Road Test: SEAT Leon SC Cupra 280 DSG
Sector: Lower Medium Price: £28,530 Fuel: 44.1mpg CO2:154g/km
SEAT has been producing high performance versions of the Leon for almost as long as the car has been on sale in the UK. Often getting more power than Skoda or Volkswagen siblings, it’s got form as a hot hatch and yet this latest Cupra model is by far the best yet.
While value remains a core value for the Spanish carmaker, sportiness is fundamental to its DNA, and this reflects in sales. A third of UK Leons are in the medium-hot FR or full-fat Cupra trim levels, and SEAT expects that to continue with the latest car. Covering diesel and petrol engines spanning 140 to 280bhp, there are plenty to choose from.
But the SC is new. This is the first three-door Leon Cupra and, with styling that wouldn’t look out of place on an Audi, this has just become a real threat to the Scirocco R. The two cars share an engine, but the Volkswagen is £4,000 more expensive and uses the older platform.
Unlike the Golf R or Audi S3, the Leon uses front-wheel drive instead of four-wheel drive. It is 35kg lighter than the equivalent old Leon Cupra R and the 2.0-litre turbocharged petrol engine produces an extra 12bhp. So the front wheels have a massive 280bhp to put to the tarmac, and on paper this will reach 62mph in 5.7 seconds with the DSG gearbox. Even the entry-level 265bhp version passes the yardstick in less than six.
So far so good, but drivers familiar with this car’s predecessor may be dubious about putting that much power through the axle which also has to steer and brake. The Leon Cupra R was certainly a fast car in a straight line, but had a bucking bronco kind of way. It was particularly unruly in the wet and felt like it was permanently on the edge of its available grip.
However, this time SEAT has put considerable effort into making the Leon handle properly. Not only is it lighter, but the gearbox can electronically detect slipping tyres and divert 100% of power to the opposite side, Dynamic Chassis Control constantly adjusts the suspension settings to suit the road, and its progressive steering system tweaks itself to match.
Instead of a sweat-inducing tendency to snatch at the road, the Leon Cupra takes even the roughest of driver inputs in its stride. There’s a blistering urgency to the glut of torque available in each gear, it changes direction like a smaller car yet it clings to corners with the balance and agility of something with four-wheel drive. It’s an exhilarating point-to-point car which feels considerably faster than its far-from modest performance figures suggest.
So finding faults comes down to nitpicking. Details like the painfully slow satellite navigation, or the lack of distance between the Cupra and FR’s styling shouldn’t really be considered deal-breakers. You can have a lot of fun in the two diesel FR versions, but this is staggeringly quick and surprisingly frugal with it. Although SEAT is no stranger to the hot hatch, this really is the most convincing yet.
Not only is the Leon Cupra SEAT’s best ever hot hatch, it’s one of the best on the market. Seriously good fun, and really good value with it.