Seat has recently made a lot of noise about the fact that the Leon Cupra 290 (albeit fitted with an optional Performance Pack that you can’t specify here at the moment) is the quickest hot hatch ever around the Nürburgring.
Such feats can lead to chassis tuning that is damnably uncomfortable when you’re not properly on it. Thankfully, the Cupra’s isn’t; the lap time seems to have been a by-product rather than the objective itself.
Don’t misunderstand us, though: the 290 is firm enough, all right, with less compliance than there is in a Golf GTI or a Focus ST, but more, say, than in a Renaultsport-fettled Mégane. The 265, benefitting from smaller wheels, tips the balance back the other way, although with cheaper rubber fitted as standard, it does tend to lose traction a fraction earlier.
The Leon features the same variable-ratio steering rack as the Golf GTI – which means it’s slower at the straight-ahead and speeds up as you wind on lock – but it doesn’t work quite as well here, feeling less natural and offering less feel than the Volkswagen version.
That the wheel is quite light doesn’t always do it a favour, either. It means there’s no effort in flicking through a direction change from one side to the other, but if at the same time you’re looking for signals about what’s happening, you’ll have to look hard.
Push the Cupra Drive Profile button and you’ll have to look hard to spot any extra enjoyment, too. Things do get a bit more lively and the ride firms up, but the character is largely the same.
That’s no bad thing, though. Direction changes are something this car manages with great ability and while giving no little pleasure. Body control is good and it’s responsive, too, albeit mostly governed by its front end.
That’s an area where its key dynamic rivals score an advantage in driver engagement. No matter which driving mode you select, it’s hard to escape the feeling that the Leon Cupra’s handling isn’t quite as intuitive as that of the Mégane 265 or the Focus ST, falling short of their levels of agility and involvement.
High grip levels, good cornering balance and a fully switchable ESP system combine to make the Leon Cupra a fast and compelling drive on track. A sensible balance of power against tyre size prevents the Seat from overworking its front contact patches straight away and means that – unlike in a Vauxhall Astra VXR or more so in a Ford Focus ST – you can drive to the full potential of the car for longer without feeling a deterioration in handling or braking.