SEAT Leon Cupra: Manual versus auto

  • Should you pick a manual or an auto Cupra?
  • There are pros and cons to both choices
  • Also, is the base 265 model worth considering?

Our SEAT Leon Cupra 280 long-term test car is fitted with the optional DSG (Direct Shift Gearbox) six-speed automatic transmission.

It’s a seriously impressive bit of kit, using two clutches to make shifts as fast and as smooth as possible and armed with a pair of paddles behind the steering wheel so the driver can change gear themselves should they wish. Question is, is it worth the extra £1,285 or so over the regular six-speed manual ’box?

Seat Leon DSG

Pros and cons

At the Cupra range UK launch at Mallory Park, we drove a DSG-equipped version on track and it was noticeably quicker than the manual cars out of the Leicestershire circuit’s tight hairpin.

Nine times out of ten, the DSG’s computers and brace of clutches can swap gears quicker than even the best human drivers and of course another advantage is the fact that you can keep two hands on the wheel at all times. If you’re approaching a tight corner and suddenly decide another downshift might be a good idea, that’s no problem with the paddle-shift DSG but trickier in the manual.

On the downside, the DSG sometimes decides it knows best when you really wish it wouldn’t. It’s often quite trigger-happy to kick down, as if anticipating an overtaking move. You might be gently accelerating out of a roundabout when the DSG will suddenly decide to drop a couple of gears and unexpectedly hurl the Leon at the horizon. Annoying for both your neck muscles and your passengers.

That’s the objective stuff; subjective is more complex. On the UK launch many drivers were impressed by the DSG’s sheer speed, smoothness and ease of use, plus the fact that in some ways it makes the car feel even faster because there’s less of an interruption in acceleration when changing gear.

On the other hand, the auto transmission lacks the extra control and involvement you get with three pedals and a lever. The manual shift in the Leon 265 we drove at Mallory was lovely, with a short, snappy shift action and nicely weighted and positioned pedals. Being able to leave the car in a higher gear than DSG might have allowed was all the better to experience just how strong the torque-rich engine is, too. For all the DSG’s benefits, the Cupra feels more special without it in some ways.

SEAT Leon Cupra 265

265 versus 280

That brings us on to a quick secondary point – is our Cupra 280 the pick of the range?

There are two version of the SEAT Leon Cupra: the Cupra 265 (261bhp, manual gearbox and three doors only, pictured above) and the Cupra 280 (276bhp, choice of manual or DSG, three or five doors).

The 280 is between £1,250 and £2,835 more expensive than the £25,695 Cupra 265, depending on spec.

Thing is, though the 280 has more power, both models have exactly the same peak torque (essentially how strongly an engine can pull, and often the more important figure than power on the road) at the same revs, so they feel just as quick as each other on the road.

Subjectively the 265 also rides slightly more sweetly on lumpy roads thanks to its smaller wheels (18-inch alloys rather than the 280’s 19s).

There’s one thing stopping it being the thinking buyer’s choice, aside from the extra pub bragging rights afforded by the 280’s extra horsepower and marginally faster 0-62mph time - the lack of sat-nav as standard.

All 280s come with nav but in the 265 it’s a £525 or £745 option, depending on which system you choose. If you don’t pick it, then the car’s likely to be worth less come resale time. As a result, most buyers will almost certainly pick the 280. Which is a bit of a shame really.

Mileage: 1,798 miles

Fuel economy: 20.1mpg