So I drove the new Leon Cupra, on the road and the track…


As you may have gathered by the other features I have written on, I am not a motoring journalist. I do not profess to be an expert on the mechanics of all cars but I am a SEAT brand enthusiast. My aim is to write from a fan’s perspective, with experience of the brand’s products of which several I have owned. I hope I can convey my passion for the brand, while also helping to answer the questions of those of you who are interested in SEAT’s. Please feel free to leave your comments below about the new Leon Cupra and I look forward to reading your thoughts.

There has been a lot of discussion on our forums about the Leon Cupra R and in reality it is not on the radar at the moment. This was a media event for the Cupra only and there was no discussion regarding any imminent Cupra R. Even following today’s event some publications have gone as far as saying we are going to see a Cupra R unveiled at the Geneva Motorshow next month.

I sat through the same media briefing, I have the same media pack and spoke to the same people. It just isn’t going to happen, it isn’t going to happen (if at all) for a number of years yet.

Anyway where to begin now that’s out of the way? I started to write this with the usual run down of  the days events, the flight, the experience, but I’ve done that before so I won’t go into all of that detail again, other than to thank SEAT for their usual excellent hospitality and for kindly inviting us along to have this opportunity.

Thank you.

Ok, let’s talk about the new car….


Twice the choice
For the first time SEAT have opted to produce the Leon Cupra in two different power outputs from the VAG group’s 2.0 litre TSI power plant which it shares with the latest Audi S3. The CUPRA 280PS which wears its own unique special badging on the rear to differentiate it, and the CUPRA which comes in at the lower 265PS. Both versions were available to be driven at the media event.


The entry spec CUPRA 265 is currently being offered to the UK market in the SC 3 door spec only, which will only come equipped with a 6 speed manual gearbox, it is being retailed from £25,690 OTR.  It shares many of the great features that have already made the current crop of FR Leon’s such a solid success for the company.

Standard features over the FR range include the fantastic technology pack (currently still being offered for free on new SE & FR Leon’s) which includes the stunning Full-LED headlights and the media system plus with DAB radio. Standard seat trim is the alcantara and leather bolstered style with unique CUPRA detailing.


In addition the CUPRA comes equipped as standard with CUPRA front and rear bumpers, CUPRA 18″ alloy wheels, unique trim detailing, a thicker flat-bottomed leather steering wheel, the SEAT  Drive profile with an all new CUPRA tuned selection, incorporating DCC (Dynamic Chassis Control) which is optional on the VW Golf GTI and progressive steering control.

With the enthusiast firmly in mind SEAT have also included an ESC on/off button, this is not supplied on lower spec Leon models, where ESC control is only accessible from the car setup screen.  The most exciting standard addition to the CUPRA range is the incorporation of VAQ electronically controlled mechanical front locking differential which is an expensive performance pack optional extra on the Mk7 VW Golf GTI.  The VAQ diff helps reign in the potent power being put through the front wheels, the aim of which is to eliminate torque steer and increase grip.


Then there is the CUPRA 280 spec, available in both 3 door SC and 5 door body styles, with a choice of either the 6 speed DSG auto or the 6 speed manual transmission.

In addition to everything the entry spec CUPRA comes with,  it also includes machined two tone silver/titanium monster style 19″ CUPRA rims and the more commonly expected CUPRA details such as gloss black mirror caps and exterior mouldings. An exclusive rear roof spoiler with black underside is included, larger red brake callipers are also standard equipment on the 280 variant over the CUPRA 265, and these incorporate the CUPRA logo.

Inside of the cabin there is no distinguishable difference between the two specs, but the CUPRA 280 also comes equipped with navigation as standard.  The DSG models also include the steering wheel shift paddles.


Despite being first in the queue at the airport to be given a set of keys, due to my excitement I didn’t bother to ask which model we had, and as it was we ended up with the CUPRA 265 in emotion red, which had the 6 speed manual gearbox.


