The Altea was a small MPV along the lines of the Renault Scenic, and the Leon was a hatchback version that spoke a similar design language. Had the Leon come first, the Altea would have inherited the hatch’s style. Instead, the Leon ended up looking like a squished people carrier.
Beneath the skin is the increasingly familiar VW Group MQB platform and EA888 turbocharged 2.0-litre, four-cylinder petrol engine. It originally produced 261bhp or 276bhp, but now it produces a heady 286bhp.
The 290 is particularly impressive, making its peak from 5350rpm right the way to the 6600rpm red line – unusual in itself for a turbo. Moreover, the 258lb ft torque peak appears from 1750rpm all the way to 5300rpm (as it did in the previous Cupras) – just beyond the point where power becomes the dominant performance factor.
All of this is driven as standard via a six-speed manual gearbox. However, the 290 is available with an optional DSG dual-clutch automatic gearbox, albeit one that has six rather than seven speeds.
When the Volkswagen Group moved from six to seven-speed dual-clutch DSG (Direktschaltgetriebe) automatic gearboxes, it didn’t just add another ratio. It also switched from wet clutches, which use an oil bath to cool them, to dry clutches.
The clutches’ electronic controls mean they can operate without overheating, and thus they’re all a little less complicated and expensive. But there’s a limit to the torque loading the seven-speed units can manage – and that limit is 184lb ft, beyond which the dry clutches feel the strain, whereas the wet clutches do not.
If you look through the Leon range, you’ll note that where a car has a torque output of up to 184lb ft, it’ll come with a seven-speed DSG ’box (if one is offered). If the torque output is more than 184lb ft, it’ll get the six-speed DSG option.
Suspension is by MacPherson struts at the front and a multi-link set-up at the rear, while drive goes through a locking differential. It’s not simply an extension of the ESP, but neither is it a conventional mechanical limited-slip diff.