Although Seat has been active in motorsport for well over 40 years, it’s only in the past 20 that you’ve been able to purchase a swift Spaniard for the road. The story begins with the Ibiza Cupra, a car that was developed alongside the Ibiza Kit-Car that won the World Rally Championship for F2-spec cars.
While the Ibiza was based on the same architecture as the Volkswagen Polo, it shared the same 148bhp 2.0-litre engine as the Mk3 Golf GTI 16v. With just over 1100kg to push around, it could crack 62mph from rest in a brisk 8.3sec. It was a good package, and the Ibiza rally car would go on to win three world titles for Seat.
Four years later, the Ibiza Cupra R was launched. Based on the same platform, it ditched the old naturally aspirated 2.0-litre engine for a 1.8-litre turbocharged lump taken from the larger Leon 1.8VT. Power was up to 178bhp and the 0-62mph time down to just 7.2sec, setting the scene for more rapid Cupra models.
It wasn’t just the Ibiza getting a Cupra work-over, however. In 2000 the first Leon Cupra was introduced, a car that didn't come to the UK. Instead of a 1.8-litre turbo, there was a 201bhp 2.8-litre V6 coupled to a four-wheel drive transmission.
One of these was available for brief drives around the banked circuit at Sitges-Terramar on the recent Seat Leon Cupra 290 launch. From the outside it looked like it had just rolled off the production line, and the interior wasn’t too far off either.