THE CURRENT SEAT LEON Cupra began with either 261bhp or 276bhp, in models called ‘Cupra’ and ‘Cupra 280’ respectively. Then it moved to just one car at 286bhp – the Cupra 290. Now, well, go on, have a guess. As the name implies, it has 300 PS, or 296bhp. All of this just as the Golf R slips tantalisingly ahead again, rising to 306bhp in the soon-to-be-released Mk 7.5 version. How very convenient, politically speaking.
No matter: these Cupras have always been rabid in a straight line, and with the TSI motor’s torque rising by 221b ft to 280lb ft between 1800 and 5500rpm, that should be even more so the case now. The quickest hatchback Cupra 300 (three doors, DSG transmission) gets to 62mph in just 5.6sec – a tenth quicker than the equivalent 290. More intriguingly, and in spite of SEAT’S reluctance to relay the information, the Cupra has also had detail changes to the chassis settings, gets faster shifts time for the DSG gearbox, and has a more theatrical soundtrack both inside and out.
All of this is based on the recently facelifted Leon, and there are some changes to the range structure as well. The Cupra is still available in three-door (SC), five-door and estate (ST) guises, the last of those offered only with four-wheel drive and DSG. It’s a true rival to the Golf R Estate, and the only version to get 4WD. As before, a Performance Pack is available, with either black or orange detailing. It brings side-skirts, bigger Brembo brakes, and lightweight 19-inch alloys. Michelin Pilot Sport Cup 2 tyres are a further option.
What changes there are to the Cupra’s chassis are minor and would take a back-to-back drive with the older car to pinpoint. Essentially, it’s business as usual here. The Cupra -particularly in lighter, SC guise -demolishes a challenging road, generating very high levels of grip and finding impressive traction via its electronically controlled limited-slip differential. As before, all sorts of parameters can be adjusted – either via preset modes or an ‘Individual’ setting – including the engine characteristics, damping, steering weight and even the response of the diff.
Set the suspension to its most comfortable and the car rides with a sophisticated control that suggests it would be very easy to live with. Certainly, the Cupra 300 could never be called dull, but it remains a more coolly efficient character than the flamboyant old Megane RS, especially in 4WD ST form. Indeed, the new wagon is a ludicrously rapid way to move lots of luggage: 0-62mph takes just 4.9sec. It has naturally weighty steering, but the added length and altered weight distribution mean it doesn’t quite have the same sense of agility as its hatchback relations.
Here’s a thought, though. Just imagine if SEAT had left the engine alone and concentrated instead on refining the driving experience rather than massaging mere numbers. As it stands, the manual gearchange has a notchy resistance partway through its throw (on our test car, at least), a sensation exaggerated by the delayed return of the clutch pedal through its arc (a characteristic shared with some rival VW Group cars) and a disappointingly light and mushy brake pedal, even with the optional Brembos. It all makes heel-and-toe downchanges virtually impossible.
That, sadly, means the Cupras are best sampled in DSG form, and highly efficient they are too, but the up – and downshift of the DSG gearlever is arranged counter-intuitively, and the automatic upshift in manual mode is plain annoying. It’s this lack of subtle refining – that attention to the details that really matter to people who enjoy driving – that separates a very good fast car from a truly special one. That said, this Leon Cupra 300 is still a 155mph car starting at under £30k.