What is it?
The Seat Leon Cupra 290 is a mildly overhauled version of the Spanish car maker's range-topping hot hatchback. It’s available in three-door SC, five-door hatchback and five-door estate bodystyles, the three-door being just a touch cheaper than the equivalent five-door.
The main news here is a new sports exhaust, a modest power and torque hike and a similarly modest inflationary price hike, arming the Leon a little better to deal with more powerful competitors that it now faces two years after launch: the likes of the Honda Civic Type R and Ford Focus RS. So the car’s turbocharged 2.0-litre engine now develops a peak 286bhp, up from 276bhp. Its 258lb ft of torque now comes over a spread of revs broadened out by 550rpm in all, to 1700-5800rpm.
Performance claims for the car are unchanged, albeit pretty conservative: 5.7sec to 62mph for the fastest three-door. That we figured the outgoing 276bhp Cupra, in DSG form, at 5.9sec to 60mph – with the non-negotiable presence of plenty of unwanted wheelspin in the mix thanks to the car’s hilariously ineffective launch control system – suggests a well-driven manual might be a 5.5sec car in ideal conditions and probably deserves consideration as one of the very quickest front-drive performance cars out there.
Seat has also simplified the Cupra buying routine a bit, deleting the more affordable 261bhp three-door – but keeping the optional ‘Sub8’ pack, which brings with it a brake upgrade, lightweight 19in wheels and Michelin Pilot Sport Cup 2 tyres. Adaptive dampers, an electronically controlled locking front differential and variable-rate ‘progressive’ steering are still all standard, while new Black-line, White-line and Orange-line option packs add two-tone 19in wheels and coloured body bits to personalise the exterior.