Audi RS3. Last Friday we very much enjoyed some track time in (for now) the hottest, most exciting version yet spat out by the parts bin randomiser and the one (currently) fastest around the 'ring - the Golf GTI Clubsport S. More - a lot more - on this shortly, with apologies to the VAG haters.
Also in attendance was a SEAT Leon ST Cupra 290 we booked in to compare with James's Skoda Octavia vRS230. And for all the excitement around that fancy limited production Golf, this was possibly the car that impressed everyone the most.
I've just handed it back and can understand why they enjoyed it so much. In my hands and in the space of three consecutive days it went from being among the fastest, most confidence inspiring cars around a sodden Donington National to weekend tip run errands and then a 230-mile motorway schlep. In all three activities it impressed above and beyond expectation. Off the back of this I'd quite happily walk into a SEAT dealership right now and buy one. More realistically if and when I come to replace the Forester one of these would be top of the list and most definitely marked out as one to return to down the line.
'ring record spec car. I've always liked them but never really been bowled over. Maybe because in hatch form there are more exciting cars I'd have first - Megane or Civic perhaps - or the pull of heritage/brand snobbery would see me in a Golf GTI Performance if it had to be an MQB car.
Low expectation and over delivery is always a pleasing thing to encounter though and, surrounded by the supposed best of its breed, at Donington the Leon was never less than impressive. OK, it's not exactly playful. But in wet conditions its neutrality into corners and VAQ locking 'diff' enhanced traction out of them made it a hugely effective tool. And it's fast. Really, really fast. Even the fussy wheels looked good with a layer of brake dust on them.
The cabin's nothing to write home about but it all works effectively. In this and the rougher edges of the power delivery and ride there's a pleasing rawness about the SEAT those managing the brand hierarchy in Wolfsburg would never permit in a related product with a VW or Audi badge on the nose.
Photos: Sim Mainey