What's it like?
You’d be hard pushed to tell a Cupra 290 from the outgoing Cupra 280. Externally, the only difference is a change to the boot badge to reflect the car’s additional power.Behind the wheel, it’s a similar story. There’s no doubting that it’s a seriously rapid hatchback, but then, you could say the same about the Cupra 280.
Ultimately you’ll be hard pushed to notice the difference unless you drive the 280 and 290 back-to-back. Even then, we doubt you’d really feel the extra get up and go. You’ll certainly appreciate the broad spread of torque, though.
The Cupra 290 starts pulling hard from around 2000rpm meaning that even on the twistiest of roads, you can happily leave it in third gear and still make brisk progress. If you want to go faster, the manual gearbox is slick while the dual-clutch auto is predictably smooth, intelligent and swift to change gears.
The rest of the package is as effective as ever. The VAQ electronically controlled limited slip diff may work in a more subtle manner than those fitted to the Renaultsport Megane or Honda Civic Type-R, but it still helps the front tyres find impressive traction. On smooth Spanish roads, our car's Cup 2 tyres no doubt played more than a small part.
Dynamically the Cupra 290 is still less agile and aggressively set-up than our favourite fiery front-wheel drivers. A closed stretch of Tarmac showed the Seat could carry remarkable speed down the equivalent of a British B-road, but it never felt particularly involving.
The steering is precise but not overly feelsome and there’s not the real sense of adjustability that makes the best hot hatches such a riot. It also doesn’t sound quite as fierce as some rivals, despite the new exhaust. The optional Brembo brakes do deserve a mention, however; even after a hard workout they remained fade free, something that gives you a great deal of confidence when pushing on.
Should I buy one?
If you were tempted by the Cupra 280, then the 290 should prove even more of a draw. You still get a choice of a three or five-door hatch, plus the option of a practical estate, while the Sub8 pack makes it a genuinely more aggressive offering. That said, you’d really only appreciate the latter on track, we suspect.
However, with the range starting at £28,375, rising to £32,780 for the DSG-equipped estate before you’ve added any options, there are other cars for similar money that are outright faster, and even more fun. First and foremost, despite not trying one in the UK just yet, and if you can settle for something with five doors, we’d be tempted by a recent introduction from Ford that has an R and an S in its name.
Seat Leon Cupra 290
Location Spain; On sale Now; Price £29,730; Engine 4 cyls inline, 1984cc, turbocharged, petrol; Power 286bhp at 5900-6400rpm; Torque 258Ib ft at 1700-5800rpm; Kerb weight 1395kg; Gearbox 6-spd dual clutch automatic; 0-62mph 5.6sec; Top speed 155mph; Economy 43.5mpg (combined); CO2/tax band 149g/km, 24%