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Engine options, speed, acceleration and refinement

Despite a power deficit compared with the Ford Focus ST and Hyundai i30 N, the entry-level Cupra Leon powered to 60mph a few tenths quicker than both, though it is helped in this respect by a quick-shifting seven-speed dual-clutch gearbox, whereas its rivals had traditional six-speed manuals. However, it’s still no match for the now-discontinued Honda Civic Type R, and it’s fair to assume the same will be true of the new one, due later this year.

Holding your left foot on the brake while flooring the accelerator triggers a launch control mode that primes the e-diff, but if you turn the traction control off, you’ll still have to manage the wheelspin yourself, because once the engine hits its stride around 5000rpm, the car will happily spin its power away in first gear.

The digital gauge cluster has a wealth of different display modes and customisable screens. Those with mechanical sympathy will appreciate that one of the options includes an oil temperature display.

Keep it in ESC Sport mode, however, and the systems will manage everything for you, though not quite as neatly as the most sophisticated systems. It’s effective enough, mind, as it produced nigh-on the same time as when we were feathering the throttle ourselves.

From there on, the engine’s hunger for revs means the Cupra enthusiastically romps through the gears. That said, the Focus ST’s in-gear figures still have a slight edge.

While its DSG no doubt helps the Cupra achieve its acceleration figures, it is a pity that a manual isn’t even offered. The ’box shifts quickly and responds well to the (disappointingly small and plasticky) paddles, and while it will upshift automatically at the redline, it leaves it late enough for it to rarely be an issue. Apart from some slight hesitancy during hurried three-point turns, it is impeccably behaved on the daily grind, too.

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The 296bhp Leon theoretically shaves 0.7sec off the 245’s 0-62mph time, and pulls even more violently in gear. That can feel like too much performance for the road, though, whereas in 241bhp tune there is enough grunt to give the chassis a workout, without being a prod of the throttle away from losing your licence. The power delivery is strong throughout but still gives a reason to visit the upper end of the rev range.

Even in ‘Cupra’ mode, there is no piped-in engine noise, just a slight burble from the twin round exhaust pipes. The EA888 isn’t the most tuneful unit, and at higher revs the intake noise and valve thrash take over. In some applications this engine can sound like the timing chain might make a break for freedom, but in the Leon it’s more subdued.

The brakes deserve praise as well. The Leon needed slightly less distance or time to come to a stop than any of its rivals, and the pedal is perfectly progressive on the road too.