Thanks to complex four-wheel-drive systems, high-power engines and grip-inducing tyre technology, the 400bhp hyper hatch is no longer a pipe dream.
Back on UK roads, little has changed. The SEAT Leon Cupra R is still a fine hot hatch, feeling harder, more responsive and altogether more complete than the ageing Cupra 300. The 2.0-litre turbo engine is as eager as ever, offering endless punch and a familiar yet slightly synthesised growl. In fact, the Cupra R feels incredibly quick point to point.
Slacken things off and it sits on the motorway just like any other Leon, despite the firmer settings and big wheels. Things are a bit rough in the car’s Cupra mode, but fiddle with the Individual set-up and you’ll strike a beautiful balance between hardcore hot hatch and comfortable cruiser.
The Brembo brakes are super sharp, offering loads of feel through the pedal, while grip is astounding. Push too hard from a standstill and the tyres will scrabble for traction, but once you’re up and running the R’s standard-fit front differential and wider track makes for frankly alarming cornering pace. The snickety six-speed manual gearbox is unchanged, but allows for quick and precise changes without feeling unnecessarily weighty.
Every version gets SEAT’s intuitive eight-inch infotainment display, as well as Apple CarPlay and Android Auto connectivity. Once more, eveything on our car came as standard, including those excentric alloy wheels, copper accents and sculpted sports seats. The navigation system works well, too. The deep 380-litre boot is unchanged from the standard Leon hatch and the high loading lip means it isn’t as practical as some rivals, though an ST estate version is on the way.
Yet the Cupra R’s biggest problem is its exclusivity. Just 24 are coming to the UK, and every single one is accounted for. That means, even if you’ve got the extra £5,095 (over the standard car) burning a hole in your pocket, there’s little chance you’ll be able to lay your hands on one. We can only hope SEAT applies the various tweaks to conventional Cupras in the months to come.
As a conclusion, it’s a shame you can’t go out and buy a Leon Cupra R, because the sportier Spanish hot hatch is right up there with the best cars in its class. While rivals choose to boost power and add four-wheel drive, the Leon strips things back to basics and is all the better for it. If you can find one, you won’t be disappointed.
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