Cupra 280 v Curpa R pt 1

Apr 24, 2023
Having run the Cupra and Cupra R back-to-back for a few weeks it’s time to give my verdict. This is a factory std 280 SC DSG from 2015 and a factory std R from 2018…I’m a Seat fan (having owned 6), and an average driver who doesn’t track cars.
Interesting to point out that despite the R being 5 years old when I got it, it cost more than the Cupra did new so it needs to go some to justify the price.

I was so sceptical about the copper accents on the R that they actually put me off for some while, but in the flesh all worries are immediately gone. It looks awesome, more so I think in black than grey but that’s a personal preference…I never really liked the shade of grey Seat used on the Leon.
When I first bought the Cupra I thought it was a stunning car - even now I prefer it to the latest VAG products and pretty much any other hatch on the market. It still looks fresh and purposeful. I picked met white with the pan roof because I loved the contrast black and white. What Seat have achieved with the R though makes the Cupra look a touch bland. The R is one of the best-looking hatches ever, and from any angel. The additions of carbon fibre, the contrast colours and the body mods all play their part in giving it a much more aggressive look. You can tell this car means business. I also much prefer the round tail pipes although they appear set-back into the body work too far.

Ok so the Leon always had a function over form approach and what you get in the R isn’t exactly revolutionary but still a touch nicer. I appreciate the face-lift contributes most of this, certainly the media system is a welcome upgrade with Apple car play, a larger and clearer screen. The R also has the g-force gauge - maybe this is also on the regular face lift Cupra too. The copper accents and the face lift central tunnel certainly left the cabin.
The seats themselves are the upgraded buckets which look the part but, in all honesty, likely wouldn’t justify the price premium over the regular sports seats which are plenty good enough. I also kind of lack having a head rest I can adjust as opposed to this fixed one.
Strangely I don’t miss the roof in the way a lot of pundits describe - to add light to a dark cabin. I do miss the ventilation on a warm day. The manual lever is also a visual improvement over the clunky looking pre-facelift dsg version, and while I personally like a manual hand brake, you do appreciate the aesthetics of the electronic one.
Other wins are the adaptive cruise - big fan of that. Keyless entry and the Beats sound system that adds a little more clarity and depth over the Seat Sound system in the Cupra. It’s not revolutionary sound but an improvement. I’m also glad they stuck with regular dials as opposed to the digital display that the ST R got. I kind of like tactile look and it suits the rest of the car.
One thing I do find odd in the R is how the drive mode resets every time you start it whereas the old model remembers what you last selected. I know this impacts all face lift cars, but also in the R the start-stop is turned off on start up, something that doesn’t happen on other models. Maybe I can change that, but I couldn’t find anything cycle through the various options. Also odd is that for a car that can have the unit data set to both metric and imperial, the KW power gauge can’t be changed to either PS of BHP…bit irritating, more so that they give you plenty of choice to change the boost pressure gauge.

