Seat kicked off this decade by launching its then most potent model, the Leon Cupra R. It was technically similar to the Volkswagen Scirocco R, and shared its 265hp 2.0-litre TSI - but significantly undercut its stablemate on price and offered the notable appeal of rear doors. The model delivered a 25hp advantage over the regular Cupra and was almost as fast as the Mk2 Ford Focus RS straight out of the box. On paper, it was a worthy collection of ingredients.
Admittedly the Focus RS possessed a strong USP in its glorious five-cylinder motor, which had bags of character and 305hp. But the Cupra R's EA113 four-pot (VW was yet to wind its then brand-new EA888 to such heights) had a greater bandwidth of torque, producing a 258lb ft peak from 2,500-5,000rpm, plus the car weighed over 100kg less. Only the Renaultsport Megane 250 appeared to hold a candle to the Leon on the value-for-money front, then, and it needed significant spec box ticking to bring its kit list up to eye level.
Of course the Megane was already on its way to being the doyen of the front drivers, but the Cupra R certainly looked the part with its white 19-inch alloys, Cupra body lettering and pair of centrally mounted exhaust tips. Plus, again, it had both a two-door and power advantage - compelling factors in the never-ending game of hot hatch top trumps.
The Cupra R remains a competitive performance offering nearly a decade on from its launch - especially in the single powered axle category. Its output still exceeds a Mk7 Golf GTI Performance and the entry-level Hyundai i30N, and, allowing for the obvious advances in technology and trim comfort, the Leon can claim to provide a similar level of practicality and usability. Since Cupra R sales were considerably lower than those of the regular Cupra, it's a rarer sight on UK roads, too.
Being thin on the ground has not had a dramatic effect on used prices. The R is typically cheaper than Mk6 Golf GTI, even with a kit list that includes Cupra-branded leather seats and a similarly basic - to 2019 eyes - infotainment system. It's only when you get going in the Leon that the reason (aside from badge snobbery) for the lower value becomes apparent. It rides firmly on its 235-section tyres, with a jiggling sort of intent tempered only by a very supportive set of front seats. No Golf GTI is so uncivilised around town.
The four-pot though, is a peach. Its elasticity allows for lazy operation of the gearbox and with a less miserly throttle map than you'd find today, peak twist is easily found. The engine's relationship to the current EA888 unit is apparent, but, if anything, its impression of a larger capacity motor is even more persuasive. And should you choose to swap cogs with a bit more vigour, the six-speed gearbox has a pleasingly positive flow through the gate and satisfying click when a ratio is selected.
Given the firmness at modest speeds, it's somewhat surprising to feel the body lift when you launch it at a B road. Where a Mk6 Golf GTI retains its suppleness across the board and a Scirocco R hunkers down, the Cupra R seems to stand up - which has the effect of slightly smoothing out the ride quality, but then falters when a challenging bend appears. Under cornering duress the Leon feels too softly damped, with pitch under braking and noticeable body roll on turn-in. Grip is high nevertheless, but it's often left to the EA113 to add in the zest - particularly as it sounds brilliant, with a high-pitched engine note backed by an industrial, coarse exhaust.
In-gear acceleration is so strong, in fact, that it's easy to arrive at corners quicker than you expected, making it necessary to lean on the 345mm/286mm brakes. Despite its shortfall in body control, the R is clearly from the VW Group's stability-first school of handling and provocation is typically required if you want to upset its glued-down trajectory. The car has VW's old electronic 'XDS' system to split torque, essentially mimicking a limited-slip differential to reduce understeer, and while it does a decent job it can't completely eliminate inside wheelspin, while there's too little feel from the steering to allow you to effectively regulate the throttle. More often than not though, a little slip actually adds to the low-level excitement...
If five seats, five doors and a reasonably small outlay are your main requirements, you should probably think about it. The Cupra R is nowhere near as rounded a Mk6 GTI, nor is it as dynamically talented as the RS Megane. But its rough edges are often rubbed smooth by its industrious and endearingly old school engine. For similar levels of both usability and foot-down thrill, you'd probably need to consider a Mk6 Golf R - and they are considerably more expensive.
That isn't to overlook the Leon's conspicuous faults, mind. It likely felt firm in its day; evaluation of it in 2019 is even less kind and considered next to the sometimes choppy handling, making the prospect of many miles seem tiring. Ultimately, that makes it inferior to the better resolved Scirocco R - a truth surely reflected in the Cupra's lower values. The fact is though, it is cheap - and quick and likeable to look at and listen to. A solid secondhand hot hatch option, then.
SPECIFICATION - SEAT LEON CUPRA R (MK2)
Engine: 1,984cc, inline-4 turbocharged
Transmission: 6-speed manual, front-wheel drive
Power (hp): 265@6,000rpm
Torque (lb ft): 258@2,500-5,000rpm
0-62mph: 6.2 secs
Top speed: 155mph
Price new: £25,505
Price now: circa £7,500-9,000