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SEAT Leon Cupra R 5-door Sports Hatch

Click to view picture gallery“Bored with the ever-increasing
  pressure to drive eco-friendly
  cars at the expense of driving
  enjoyment? Then smile, because
  SEAT’s new Leon five-door family-
  sized Cupra R hatchback will
  fulfil your need for speed

DRIVING A FAST CAR like the Leon Cupra R will do nothing to lower CO2 emissions but it will brighten up your driving days. There is a downside: priced at a weighty 25,205 and with higher running costs than an 'eco' machine, it's not included in SEAT's new VAT-free retail prices promotion that runs until the end of the year.

Restricted to 155mph, the Leon Cupra R is SEAT's fastest-ever production car with zero to 62mph taking just 6.2 seconds. This performance comes from a 2.0-litre, four-cylinder turbocharged petrol engine which delivers 261bhp and 258lb ft of torque at just 2,500rpm.

The combination of this much torque at relatively low revs, and the resulting immense responsiveness in the mid-range, coupled with the slick close-ratio six-speed gearbox is what makes this 'hot hatch' really enjoyable to drive. Yes, the congested roads will curtail progress at times but on the open roads this is an extremely pleasing and fast — very fast — car to drive. Another bonus is that this fiery engine copes very easily with stop/start traffic — unlike many performance engines, it is not at all tricky and finicky to drive out of its 'happy zone'.

“Once the traffic clears
on open roads,
or even if used on track
days, the Cupra R
really comes to life
Once the traffic clears on open roads, or even if used on track days, the Cupra R really comes to life. Better still, the well balanced handling and general road holding is totally predictable with immense grip for straight line acceleration and really fast cornering.

In true SEAT fashion the ride is very firm but the upside is rock solid body control. I was quite surprised that the firm suspension gave a reasonably comfortable ride even on our poor UK road surfaces; however, there is considerable tyre noise intrusion on poor and concrete road surfaces. Passengers are not unduly inconvenienced by the ride quality — not bad considering that this is a roomy five-door hatchback designed for family use with 341-1,166 litres of boot space.

Don't expect to be offered one as your company car due to tax implications but the business user-chooser, company owner or those actually buying their own car of their own choice will be the customers. And there is no shortage of such people wanting to add thrills to their everyday motoring trips.

The sales success of the Ford Focus RS, the Renault Megane 250 Cup and the VW Golf 270 R, to name just three, proves that performance cars based on family hatchbacks enjoy a strong following. The Cupra R is not so extreme and hardcore as a Mitsubishi Lancer Evo; and that is its strength, not a weakness.

Official CO2 emissions from the SEAT's EU5-compliant engine stand at 190g/km — a competitively low figure for a car with this much performance. This means the road tax is 425 in the first year of registration but reduces to 235 from the second year onwards. Benefit-in-Kind tax for business car drivers is 27% — not cheap but, for the keen driver, worth it. As for the fuel economy, official figures show the combined economy to be 34.9mpg and my test car returned 29.4mpg during my week's test drive which included all types of motoring from urban crawl to fast driving on A and B roads plus a motorway trip.

The Cupra R is not so
extreme and hardcore as
a Mitsubishi Lancer Evo;
and that is its strength,
not a weakness
The Leon Cupra R offers more than just some raw performance. Naturally it has the Leon's distinctive styling: sleek front, prominent SEAT face, swept back A-pillars with a coupe side profile, relatively long wheelbase, concealed rear passenger doors and a short rear overhang. Bespoke styling changes, inside and out, distinguish the Cupra R from its fellow Leon family members and enhance its visual kerbside appeal.

The addition of sporty twin central exit exhaust pipes within a customised rear diffuser, discreet extended high-level rear spoiler, subtle 'R' badging and the careful application of gloss black highlighting inside and out gives the Leon Cupra R its exclusive cachet.

Large 19-inch Potenza alloys, prominent 'R' badging on the back of the quilted (and somewhat odd looking) leather bucket-style front sports seats along with a specially created SEAT Sport engine cover continue the exclusive styling.

Normal fixtures and fittings include electrically-operated windows and door mirrors, air conditioning, a very good multi-speaker sound system, a full range of airbags, automatic lights and wipers, rear parking sensors, trip and information computer, remote central locking and excellent handling aids such as the electronic handling control programme, traction control, electronic differential lock and hill-hold brake control.

Offered in a typically 'sunny' selection of colours, this Spanish creation arrives with the option of a new range of eye-catching body paint finishes including a metallic yellow called Tribu — and very noticeable it is too. Perhaps a less flamboyant paint job might be in order if you want to stay 'under the radar'!

Is there anything not to like? Just the firm ride and the quilted finish to the leather seats. Reasons to get behind the wheel include stunning power and huge torque mid-range, responsive, very fast (but it can be docile when required), impeccable grip and handling for a front-wheel drive performance car, good looks, roomy, well equipped, sounds good and puts some F-U-N back into modern motoring. — David Miles

SEAT Leon Cupra R 5-door Sports Hatch
| 25,205
Maximum speed: 155mph | 0-62mph: 6.2 seconds | Overall test MPG: 29.4mpg
Power: 261bhp | Torque: 258lb ft | CO2 190g/km