2014 Seat Leon Cupra review - updated

The Seat Leon Cupra and Cupra 280 are aimed straight at the Golf GTI, but they'll need to be exceptional if they're to compete with the legendary hot hatch. What Car? has the full verdict.

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The 2014 Seat Leon Cupra is a hot hatch designed to hit the middle ground between the race-bred brilliance of the Renaultsport Megane and the fast but easygoing nature of the Volkswagen Golf GTI.

The Cupra is based on the same underpinnings as the GTI and comes in two states of tune – with 261bhp or 276bhp. It also gets a Dynamic Chassis Control (DCC) system that alters the steering, accelerator responses, suspension and even the noise. There are three standard modes (Comfort, Sport and Cupra) and an Individual setting that you can tailor to your own desires.

Prices kick off from £25,695 for the 261bhp three-door Leon SC Cupra rising to £28,530 for the full-fat 276bhp five-door Leon DSG, which means the Leon Cupra is no bargain option. It’ll have to be good.

What’s the 2014 Seat Leon Cupra like to drive?

We drove the 261bhp Leon SC Cupra and the five-door Leon Cupra 280 with a manual six-speed gearbox and a DSG dual-clutch automatic.

Both engines pull strongly from low revs and sing right the way up to the redline, although the higher-powered model does have a slightly harder hit at medium and high revs. You rarely notice this extra punch in everyday driving though, because all Cupras will get from 0-62mph in less than six seconds.

In each version the six-speed manual gearbox is light and accurate, so there’s little chance of you grabbing the wrong gear at an inopportune moment. The DSG auto will suit those who spend much of their time driving in town, but it genuinely saps much of the car’s character when you want your Leon Cupra to entertain – despite there being steering wheel-mounted paddles that let you take control of the shifts; we’d save the cash and stick with the manual.

The steering is meaty and accurate, and conveys a reasonable amount of sensation to your palms. A standard front differential means traction out of corners is strong and there’s very little of the to-and-fro steering tug that afflicts rivals such as the Ford Focus ST, either.

The 261bhp Cupra comes with 18-inch alloys as standard, fitted with Continental tyres, whereas the 276bhp version gets 19-inch wheels and Bridgestone rubber. The more powerful version's firmer ride is immediately noticeable, no matter which setting the DCC system is in – although it has to be said that both cars' engine notes can be a little too boomy in Cupra mode.

We drove the cars on a mixture of motorways, poorly surfaced country roads and on track. The 261bhp car's ride quality is deeply impressive; it smooths away bumps and is unfazed by ruts, ripples or potholes. It also grips well and changes direction very crisply indeed.

The more powerful version is still comfortable, but more of the road’s imperfections make it through to your backside. There’s also slightly more road noise. However, the upside is that it grips even more strongly through corners, and traction is even more resolute when you accelerate hard. Of the two, the more powerful car is undeniably the more capable, but its little brother is actually the more enjoyable.

What’s the 2014 Seat Leon Cupra like inside?

There’s not that much to differentiate the Cupra from lesser models in the range. It has the same, clear, efficient dashboard and the same slightly questionable, harder plastics lower down the cabin. 

However, you do grip a thick-rimmed, sporty flat-bottomed steering wheel, and the grey dials ahead certainly have some fairly serious numbers on them. Your body, and that of your passenger, is held in place by suitably hefty-looking sports seats that are trimmed in grey Alcantara. 

It's easy to get in the back of the three-door, and there’s decent space back there when you do. That said, the five-door is unsurprisingly more practical if you regularly need to carry several passengers. Either version has more than enough boot space for the average person’s needs.

Cupra owners will have plenty of toys to play with because the car comes with climate control, an upgraded media and sound system, cruise control, heated door mirrors and full LED headlights and rear lights as standard.

Should I buy one?

The Leon Cupra isn’t the bargain you might expect it to be. A starting price of £25,695 (for the three-door) seems steep when you consider that a range-topping Ford Focus ST-3 (which has five doors as standard) costs just £25,495.

However, compare the Cupra with the Golf GTI and it seems like a bit more of a bargain. The 261bhp Leon Cupra SC is £635 less than the equivalent GTI, better equipped and more powerful, and while the five-door (which is available only in 276bhp guise) is actually £260 more expensive than the five-door GTI, it has a whole lot more performance.

In fact, it’s on more of a par with the Volkswagen Golf R, which starts at just under £30k. Yes, a Golf will probably hold on to its value better, but you don’t buy a hot hatch simply because it makes for a good investment. You buy one because it’ll be a proper hoot when you want it to be and unobtrusive the rest of the time. If that’s the case, the Leon Cupra has it nailed. 

What of the Renaultsport Megane? Well, the Cupra is definitely less focused, but it’ll be a whole lot easier to live with every day, and again it’s a lot cheaper. So it's one of the best hot hatches.

What Car? says...



Rivals

Ford Focus ST

Volkswagen Golf GTI


Specification

Engine size 2.0-litre turbo petrol
Price from £25,695
Power 261bhp
Torque 258lb ft
0-62mph 5.9 seconds
Top speed 155mph
Fuel economy 42.8mpg
CO2 154g/km

Specification
Engine size 2.0-litre turbo petrol
Price from £26,945
Power 276bhp
Torque 258lb ft
0-62mph 5.8 seconds
Top speed 155mph
Fuel economy 42.8mpg
CO2 154g/km

 
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