Very fast, and quite a lot of fun. But it's only £800 less than the more fun, more refined Golf GTi
10 November 2006

What's it like?



What is it?

It’s the Leon Cupra, Seat’s newest hot and most powerful hot hatch. It sits at the top of the Leon range (with 40bhp more than the already fast FR), and effectively replaces the very popular (and very good) previous-generation Leon Cupra R. 

The old car had 222bhp from its 1.8-litre turbo engine, but the new Cupra has Seat’s most powerful ever motor: a 237bhp variant of the VW group’s turbocharged 2.0-litre FSI direct-injection unit. This engine derivative is unique to Seat. It has an enlarged turbocharger, strengthened pistons and con-rods, and a new cylinder head with bigger injectors. 

Seat won’t confirm it, but we suspect these are mechanically the same mods that the Audi S3 engine gets. Chassis changes amount to aluminium instead of cast steel for the steering knuckles and rear wishbone pressings, which saves 7.5kg of unsprung weight. The front anti-roll bar has been reduced in size too. 

It’s down from 23.6mm (diameter) x 3.5mm (wall thickness) to 22.5mm x 3mm. The Cupra arrives in the UK in March 2007, priced at £19,595. Which is as near as damnit Golf GTi money. The Focus ST, Megane Cup and Vauxhall Astra VXR are also similar money. What’s it like? Visually, it’ s a lot like the less powerful Leon FR. 

The Cupra gets 18-inch alloys, black finish to the bottom of the bumpers (the front one’s a bit bigger than standard too), and it gets black mirrors, but otherwise that’s your lot. Inside, it’s hard to tell too. The badging has changed but the steering wheel and gearknob are all in the FR style. 

The seats aren’t though – they’re impeccable, deeply contoured cuddlers that hold you in place superbly. They’re just about the right softness for long distances too.

What's it like?

And to drive? Well, naturally enough, it feels quite a lot faster than the FR. 

But not that much faster than Autocar’s long-term Golf GTi, which is nicely run-in, so we suspect that the Cupra will feel even faster after a few miles. Which means it’s proper quick – Seat claims 6.4sec to the 0-62mph sprint, which is very believable. It’s a cracking engine, too. There’s more turbo lag because of the bigger turbo, but is still very driveable. 

There’s decent urge from 2000rpm onwards and quite a lot of torque low down, but it builds progressively and linearly so that, at the top end, it’s a real corker. The gearbox is pretty good. A six-speed manual (there’s no DSG option), that’s slick and has closely spaced planes. No complaints about the brakes either: they’re strong, progressive and fade-free on the road. But for all its pace, the Cupra’s actually not as much fun as a Golf GTi, on whose platform the Leon is based. 

The ride is okay (that softer anti-roll bar, see); the Cupra seemed like it fended off bumps and ridges without harshness, but it’s worth noting that the roads we’ve driven the it on were better-surfaced than most UK roads. Body control is still good, too, but the Cupra doesn’t feel as planted or poised as a Golf. Nor a Megane Cup or a Focus ST, come to think of it. 

Where these other cars feel very agile, the Cupra always feels front led, with less throttle adjustability than the best rivals. Its steering, by virtue of having to cope with 237bhp and a bagful of torque, has precious little feel, too, although it’s positive and accurate. But driving a Golf, Focus or Megane is a more tactilely involving experience. 

Should I buy one?

The Cupra does have some selling points, certainly. It’s fast, has a good drivetrain and comes with lots of kit and five doors for its money. (There’ll be very few options.)

But the rear of the cabin is claustrophobic because of a rising window-line, and it feels no more spacious than most rivals.

And, yes, although we’re sure the marketing bods could tell us it’s n per cent better value than most of them, the bottom line is that it’s nineteen-and-a-half grand. That’ll buy a Focus, Megane or Astra, and is only about £800 less than the starting price of a Golf. Is the Golf worth that? Yep. And the rest.

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