Arriving at Rockingham Motor Speedway for the Seat test day, you couldn’t fail to notice the Leon Cupra R. It was not just the aggressive styling and features that made it stand out, but each of the 12 test subjects was a very bright yellow.
That’s the trend today – a performance hatch needs a colour to match. The Focus RS is green, VXR models are prominent in white, and Seat owns the road in performance yellow. It’s hard to be inconspicuous in it, as proven when each journalist took one out on the roads around the circuit. The locals must have wondered what was happening!
The noise output was pretty nice, the acceleration was good and the brakes certainly worked, especially when out on the track. This is another area a hot hatch needs to look to today, as a comfortable road car which can easily slip into the realms of the racetrack, providing the thrill of speed, and the comfort of safety.
With Seat working hard to build their name in the UK vehicle market, a car that stands out is not a bad thing, especially towards their younger target market. But does the Leon Cupra R back up its looks with performance and handling?
Did I mention it’s yellow? Yes? Good – although other colours are available, why would you want them? You want to stand out when you drive this car, and trust me you will. With seven on offer for road testing, they were very recognisable on the roads around the circuit (until we drove past a field of rapeseed anyway).
The styling is aggressive, with gloss black areas below the radiator grill matching the gloss black rear diffuser, contrasting nicely to the yellow. A small ‘R’ motiff indicates the model, whthout pushing it in your face. Sharp angles here too add to the look.
What is more impressive is that this is a five-door model. The rear door handles are hidden up by the door windows, allowing for a smooth side panel. We all like smooth bodywork, right?
With 18-inch alloys on low profile tyres as standard, you won’t need to do much to style it. Seat has taken the lead here in modifying terms, and it looks much more aggressive, yet attractive, than other hot hatches on the market. The Focus RS is perhaps the only car that comes close, especially in its luminous green.
With such a racy car, you would expect a racy interior, and the Seat does not disappoint. A closed in cockpit effect is given with the dash blending seamlessly into the centre console and the gear surround. The pedals are well optimised, and the Seat is not built for purely the European marketplace, with pedals to one side.
In keeping with the sport look, the wingback leather seats feature white stitching with the Cupra logo sewn into the back support. The rear of these are gloss black plastic, to keep with the theme outside the car, and aid rear leg room, of which there is plenty for adults.
The dashboard isn’t exactly remarkable, and has the feel of cheaper plastics, although darkened to fit into the style of the car. The steering wheel could have come out of any standard version of the car too. Those pedals do stand out however, aluminium shining from the dark footwell.
Overall the car is comfortable to sit in, but the leather wingback seats could get warm and cause some problems on a warm day. The seatbelts too need to be positioned high to come over the wings, which may be an issue for smaller drivers.
Being able to review this car on a track was a big benefit to assess its handling, but at the same time, I took the Cupra R on the country roads around the circuit.
Seat has employed its XDS differential on the Leon. Essentially an electronic limited slip diff, slowing a wheel when losing grip with the aim of reducing understeer. It works, on the track an apex was never missed, while out on the roads, the car turned into every corner with precision, and held, with no sign of the front end drifting out.
Yet what the Seat does suffer with, as do most front wheel drive vehicles where a lot of power is produced, is tourque steer. leave the steering wheel alone and the Leon will pull to the right. But who lets the steering wheel go when they’re driving?
The rear end felt stable too, the car was planted, and at no time was there a need to hover over the brake pedal when cornering.
The brakes worked a little too well. While that may seem like an odd criticism, a slight touch on the pedal almost resulted in whiplash. Good on the circuit, not on the roads. The model tested had only covered 350 miles so maybe with wear this problem will disappear.
This thing flies, Seat calls it their most powerful road going car yet, and it is easy to tell. A 260bhp 2.0-litre turbocharged petrol engine produces 350Nm of torque at 2,500rpm, and it pulls away sharply in first, before smoothly allowing changes through the six-speed manual gearbox.
In a straight line, the Cupra R will do 0-60 in 6.2 seconds, and will reach 155mph, on the track of course. The Focus RS will do the sprint in 5.9 seconds with a bigger engine, showing just what is packed under that bonnet.
Seat state that the car will achieve 35.9mpg combined, but I managed to empty half a tank in 20 laps on the track. You could probably achieve those figures but it’s hard to drive a car like this as if you have a box of eggs in your lap.
You’ll have fun in this car, and you certainly will have the power to put down on the motorways.
The Seat Leon Cupra R is a welcome addition to the hot hatch market, and will hold its own against the might of Vauxhall and Ford. It is designed for those who like aggressive looks, with the power figures to impress and the handling that will inspire confidence.
As part of the Volkswagen family, Seat has a great technical ability to draw on, and with a growing aftersales business the company is building its position in the UK market.
So with speed, comfort and looks, the Leon Cupra R is a decent choice, and will perform well on road or track.