First Driving Impressions
First thing you notice is the sound. Now I still appreciate it’s an tech enhanced noise, but it sounds more natural. Maybe again this was a face lift improvement and the new Cupra has been improved too but running the old one; particular in Cupra mode and the noise sounds totally artificial. It’s also not an exciting or enveloping sound. The R also has its party piece exhaust that comes into play particularly on Cupra engine mode. Open the throttle fully, get past 4K rpm, change gear and you know what I mean. Interestingly it also bangs on start-up although not from cold.
The next thing are the brakes. I think these are the same as on the sub8 pack and boy are they good. The peddle feel is more immediate as is the way they haul you to a stop. I really wish I’d bought these on the Cupra because despite the 340mm setup, I thought the brakes weren’t quite up to spec in a car with that much performance. Driving the Cupra now you note that the peddle feels more artificial, even if the R has ridiculously small amount of peddle travel for ‘regular braking’ before the seat belt starts to grip you hard. But you get used to that very quickly and never over-brake in the way that you probably did in your first couple of attempts.
I also had reservations about the steering wheel - the feel of Alcantara not overly appealing. Now I don’t understand why this isn’t more common. It feels great, no sweaty palms that some people experience. Also the wheel feels thinner in the R (not measured it). I assume this is due to Alcantara being thinner than leather. I really like this too - I’ve driven cars with some very fat steering wheels, the worst being the Abarth Grande Punto, and this wheel just feels sport on. Then you notice the steering itself, although only when moving back to the Cupra. Never noted before the slight haziness around the straight ahead. Even in Cupra mode there are a couple of degrees of play in the wheel where not a lot happens - not with R though, the turn is far more immediate. Moving on I then noticed the steering weight. The R feels lighter and quicker than the regular car. Absolutely a win here - not many fwd cars have great steering but the R is right up there. It’s no Porsche or Lotus of course but it’s a step up from the Cupra. I also notice how the Cupra’s steering weighs up more the more you turn the wheel. Again, in the R you don’t get that, and it feels more natural for it.
Gearbox is a big one here. Not easy to compare as it’s a totally different set up and it’s likely that the R closely mimics a manual in the regular car. What it does allow me to do is reflect on my decision to take a DSG with the original car, and in all honesty, I wish I hadn’t. I haven’t driven a manual gear car for 8 years and going back to it is such a joy. The DSG, in both 6 speed format here and a subsequent 7 speeder I ran in 2018 (Leon FR 1.4 DSG) just dials back the involvement and ultimately control and joy. Yes, it’s a technical wonder and super-efficient but it left me reflecting that after a short while with the Cupra I’d switched from most journey’s running in manual mode, to running in sport mode to standard drive mode and then sometimes even eco.
You just get so used to allowing the DSG to switch gears itself that I now use manual by exception. And when I do run manual I note a couple of things I don’t like. First, you can’t always use the paddles because as soon as you spin the wheel to a certain level, simultaneously switching gears on the paddles is a chore as you have to hunt for them. What about the lever then? Better yes but it feels like a console controller. I wish they’d have put a switch into the change so you could feel and hear the same click that you get with the paddles, but no.
The biggest issue with DSG though is always needing to check what gear you’re in because even in manual mode the car will change. This is typically a downshift when running too low, and because of the super-smooth nature of the box, there’s no way to tell without looking at the dash. Imagine then driving in town at 3rd, approaching a corner and at some point you went to ping 2nd and fire it down the next straight…well you need to check because it could be you are already there and actually you’d be dropping it to first.
The other problem with autos in general, even those as good as this, is that without the clutch, the peddle feel is off too. I notice now that every time I exit a junction I’m more circumspect with the throttle, and notice the slight play in the throttle before anything happens. Not so with a manual where you know exactly what’s going on because you are in full control.
Engine wise you do notice that it’s dialled up over the 280…that’s more to do with the torque advantage and you can certainly feel the added umph throughout the range. I suspect the power gains wouldn’t be really felt over the 290/300 though as the torque gain is only 10 pound foot compared to more than 30 here. In both cars the engine is a triumph and I applaud VAG for producing engines with more horsepower than torque. This is how a car should be as it encourages you to spin the engine up. Nothing worse than those engines that fall short in the top end…For anyone that’s driven a turbo like the Audi S1 you will know the disappointment of hitting the torque wall below 5,000 rpm and actually changing gear rather than going for the red-line.
Two surprises with the R come in fuel economy and traction. Taking economy first, the official consumption is 37.7 compared to over 40 in the DSG equipped Cupra. I can tell you that the R is at worst as economical when driven on a blend of roads. My 21-mile commute which mixes town, A road, duel carriage way and motorway driving easily sees 37.7 mpg in the R (when driven sensibly) and just about that in the Cupra if driven in eco mode with a very light right foot. On motorways the R has the Curpa licked which I guess is more due to the added weight of the DSG and sunroof. I think the gearing ratios are pretty much the same. Maybe the 7 speeder claws back that deficit.


Started with nowt and still have most of it left.
Staff member
Dec 26, 2013
Great comparison and write up. I do like the R and a friend of mine has kicked himself daily since he sold it. Any pics ?
Apr 24, 2023
Thanks - it’s an awesome car no doubt about that. I think a couple of months in it’s the usability of the power that stands out for me. The traction, change of direction and braking just keep up whereas on the old model the engine was the standout and the rest weren’t quite on the same page.
Add in the noise, looks and all the kit and it’s a fantastically rounded package.
The 280 has gone now, sold within minutes of listing. I’ve got pics of that shiny and ready for sale. The R needs a clean but I will add some ASAP.
Stupid question but is there a place here to post pics or do you just do it on this forum page?
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