Seat should be celebrating a perfect five out of five in this section. It’s not often we see a front-drive hot hatchback dip under the 6.0sec mark from 0-60mph.
The Leon 290’s 5.9sec two-way average to 60mph certainly puts clear air between its performance level and what’s possible in its current crop of competitors – Golf GTI, Focus ST and Astra VXR included. Seat quotes 5.8sec from 0-62mph for the manuals and 5.7sec for the DSG, so its real-world performance isn't far off the suggested pace.
For the better part of the hot hatch fraternity, that will be a big attraction – and credit to Seat for producing it. The annoyance here is that, if it had a half-decent launch control system, a better slip regulation system or a dual-clutch gearbox that made it easier to manage the loss of traction at those driven front wheels, the Leon would have gone even quicker.
Activated in Cupra mode, the launch system holds engine revs at just about 3000rpm before brutally dumping the clutch as you lift off the brake pedal. It’s awful. ‘Tyre smoke mode’ would be a better name for it.
The fastest way to get the car off the line is actually to prevent the front wheels from spinning at all in first and second gears with the stability control system switched completely off. But the gearbox doesn’t make that easy to do.
Fired from a standstill and settled into full stride, the Leon Cupra feels quick throughout the rev range. The engine is superbly flexible and pulls much more rabidly above 5000rpm than many turbocharged fours. Its soundtrack is augmented by a rather synthetic sound symposer, whose effect we could live without. But overall, the powertrain is a genuine stormer.
Despite being mated to the naturally slower shifting six-speed manual by default, the older models are very nearly as quick as the 290, even on paper - Seat quoting 5.9 seconds for its 265 Cupra 0-62mph time. In the real world, the solitary tenth of a second dividing the stablemates feels appropriately minor; anyone claiming to notice even a modest difference in the 15bhp gap is most likely guilty of wishful thinking.
Distinguishing between gearboxes is much easier. Beyond hardcore starts the DSG is a typically well-mannered transmission, but it serves up none of the manual's interactive qualities. Easy to manage, direct and with a quick throw, the cheaper option is a rewarding companion whether you're flat out or mired in traffic. There are undeniable advantages to choosing the auto 'box - as well as being quicker, it's slightly more economical - but you need to be deeply concerned by such things to ignore the manual's entertainment factor.