SEAT Leon Cupra R: Driven

So this is the new Leon Cupra R - the culmination of numerous incremental sharpenings of a car SEAT first introduced in 265hp form three years ago. It's a limited-run offering that costs £34,995 (yes...) and promises to raise the current hottest Leon of the crop, the Cupra 300, to quicker, more capable and more desirable heights.

Beyond headline figures of 310hp and 280lb ft, first impressions are that in creating the Cupra R, SEAT hasn't so much slid off the Cupra 300's invisibility cloak but thrown it to the ground, doused it in kerosene and set it alight. The cars at the launch event near Barcelona were painted matt black - UK examples will possess a more subtle hue, with only metallic black and grey on offer - but the design details ensure that, with this particular iteration at least, the Leon's Q-car days are behind it.

The door mirrors, intake blades of a redesigned front bumper and 19-inch alloy wheels are thrown into relief with copper paint, and there's a substantial carbon rear spoiler (or is it technically a wing?) complemented by a diffuser which houses exhaust tips suspiciously similar to those of the Golf GTI. The side skirts have also been dramatically flared, and you can't miss that front splitter, which in all honesty wouldn't look too bad on a Huracán Performante. Rugged, if a little crudely tacked on, wheel arches complete the R5 rally vibe, and they've allowed SEAT to widen the donor car's track by 20mm, both front and rear.

The resulting aesthetic is as likely to delight as it is to appall, but with only 24 cars out of a total production run of 799 (for now, says SEAT) destined for the UK, the Cupra R should find enough fans willing to stump up. The interior, it must be said, is a success, with Alcantara trim for the wheel and gearstick, restrained copper detailing, decently supportive (but still too high!) buckets and an engraving of the car's production number on the transmission tunnel. To these eyes the silver-backed dials also look cool in a faintly 1990s kind of way.

Given the Cupra R shares its engine map with the Golf GTI Clubsport S, straight-line speed is predictably rapid. In this state of tune VW Group's EA888 2.0-litre TSI pulls off the trick of developing peak torque at just 1,800rpm and peak power between 5,800 and 6,500rpm, which is delectably close to the red line for a low-displacement turbo engine. On paper it's good for 62mph in 5.8 seconds, with the DSG version (which isn't coming to the UK) snipping a tenth from that. With the current limitations of tyre technology, you won't go much quicker in a front-driven hot hatch.

The chassis, meanwhile, gets retuned DCC (Dynamic Chassis Control) dampers that are switchable through four modes - as are the throttle response characteristics and the front axle's VAQ electronic 'differential'. Cupra is the most aggressive, and prompts the exhaust system to crackle gently on the overrun (preserving an element of authenticity, there's no synthesised sound wafted into the cabin).

On these relatively smooth roads the ride is undeniably stiff - substantially firmer than in a Golf R - and softens only adequately in Comfort mode, which raises interesting questions concerning the Cupra R's suitably for the UK. Naturally enough, the payback comes at speed, when you're served with precise, close body control that does a magnificent job of taking the car's 1,453kg heft out of the equation. Even with the suspension loaded up the chassis still delivers genuinely superb pliancy and stability - the sort that prompts you to chase the throttle at every opportunity.

As the roads out here are also relatively warm, and dry, SEAT has shod the cars with the £855 optional Cup 2 tyre (the Continental SportContact6 is standard). Quite simply, they dominate the driving experience. A degree more negative camber for the more widely spaced front wheels and a recalibration of the variable rack have given the steering a marginally more natural feel than in the Cupra 300, and response feels a touch quicker just off centre, not that it needed to. Front-axle grip, however, is frankly eye-popping, and on turn-in triggers a sequence that starts almost uncomfortably quickly and ends with the nonchalant pummelling of more than 300hp into terra firma once you've spliced through the apex. Point-to-point, on these roads, it's difficult to imagine anything much more effective that doesn't cost more than £100,000.

Difficulties, alas, lurk in the triggering. The Cupra has always suffered from over-servoed brakes and it's no different here, the first sniff of pedal pressure causing the car to almost flinch as the black Brembo calipers grip the 370mm front discs unexpectedly hard. Delicacy? Not here, which given the pace of the thing results in quite a substantial blotting of the Cupra R's otherwise clean copybook.

Is it a copybook worth all that money? Well, no, probably not, if you're going to be objective about it. A low-mileage GTI Clubsport S can be had for roughly the same outlay, is more engaging, and does the hardcore hot hatch thing with greater conviction. A Honda Civic Type R, meanwhile, is significantly less expensive and more warmly invites you to get your hands dirty behind the wheel, so to speak. You won't sacrifice practicality in the Japanese car, either, which you will in the two-seater Volkswagen.

The margins are fine, though, and we don't imagine those 24 UK buyers will be anything other than delighted. The rest of us will have to hold out for a Leon with a little less exclusivity and that's a little less dear but benefits from the same successful chassis modifications. Call it the Cupra 310.

Inspired? Buy a SEAT Leon Cupra here


Engine: 1,984cc, 4-cylinder turbocharged
Transmission: 6-speed manual, front-wheel drive
Power (hp): 310@5,800-6,500rpm
Torque (lb ft): 280@1,800-5,700rpm
0-62mph: 5.8sec
Top speed: 155mph
Weight: 1,453kg
MPG: 38.7 (NEDC combined)
CO2: 170g/km
Price: £34,995

Richard Lane







P.H. O'meter

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Comments (44) Join the discussion on the forum

  • GTEYE 28 Nov 2017

    Those 24 buyers won't be so pleased when they come to sell....then they'll wish they'd done the sensible thing and bought a Golf R.

    Depreciation might be an issue on this I fear.

  • Axionknight 28 Nov 2017

    The topic has been up over an hour and there's now two comments on the subject......... The crowd goes mild!

  • Mike335i 28 Nov 2017

    Just not enough to to be a full fat R I'm afraid. I'm sure it is a lovely motor, but I want yellow, a power hike and maybe just a little surprise.

  • Loyly 28 Nov 2017

    The interior looks really smart, what a shame the rest of it can't manage the same. I wonder if it'll be too stiff for the usual British B road.

  • Helicopter123 28 Nov 2017

    A Golf R can be had for £28k on Broadspeed.

    Thread Ends.

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