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SEAT Leon Cupra engines, drive and performance

2007 - 2011 (change model)
Performance rating: 5 out of 55.0

Written by David Ross Published: 6 June 2019 Updated: 6 June 2019

The Cupra uses a modified version of the 2.0-litre turbocharged FSI petrol engine that’s in the Leon FR as well as Volkswagen’s Golf GTI from 2005. It has 240bhp – a 40bhp increase over the FR and GTI which makes the Cupra one of the most powerful hot hatches around, equal to the Vauxhall Astra VXR. It sprints from 0-62mph in just 6.4 seconds (almost a full second quicker than the FR) and sounds great too – quiet at low speeds but with a slight burble from the exhaust under hard acceleration and a little rasp between gear changes.

There’s plenty of pulling power in any gear and the Leon pulls smoothly and predictably, making it enjoyable and easy to drive. An average economy figure of 34mpg (35mpg in revised cars from 2009) is very reasonable given the performance the Cupra offers while the six-speed manual gearbox offers slick and short shifts, adding to the sporty feel. Unlike the FR, there’s no DSG automatic gearbox available.

Thanks to the fact it is based on the 2005 Volkswagen Golf GTI, the Leon Cupra has a great starting point to build on. It comes with lowered sports suspension and 18-inch alloy wheels as standard which help it corner precisely while it responds to even slightly steering inputs. There’s masses of grip too and despite all that power going through the front wheels, it never feels unruly, instead staying composed at all times.

This is especially true in tight bends, where the Cupra is in its element, providing impressive traction. The good news is that while it has a sporty set-up, the ride is very impressive for a hot hatch. It’s forgiving and smooth over rough surfaces and deals with deep potholes well, even at higher speeds. Revised models from 2009 are fitted with a system called XDS – an electronic system which acts like a limited slip differential.

It will smoothly brake a wheel if it’s losing grip in a bend, making cornering even more accurate and safer.