has a great balance of ride, handling and performance.

On the test, the SEAT mixed it with rival hot hatches in the shape of the Subaru Impreza WRX STI and Honda Civic Type R – as well as Lamborghini’s stunning Gallardo Superleggera – but it managed to keep up throughout. Even on demanding B-roads, the Cupra wasn’t found wanting. There is far less steering kickback than in the FR, which makes it a much more rewarding and enjoyable car to drive. And the styling only serves to add to the appeal.

We opted for Candy White paintwork – a similar finish to that of the Golf GTI we ran last year. And as with the Volkswagen, the SEAT is proving a dirt magnet. But we’re happy to put in some elbow grease when it looks this good.

We also specified the black 18-inch BBS Sport alloys from the SEAT accessory range, and they’re proving a big hit. My girlfriend is an art teacher in a secondary school, and when I pick her up, the car is swamped by teenagers. The Cupra has been branded the coolest car in the car park, and snapped on countless camera phones. That would make most people cringe – but secretly, I’m quite proud!

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