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Click to view road test review picture gallery“Fancy a stint in the
  hot seat of a hot SEAT?
  How about the latest
  SEAT Leon Cupra 2.0 T
  FSI? That’ll do nicely,
  thank you...”

SEAT'S MARKETING programme mostly uses high-profile motorsport as its theme — in particular, the World and British Touring Car Champion-ships and their one-make SEAT Cupra Championship.

Last year, SEAT won the British Touring Car Championship for the first time. They say they intend to hold on to it again in 2007, although the revitalised Vauxhall team, now using the Vectra instead of the ill-handling Astra, might cause them some problems.

However, motorsport has given the Spanish motor company, founded in May 1950 and now part of The Volkswagen Automotive Group, a higher profile and a sporting image which has resulted in increased sales. SEAT UK says it spends around £3.5 million annually competing in the BTCC but it generates around £8 million each year in television and media coverage plus, of course, increased car sales.

In the UK, the brand increased its sales last year by 15.5 per cent in a market that was down overall by 4 per cent. Who says advertising doesn't pay? Worldwide, SEAT sales increased by almost 2 per cent to 430,000 units.

This year in the UK it is more of the same — SEAT's sales are up by 7.6 per cent. Their image today is one of a manufacturer intent on making sporty cars for young and young-at-heart buyers. The brand has one of the youngest customer profiles in the industry — around 35 years is the average age — and an increasing number of female customers are buying SEATs.

The current range includes Ibiza, Altea, Toledo, Leon and Alhambra models — everything from small hatchbacks through to a large MPV. Not all 'hot' sports models, obviously. But think SEAT and you think 'sporty'; so brand marketing based on motorsport activities does work.

The latest sports model to be added to the range is the Leon Cupra which joined the line-up in March this year. The Leon five-door hatch-back — similar in size to the VW Golf, Vauxhall Astra and Ford Focus — has already seen its UK sales increase by 42 per cent in 2006, so the addition of SEAT's most powerful production model to date is certain
to give a further boost to sales, with an equal split of private and business user-chooser customers. In the region of 10,000 Leon models are sold in the UK each year, and the new Cupra version will attract an expected 1,000 customers.

Priced at £19,595, the 5-door Leon Cupra is powered by a 2.0-litre T FSI engine. The same core engine is also used by VW, Audi and Skoda but SEAT makes their own modifications and enhancements for their own specific models. This four-cylinder, petrol, 237bhp direct injection unit is turbocharged in conjunction with an intercooler. The top speed of the Leon Cupra is an impressive 153mph with the zero to 62mph sprint accomplished in 6.4 seconds.

Drive to the front wheels is through a six-speed, toughened close-ratio gearbox with a SEAT-developed transmission which minimises torque-steer. The most obvious competitors are the Astra VXR, Focus ST, Mazda 3 MPS and Renaultsport Megane 225 although you could include the less powerful new Honda Civic Type-R on your shopping list.

For the petrol-heads reading this, the 237bhp engine is substantially modified over the 197bhp T FSI engine on which it is based. The changes include a new ECU (Electronic Control Unit), larger turbo-charger, reinforced pistons and engine block, strengthened connecting rods, a new ultra-heat-resistant alloy for the cylinder head and larger fuel injectors.

Other technical changes over the Leon FR and standard Leon hatch-backs include a lowered suspension (by 7mm, or 14mm compared with standard Leon), slightly softer springs, slimmer front anti-roll bar, lighter front axle (by 7.5kg) due to the use of aluminium rather than steel; and awesome 17-inch front disc brakes with red-painted cal-lipers. They really do stop the car in a hurry when needed.

Following SEAT's reputation for 'attainable sportiness', the Leon Cupra has a high level of value-for-money equipment. Highlights include bi-xenon headlights with an adaptive front lighting system where the lights can 'look round' corners, impressive bucket sports seats with integrated head restraints, 18-inch alloy wheels, six airbags, an ESP Electronic Stabilisation Programme, Dual Zone climate control, MP3-compatible CD player with AUX IN for directly connecting, for example, an iPod plus front and rear electric windows. Other interior visual differences include black interior trim which includes the roof lining, metal-covered pedals plus specific Cupra-branded instrument cluster, steering wheel and gear knob.

The interior is very dark and while black may be 'sporty', combined with the small windows it makes for a somewhat dingy cabin. The small windows combined with the wide front A-pillars also cause considerable blind spots around the car.

External visual differences between the Cupra and other Leons, in addition to the 18-inch alloy wheels, include more aggressive front air intakes with black lower lip, black mirror housings, glossy black B- and C-pillars, a trademark Cupra oval exhaust pipe, CUPRA badging on the bootlid and the red-painted brake callipers we've already mentioned.

Flared wheelarches, the 'coupé' side styling treatment with narrow windows, the hidden door handles for the rear side doors and the sporty SEAT front face provide all the essential elements for the car's desirable go-faster image. There are drawbacks though. Visibility out
of the car is a major one, and access to the load area is restricted
by the high level rear sill.

Overall, the SEAT Leon Cupra is good in parts. The styling will be an acquired taste for some. The functionality of the design regarding blindspots and the access to the boot and oppressive black interior
are all, for me, negative issues.

However, where it matters with this car is price, equipment and per-formance. In these areas the Leon Cupra doesn't disappoint. For the money there probably isn't a better buy in this sector, particularly when you consider all the standard fixtures and fittings.

The Cupra's powerplant, it must be said, is a real winner; responsive, and it loves being worked hard. The direct injection petrol engine, boosted by a turbocharger and intercooler, not only provides lots of power right through the rev range, but it produces huge amounts of torque — 221lb ft between 2,200 and 5,500rpm. This makes it a gutsy and responsive fast car over A and B roads whilst remaining user-friendly around town. The real-life fuel economy was reasonable as
well — 27.1mpg for some fun driving is good enough.

Whilst ride comfort can only be described as 'firm', the benefits are huge amounts of predictable grip during fast cornering and a flat and level ride. The brakes are immensely powerful and give loads of confid-ence to the driver. The steering at times is a little too heavy but then it does give good feedback. As often with 'hot' hatchbacks there's a
bit of give and take called for. On the downside there are some driving blindspots caused by the restricted visibility, an oppressively dark —
to me, anyway — interior and also wind, tyre and engine noise. On the plus side, this 2.0 T FSI Cupra is fast and responsive, has fantastic
grip and brakes and is undeniably good value for money. Ladies and Gentlemen, please start your engines. — David Miles

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SEAT Leon Cupra 2.0 T FSI | £19,595
Maximum speed: 153mph | 0-62mph: 6.4 seconds
Overall test MPG: 27.1mpg | Power: 237bhp | Torque: 221lb ft

CO2 199g/km | VED Band F £205
Visit SEAT's website Click to go there now

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