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SEAT Leon Cupra R review (2010 onwards)
What is it?
The hottest SEAT ever, they tell us. Fast Leons have long been a hot hatch fixture of course, the various FR and Cupra variants over the years offering plenty of bang for your buck and a cheaper, engagingly lairy alternative to related Golf GTIs.
And this new Cupra R is certainly fast, the 265hp 2.0-litre a version of the turbocharged four-cylinder also found in the Golf R, Scirocco R and Audi S3 and TT S.
Like the front-driven Scirocco R it's down 5hp on the 270hp of the four-wheel drive Golf, S3 and TT but the 258lb ft of torque is the same on all. And it's a hell of an engine.
0-62mph comes in just 6.2 seconds and it'll top out at 155mph, the R getting a unique bodykit, 19-inch wheels and stubby twin exhausts to mark it out over and above the standard Leon Cupra.
Where does it fit?
This C-segment hot hatch dust-up is a fierce fight, with cars like the £22,595, 260hp Mazda 3 MPS going all out for affordable horsepower while the Golf R and Audi S3 offer a classier, more premium take.
The Cupra R's £25,205 pricetag is a keen £5K less than the equivalently fast Golf R and S3, and puts it on an equal footing with another VW Group relative, the 211hp Golf GTI.
The 240hp Cupra looks a bargain at £21,500 and is only two tenths and 2mph slower than this R version. Somewhere in the middle is the 250hp Renaultsport Mégane 250 - £23,160 in Cup spec and another grand for the 'full fat' version.
Put simply, against its in-house rivals using the same engine the SEAT's a bargain, in the wider world it's less clear-cut. It's certainly striking and excellent value though and if every horsepower counts you'll love it.
Is it for you?
Unlike the three-door only Mégane the Leon is a five-door (albeit with 'hidden' rear door releases) and instantly a more practical choice. Five-door versions of hot Golfs are available but cost £585 more than the equivalent three-doors.
So much for practicality. What's it like to drive? Thrillingly uncouth, as it turns out. The Golf R and S3 are equally potent but play to a more grown-up audience. The Leon Cupra R has no such constraints.
The turbo piles in so strongly you'd swear it was an aftermarket hop-up job. SEAT obviously wants the Leon to feel fast and in this respect it's a whole lot more exciting to drive than its in-house rivals.
And the image is a lot feistier too, the 19-inch wheels - optionally available in white - swelling in the arches and setting the pumped-up look off to perfection. It's an unashamedly aggressive-looking car and no worse for it.
What does it do well?
The SEAT engineers might have dialled in more excitement than their colleagues at VW could get away with but that doesn't mean the Cupra R is unruly. Indeed, every one of those 265hp can be used without fear of wheel-twitching torque steer.
The XDS traction control system is well known across VW group products and works effectively, using the ESP to simulate the effect of the mechanical limited-slip differentials used by the Cup-spec Megane and Mazda 3 MPS.
An electronic system will always be reactive rather than proactive but, in all honesty, you'll only appreciate this at the very furthest reaches of the ragged edge and where it matters - wet roundabouts and suchlike - the Leon's power is effectively deployed.
It's an easy car to drive fast too, the steering light and pointy and the gearchange typically slick - just as well because unlike the Golf and S3 there's no DSG auto option for the Cupra or Cupra R.
What doesn't it do well?
For all the drama of the power delivery the Cupra R isn't quite as exciting to drive or well-balanced as, say, the Mégane 250 Cup. For keen drivers and trackday fanatics Renaultsport is still king.
You can forgive that. But not the brakes. Ridiculously over-keen, the Cupra R seemingly digs its front spoiler into the tarmac like a snowplough every time you hit the middle pedal and you're thrown hard against the seatbelt.
No matter how lightly you tickle the pedal the effect is the same, killing any balance you might be able enjoy from the otherwise well-judged chassis as the weight gets thrown over the nose and totally unsettles the car.
Thus annoyed, other niggles seem to grow in irritation - be that the weirdly artificial exhaust note or the cheapness of the interior fittings. The worst culprit is the plastic trim on the bottom of the wheel, with its sharp moulding seam.
What's it like to live with?
Fine, you can't expect Audi cabin quality at SEAT prices. But to make your most important point of contact with the car feel so cheap and unpleasant seems an almost deliberate spoiling tactic.
And in other respects the cabin is perfectly reasonable, the Cupra R getting bulky, quilted sports leather seats as standard. Like all Leons, front three-quarter visibility is awful though and akin to wearing blinkers.
How green is it?
Given the performance the Cupra R is impressively green, emitting just 190g/km of CO2 and registering a realistically achievable 34.9mpg on the official combined fuel consumption cycle.
As such it helps the Leon claw some value back from the Mazda 3 MPS, whose 224g/km will cost you considerably more in tax. The Leon is also 81kg less than the five-door Golf R, which helps on the efficiency stakes.
Would we buy it?
If taming that over-aggressive brake pedal were as simple as changing the pads then, yes, the Cupra R would definitely be in with a shout. And, no SEAT, you wouldn't (or shouldn't have to) "just get used to it".
As fast and raw as a Mazda 3 MPS and more practical than a Renaultsport Megane, the Cupra R is also more red-blooded and considerably cheaper than its VW and Audi cousins. Fundamentally then it's an appealing package, the issues irritations rather than deal breakers.
See more pics in the Cupra R gallery
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