As usual some mild panic set in as I sat behind the wheel as I began to try and re-wire my brain to everything being the wrong way round. I was hoping to be eased into gently with a DSG but no such luck. With my left hand banging on the door panel from time-to-time we proceeded to make our way out of the airport.

CUPRA 265 on the road

– Switch the car into Cupra mode – check
– Put foot to the floor and grin at the awesome sound – check
– Notice the Spanish drivers craning their heads as you drive past – check


After the initial excitement of finally getting my hands on a new CUPRA, we settled at a stable cruising speed on the motorway and started to play with the settings.

Using the SEAT drive profile to effect changes to the DCC and steering, we switched out of CUPRA mode and you could immediately feel the steering wheel loosen up and the car became more bouncy over the road. By bouncy I don’t mean bouncy in a negative way, it still felt firmly planted, but I was surprised at the noticeable difference, the ride was softer and more comfortable, the car felt more relaxed.


Switching back into CUPRA mode I was surprised to find despite the car firming up it still comfortably cruises at speed and bumps and imperfections in the road didn’t bother it or make the ride uncomfortable. It is significantly improved in this area over the MK2 Cupra, however we look forward to testing the system more on the lottery that is UK roads.

Frankly unless I am on a long journey with the family in the future I don’t think I will ever take mine (yes I have one on order) out of Cupra mode. I ordered the car for the rawness of the experience and this car certainly delivers.

Inside the CUPRA

The MK3 Leon owners on our discussion forum will already know that the interior of the car is streets ahead in quality of what has come before it and of course the CUPRA is no exception to this. In fact the CUPRA adds some stylish touches not seen before. These include gloss black detailing across the dash and on the gear stick. The CUPRA flag logo is also etched on the aluminium door sills in colour which is a nice touch.


The alcantara seats in the CUPRA 265 are similar to the alcantara sports seats which are available optionally on the Leon FR, except the colouring is a contrasting of black and white with the CUPRA text detailed into the backs.

The sport seats felt very supportive and comfortable with lots of adjustment for height and lumber. The CUPRA 280 version will be available to order with optional bucket seats, slated for around the summer time but not initially at launch, however some of the cars at the media event had the bucket seats fitted for us to see and use.

Black head-lining is to be expected on a CUPRA as is the white stitching now reserved for the CUPRA trim (started with the MK5 Ibiza Cupra) while the red stitching remains a standard for the FR trim.

First stop and press briefing
To our surprise the first stop was at Martorell literally right outside the factory gates. SEAT had set up one of their often used “Cubes”, essentially a mobile mini showroom and press area where we received our formal briefing.


This included a presentation by SEAT UK’s Managing Director Neil Williamson.  Here we learnt how well SEAT is doing compared to its competitors and how they seem themselves bucking the trend against a difficult marketplace. Based on the popularity of the new Leon and how well received it has been by both the press and the public over the last 12 months SEAT are clearly doing something right.


It was explained to us that the CUPRA mode was developed and tuned at the famous Nürburgring in Germany.  This is in line with the extensive mule testing spy shots and video we have seen from last year.


We also learned that the CUPRA will be made available with Brembo Brakes as an option in the future (despite what some of the other reviews have said, they are not as yet fitted to the car currently). Personally I think the standard brakes are very good as they are, I don’t see the necessity to upgrade unless you are a die hard track day fan.


In the mini-showroom area, different parts of the car were on display. These included the range of available colours demonstrated by different coloured spoilers, the selection of colours available for the CUPRA range is currently favoured more towards the monochrome, even the special palette colour is Dynamic Grey.  It would be a welcome addition to see a wider range of colours made available in time, but the cars looks stunning regardless.

The display also showed off a set of the larger CUPRA callipers and discs. There was also a wall with a hedge growing out of it for some reason.


Both wheel types were also out on display, side by side the difference is clear to see between the two styles.


We were shown a potential new advert which had toy monkeys that caught fire, but after the hedge wall, people didn’t seem to bat an eyelid.


After the briefing and a quick Wi-Fi blast to tweet some of the pictures back to Blighty and for Zboyd to share with the forum, we went back to our allocated red CUPRA 265 for the route towards the Castelloli racing circuit.

