SEAT Leon Cupra: Goodbye

  • We part company with the appealing Leon Cupra
  • Overall it's one of the most capable cars we've had
  • Find out why we became seriously fond of it

I’m devastated to report there’s a big empty space in our key box which used to be reserved for the SEAT Leon Cupra.

Sure enough, the nasty man from SEAT (who was actually a very nice bloke) came and tore the keys away from us.

It’s been a brilliant period for us. We’ve been extremely lucky to have such a capable car, and sure enough it’s proven highly popular throughout the team.

As I’ve reported, I’m convinced there are few quicker ways to travel home from an airport at 1am. The combination of powerful turbocharged petrol engine, intuitive DSG automatic gearbox, huge amounts of grip and playfully adjustable handling means it’s the perfect car for a late-night blast.

But I also found it worked brilliantly on the motorway – especially when engaging (and embracing) all the safety systems on board.

It’s difficult to ignore the styling either. The sharp lines and posh LED headlights give it a modern look which is carried through into the cabin, with sports seats, a flat-bottomed steering wheel and mood lighting worked to help maintain the Leon’s position as the funkiest of the cars based on the ‘MQB’ platform shared with other vehicles in the Volkswagen Group such as the VW Golf, the Skoda Octavia and the Audi A3.

A drawback to this was the suspension, which while offering brilliant grip and handling, didn’t exactly cosset as the car rode over our awful road surfaces. In fact, until the car warmed up, even Comfort mode on the adaptive dynamics (which supposedly switches the suspension’s suppleness between rock hard and soft) was little better than uncomfortable.

With that said, you don’t buy a car like the Leon Cupra for driving to the shops and back. This is a driver’s car, and when you get it on the right road, it’s a sheer joy to pilot. The excellent gearbox never leaves you without a gear and the smooth yet seriously powerful engine goes well and sounds fantastic, especially in Cupra mode. 

And switching into that mode unleashes a car that feels more like a race car than a hot hatch. It turns from firm family car to fire-breathing animal almost instantaneously. The steering switches from normal to heavily weighted, the engine’s throttle response is sharpened to a knife-edge, the suspension got into maximum grip/minimum comfort mode and the noise the car makes goes from sportingly pleasing to an aggressive roar, supplemented with the whistles and crackles associated with a performance turbo engine. It’s all very childish and an absolute riot.

We didn’t find it particularly impractical either, since the Leon SC’s dimensions lend themselves to family motoring. The sat-nav was probably my biggest issue with the car – it was slow to warm up, slow to switch between menus, fiddly to use on the move, had a relatively small screen for a modern car and had an infuriating trait of leaving you on the wrong screen when entering a postcode.

Still, other aspects of the multimedia system impressed. The speakers were fantastic, providing clear sound quality and punchy bass. Bluetooth was easy to set up and operate as well, and the steering wheel controls made life on the move a little less fiddly.

Overall, it’s easy to see why you’d buy this car. It’s full of character and would be an easy thing to love. While I’ve noted a few foibles, they’re nothing you wouldn’t get used to or side-step with optional extras.

After a lot of soul-searching I’m pleased to report that this is the best long-term test car I’ve ever had. The next one has rather a lot to live up to…

Mileage: 9,334

Fuel economy: 24.2mpg