First DriveSeat's new hardcore hatchback impresses on many fronts and is the best of the hot Leon bunch, but the Cupra R isn't quite as engaging as the cheaper H
First DriveSeat's fastest Leon ST is fun to drive quickly and has enough space for all the family, but VW's own Golf R Estate is even better to drive
Seems that 200bhp is no longer enough to secure credibility in the hot hatch market. Alfa Romeo has now managed to force 250bhp through the front wheels of the 147GTA - enough to make even Seat's highly respected 210bhp Leon Cupra R seem undernourished.
But the Spaniards have already upped the pace with a further beefed-up version, offering the full 225bhp already found in the Audi TT. This twin-intercooler 1.8 turbo delivers 207lb ft at a handy 2200rpm, making the quickest Leon a paragon of punch.
It is the fastest and most powerful production model in the company's history; according to Seat it tops 149mph and posts 0-62mph in under 7.0sec.
Despite the performance hike, the particularly effective chassis work carried out by Seat Sport when the original Lean Cupra was developed remains unchanged.
In practical terms, this means a set of road manners that befit the performance potential, with the one caveat - applied accleration from low speeds provides an entertaining measure of torquesteer, which the standard traction control and electronic stability programs can't do much about.
But the Cupra R has a remarkably well-strapped-down chassis stripped of any float or bodyroll. It feels solidly planted at all speeds, and provides outstanding traction from the fat 225/40x18 tyres. As ever, the steering feels chunky, well-weighted and is usefully quick-acting, which makes for a handling package that's a near-perfect companion to the tidy performance.
Near-perfect, because the absorbent ride and low road noise testify to an amount of chassis isolation that robs the Cupra of ultimate handling precision and driver feedback.
Never mind. With its refined engine, crisp six-speed box, Audi-like build and hugely powerful brakes, the 225 Cupra is a machine that brings sports-car handling and muscle to the affordable hatch arena.
Price is yet to be finalised, but expect a 'modest' increase over the out-going 210bhp version's £17k when the newcomer goes on sale later this year. It'll be worth it.