Track time

We arrived at Catelloli and the 265 was checked back in and lunch tucked into as quickly as possible, as there was a line of CUPRA poised at the side of the track ready to go.


After lunch I asked for a CUPRA 280 DSG SC with cameras in the cabin. As I write I’m not sure if I’ll be sharing the footage when it arrives from Spain as I suspect I was mainly grimacing as I hammered the car around trying not to spin off. I am not sure if the video will add much to your enlightenment about this car. We will see once I’ve reviewed it! I know the first bit is basically me trying to work out the automatic box in a fluster as the pace car is starting up.


I was first out behind the pace car (a red Leon FR) and had about four other Cupra’s following behind me. We were given one warm up lap, then one hot lap then one warm down lap.


Always being crap at taking the racing line in games I basically set out to follow the pace car as best I could.


The DSG helped a lot and the warm up lap was fun. The pace car went at a reasonable speed and I pretty much managed to follow his line and keep up.


Second lap and the excitement really began. The pace car shot off and I floored it letting the DSG do all the work in Sport mode. The Cupra rapidly gained as you would expect and I took the driver behind me by surprise as they ended up quite far back.

We weren’t racing each other and I wasn’t confident enough to make a pass, but I quickly gained confidence in the car and its ability to push into the corners. I don’t have much track experience to compare it to driving under track conditions, but boy it felt exceptionally good, a thrilling experience.


The car felt composed and pushing on out of each corner I continued to be able to floor it hard and the car remained solid, hunkered down and gripped superbly the VAQ diff obviously working its magic. The engine sounded great with the DSG generating an audible pop from the exhaust on gear changes, I was having a whale of a time.


The fast lap was over too soon and the pace car’s hazards came on indicating for us to slow down and take the last lap steadily. Briefly I thought they wanted me to go ahead of them, but thankfully I worked out that wasn’t likely to be the case. I’m also sure SEAT wanted to keep the majority of the Cupras intact for the other journalists over the coming weeks.

CUPRA 280 vs CUPRA 265

I didn’t drive both back-to-back on circuit to find a noticeable difference between the two unfortunately. Both specs have the same torque levels, indicating its prowess on the circuit would be very similar. However with all the kit you get as standard on the 280 for the relatively minor additional outlay I don’t think many (any?) UK buyers will opt for the lower specced version. Actually the 265 isn’t really expected to be for the UK market and will only be built to order if requested.


CUPRA 280 on the road
We took a different car out from the circuit car park for another road session, this was a 280 five door with manual transmission and it was also fitted with the optional bucket seats.

The bucket seats are very comfortable, but not hugely different than the standard seats. Of course if you are chucking the car around a lot you would see the benefit of extra support from the high shoulder bolster, but I’m not frustrated that I could have the seats on my own pending order had I waited until later in the year.

If the bucket seats end up coming as standard equipment then I will be disappointed as an early adopter, but I suspect they may remain an optional extra given the high level of kit that is currently fitted as standard such as the all important diff and DCC.


The actual drive in the car was great. We headed out towards few twisty bits of road, stopped for some photos and then as time was against us we headed off to the airport.  As before, the car handled differing road situations really well and is clearly an accomplished and dynamic a cruiser as it is a track day animal when you need it to be.

Final thoughts

Well, what can I say.  The car lived up to my expectations.  SEAT have produced a real driver’s car here that is not only stylish (you won’t feel like a boy racer in one – which is good at my age), it is very very rapid, the impressive handling sticks it to the road like a limpet, and it is packed to the brim with great functional standard features.  Who could ask for more?

We have always said the SEAT Leon is the smart man’s Golf GTI.  This still holds true, in fact in this new CUPRA more so than ever.  This car would get the official five star stamp of approval (if there ever was one).  What are you waiting for? Get down to your dealers now and set the Cupra animal inside you free.


More pictures can be found on our new Flickr channel

Get the full run down of the car here.

Discuss the car over on our forums.

A big thank you as usual to Zboyd for his sub editing skills.


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