Cupra sounds like the name of some sort of a performance enhancing drug, and rightly so. It is a contraction of cup and racing and adorns the fastest of Spanish car maker Seat£€™s models.
We£€™ve been trying the Leon Cupra 290 which has 286bhp, is capable of 155mph and costs £28,680 which makes it the best value £€˜hot£€™ hatchback on sale. It£€™s also available as an estate car as well which is unusual.
You can drive in comfort/normal mode, but with Sport and Cupra settings a screen touch away anything resembling a clear road is serious temptation. And the way this thing will fly around a track £€“ I remember driving the previous version on a great day at Mallory Park.
You can even call up a lap timer to check how you are improving, or not. Just like some Japanese performance cars, there£€™s a g-force cornering meter to impress the passengers unless their stomachs have already told them how well the car hangs on.
There£€™s a slightly less powerful version but Seat expects 90% of customers will go for this one which looks better thanks to 19in alloy wheels and a rear spoiler, though considering its performance abilities it is commendably restrained.
Younger motoring writers are impressed by more horsepower even if you often cannot use what you have paid for. Putting this much power through only the front wheels is a struggle and big throttle applications need both hands on the wheel to keep the car in a straight line.
The Leon Cupra feels more civilised than a Vauxhall Astra VXR and rides well. An individual setting selects throttle response, suspension set-up and the behaviour of the limited slip differential which reduces the wheel spin of a lightly loaded wheel if cornering hard.
Wide tyres usually mean higher tyre noise and that£€™s true here, especially on some motorway surfaces. But the Pirelli PZeros, 235/35s front and rear, gripped well and I know which I would rather have!
Long distance cruising is refined. The six-speed manual gearbox was a bit notchy so you had to concentrate a little to make sure you got a £€˜clean£€™ change but I like involvement with a car so I didn£€™t mind.
With the engine£€™s power boosted by a turbocharger, it doesn£€™t sound as rorty as a normal £€˜breathing£€™ engine though the exhausts were more tuneful than I have noticed before. Maximum push is available from 1,700rpm through to 5,800rpm so you are never more than a gear change away from lively performance.
You can order a DSG automatic transmission but the manual would be my choice even if it takes half a second longer to reach 62mph if you blitz the car from rest.
Fuel consumption averaged 26.3mpg to 35.3mpg but roads were wet most of the time. The racing car inspired flat-bottomed steering wheel looks good, but can feel slightly clumsy in use.
Aluminium pedals dress up the interior but it is very carefully made so that it does not overshadow the Golf GTi. After several cars with cameras, it felt slightly nerve-wracking reversing the Leon into tight spaces.
The high-end navigation system (£680) has voice control and dynamic route navigation but at one point took me down very narrow lanes and trying to avoid a truck I had to swerve into the grass verge and scraped one of the lovely alloy wheels against a rock. I can still hear the awful sound as I type this. Sorry Seat!
Also consider: Ford Focus RS, Honda Civic Type R, Renaultsport Megane 275 and VW Golf R.
Verdict Sharp suited Spanish flyer but easy to live with.