The hatchback market is fairly limited and rather unpopular in Mexico, which is hard for this European driver to understand. Hatchbacks offer so much in terms of comfort, space, utilities, ergonomics, sportiness, and absolute fun, that it is hard to not find a model that would suit you. Still, with Volkswagen having started production of the Golf VII in this country, the popularity of this segment may now be changing, leading to a Mexican landscape that is littered with Hatchbacks. The Golf is an icon in the hatchback world; its GTI engines have been capturing hearts since the late 1970’s, represented Volkswagen’s most-wanted option, and a goal for competing brands to strive toward.
The Seat Leon Cupra attempts to make us forget about the GTI; it is based on the same 2.0l turbo engine, but offers 265HP, which is a 40HP step up from the Golf. After testing the Leon i-Tech a couple of weeks ago, we decided to name it the Blue Bullet, thanks to its invigorating sense of speed. The Leon Cupra offers almost double the amount of horsepower as the i-Tech, so you could imagine our excitement when this red beast arrived at the office. Ever since I was a kid, I have related the color red to fast, aggressive cars and aggressive drivers. I even remember a small study being done back in Europe stating that drivers of red cars are more aggressive in their driving behavior, and sometimes even in their overall personality. While I am not a big fan of the color of danger, it sure increased my performance expectations.
In The Driving Seat
SEAT have done an amazing job with the new Leon Cupra’s overall sense of style. The design of the body on previous trims looked cheap, but still appealed to a young market that wanted to tune it and tear it up. This version feels complete, with a much sleeker and more tasteful body design, coupled with an engine that requires no tweaking. The interior also shows a small improvement from the aesthetic side, but we did have issues with the emergency button, which had become stuck after just 5,000km on the odometer. Additionally, SEAT’s choice of leather is quite off-putting and feels more like plastic. Personally, the combination of black and white seats and the red exterior on our test model is not something I would ever opt for. Problems such as this make us question the quality of the materials used, which is not a great first impression.
Focusing on the positives, the build materials are actually very high quality (with the exception of that button). The seating offers support where you need it, there is a lot of space, and the car provides great visibility all around. When you couple this with the quick steering and small turning circle, the car becomes very easy to maneuver. The Cupra does have parking assistance, but it is difficult to judge and it feels a bit outdated for such a new model. The manual seating adjustments are also a bit of a let down, but are not really a deal breaker. Besides, too much comfort in this type of car might just take away the fun factor and the real driving experience.
Ride & Performance
Aside from its flaws in the cockpit, this is a FAST vehicle. The engine accelerates the entire machine beautifully, thanks to a combination of good aerodynamics, a low center of gravity, and a relatively low weight. This machine hits 0-100km/h in just 5.8 seconds, and continues to excite right up to 250km/h. While the delivery of 265 hp and 258 lb-ft is a dream, it doesn’t provide that pleasurable g-force push too often. Even so, the Cupra advances amazingly fast with very little effort. While this is a positive, for the most part, city driving can almost feel too fast due to the 2.0l, four-cylinder turbo reacting a fraction of a second later than preferred. I found that I would accelerate 5 meters after plunging down on the pedal, meaning that I had to brake rather abruptly sometimes. Luckily, the brakes are responsive, easy to handle, and really add to the feeling of safety on the road.
The suspension is, by far, one of the best features of this car. It can remain incredibly stable at high speeds, it allows you to take curves fluidly, and it prevents a bumpy ride on those uneven roads. If you couple that with its low cabin vibration, the overall ride is pretty smooth. The engine can be quite noisy when the turbo is working hard, but still manages to sound small for a four-cylinder. Additionally, the engine is a little too powerful for the front wheel drive. When accelerating fast from a low speed or a standstill, the Cupra wheel spins in first, second, and sometimes even third gear, especially when it is loaded with passengers or cargo. However, this trait is actually a benefit on curvy roads and city environments; the car could just use a little extra weight at the front to keep the power on the ground. Even though the Leon Cupra seems like it is working extra hard to hit a good speed, it somehow finds the power it needs to make it feel unstoppable. Another thing this car could benefit from is a good pair of roaring exhaust pipes. While the engine sings pretty loudly already, a 4-cylinder that is renowned for its beautiful sound is hard to find.
Features & Safety
While the Leon Cupra excels in performance, it is quite lacking in features. The GPS is easy to control, but the 5.8 ” screen suffers from pixelation and could use an update. It also lacks an automatic close up feature when you’re approaching your turns, which is quite off-putting for the driver if you miss the voice command. The SEAT Sound audio system is surprisingly good, and while it is certainly no Harman/Kardon or Bose, it offers a real surrounding presence and a thunderous bass. The stereo system includes Bluetooth Audio, CD, MP3, AM/FM radio, but lacks a USB connection. In order to charge your phone or connect it to the system, you would have to purchase a separate adapter, which is a strange design choice when the world is beginning to expect this as a standard feature. Other notable features are the trip computer, power sunroof, and the different driving modes (Comfort, Sport, and Cupra). Air conditioning controls are adequate, and the system itself is fairly good. I also enjoyed the convenience of steering wheel button controls.
In terms of the driving modes, the default choice is Comfort, which delivers more torque in the lower part of the engine. In Comfort mode, the transmission also changes at low revs, making it the ideal mode for driving in the city and in heavy traffic situations. If you want to turn up the action level, then select the Sport mode, which offers more speed, higher revolutions, and a more responsive throttle. Finally there is Cupra mode, which hardens the steering, makes the throttle extremely sensitive, and gives the engine a beautiful new sound. Cupra mode really squeezes all the power out of the engine, making it a little more desirable than the comparative Volkswagen GTI range in terms of performance.
The Seat Leon Cupra is fast, very fast. It offers a complete package for a very reasonable price compared to its competitors. If you’re interested in performance, stability, curve behavior, acceleration, and general handling, the Leon Cupra should be at the top of your shopping list. Although it has much more horsepower than the Golf GTI, it lacks that timeless interior, choice of materials, iconic rims, and the desirability factor. Even with the lack of certain contemporary features, the performance more than makes up for their absence. It would suit a small, young family, where the father wants to offer his kids and partner comfort, while enjoying speed at any time.
All in all, Seat has done an amazing job!
Pros & Cons
+ Outstanding performance
+ Sleek exterior design
+ Incredible acceleration
+ Adaptable suspension
– Lacking in basic features
– Not ideal for city driving
At a Glance
- Make: SEAT
- Model: Leon Cupra
- Engine: 2.0-liter 265 HP
- Transmission: DSG (Direct Shift Gearbox) six-speed automatic
- Consumption: 42.8mpg
- Torque: 258lb ft @ 1700-5600rp
- Color: Red
- Acceleration: 0-100 km/h 5.8 seconds
Price (At Time of Review)