SEAT Leon Cupra 300 DSG (tested February 2018)
'The most powerful performance SEAT ever built'
At the pinnacle of the Leon range is the 300hp Cupra. It’s been fettled continuously over the last few years, now boasting the title of the most powerful performance SEAT ever built.
Along with that 300hp power figure is a healthy 380Nm of torque, with this particular model being driven via the front wheels (all-wheel drive is only available on the ST estate) and a six-speed DSG dual-clutch gearbox.
The biggest problem facing the Leon Cupra is the sheer amount of exciting and engaging rival hot hatches it’s competing with. Being ‘good’ simply won’t do, so does it deliver?
The numbers are all there – it sits between the likes of the Honda Civic Type R and Hyundai i30 N power-wise, and it certainly looks the part with a sharp look that’s not overdoing it (ahem, Honda) and a tasteful approach to extra spoilers, sills and Cupra badges.
On the move, however, it’s a very good thing to drive, if a little unexciting. In isolation it’s an incredibly capable thing with a grippy front end, agile handling and a well-balanced chassis. The 2.0-litre turbocharged petrol engine is also strong, but it never feels quite as sharp and direct to drive as the likes of the Hyundai or the Honda.
The 0-62mph dash is dispatched in 5.9 seconds (once the traction control system has gathered all the wheelspin together), with the DSG gearbox proving particularly impressive at smashing through the gears with welcome parps from the exhaust. The engine itself doesn’t sound particularly invigorating however; but it’s a properly rapid machine without really shouting about it too much.
In the bends, the steering doesn’t really provide the feedback you’d expect. It’s direct and well-weighted, but there’s a slight numbness that doesn’t do the Leon's chassis justice, as it’s capable of tackling bends at fairly serious speeds without getting flustered. It contributes to the whole feeling that the Leon does things without making too much of a fuss about it, without the driver realising.
Push it beyond its limits, however, and it’ll remind you that it can be quite a ferocious hatch. The wheels are only too keen to spin – even in third gear in some situations – and a wet road highlights the traction issues further.
Drivers can tweak the experience by pressing the Cupra switch – choosing between Normal, Sport and Cupra driving modes, with a fourth Individual mode available to tweak particular parameters to your preferences.
Otherwise it’s the usual Leon affair – practical cabin, great looks and a very capable feel overall. It represents good value even at this level, however some interior plastics look and feel a little dated now. Something like a VW Golf GTI feels like a more complete package overall, even if there’s a slight power deficit (at least on paper).
Our test car featured leather seats for an extra £1,085, but we wouldn’t bother. The standard Alcantara seats are nicer to sit in and offer more grip, so save yourself some money there. Similarly, a sunroof and keyless entry aren’t essentials, but make it feel more upmarket.
Standard equipment is still very generous, though, with the following coming as standard:
- 19-inch alloy wheels
- LED headlights
- 8.0-inch touchscreen infotainment system with sat-nav, DAB radio, Bluetooth and Apple CarPlay/Android Auto
- Cruise control
- Climate control
- Front and rear parking sensors
- Drive mode
The Parkers Verdict
There’s a lot to recommend about the Leon Cupra. It looks fantastic, it covers ground very quickly and is a genuinely rapid hot hatch that you could happily live with every day. The biggest issue is that it struggles to put all that power down on to the road, and that there’s an ever-growing number of competitors that offer a more engaging driving experience for the price.
By Tom Goodlad
SEAT Leon FR Technology 2.0 TDI 184 PS 6-speed DSG (Tested June 2017)
The combination of sporty looks and low running costs sounds like a winning formula, but is this what you get when you couple the FR Technology model and the most powerful diesel engine?
If you need a diesel with an automatic gearbox, this is the only one available...
Under normal driving conditions, the six-speed DSG automatic is smooth at shifting gears but seems to dull the engine’s response in attempt to maximise fuel economy.
Nudge the gearlever into sportier S mode and the engine appears to wake up a bit more. However this can make for jerky progress in town and a noisier experience overall as it keeps the engine spinning higher in the rev range.
With 184hp and 380Nm of torque, performance isn’t quite as brisk as the figures suggest - despite the 0-62mph time of 7.5 seconds and 140mph top speed.
Selecting this DSG automatic makes for a marginal drop in fuel economy over one with a manual gearbox, at 67.3mpg. Road tax resides in the same VED tax band G.
For someone expecting a hot-hatch diesel, this won’t be the car that fulfils that brief.
Instead, this is a car that offers sharper looks over the rest of the range and a well-judged ride and handling balance.
The firmer suspension doesn’t make for an exciting car to drive, but one that feels more composed and a little less flustered when pushing on. The driver control weights are also too light to feel involving.
The big hurdle with this engine and gearbox choice though is its list price. For the £2,300 premium over the lower-powered 150hp model with a six-speed manual gearbox, the underwhelming performance gain doesn’t quite justify the price hike.
The £3,500-worth of options on our test car also meant that this particular Leon is knocking on for £29,000. This is still cheaper than a VW Golf GTD but pricier than both front- and four-wheel drive variants of the Octavia vRS TDI.
The 1.8 TSI petrol engine might be less economical at 48.7mpg and sit in VED tax band H rather than band G, but the initial £2,870 saving on list price will help pay towards that £40 premium in the first year. It will be more refined and sweeter to drive too.
An even better balanced choice would be the 1.4 TSI 150PS. It may have to work harder to extract its performance, but weighs in with a list price almost 20% cheaper, comes with either a manual or DSG automatic gearbox, sits in the same VED tax band and claims to achieve 57.2mpg,.
This might be better as a used buy…
By Lawrence Cheung
SEAT Leon Cupra 290 Sub8 Performance Pack 2.0 TSI (Tested: March 2016, replaced by Cupra 300 March 2017)
‘It’s agile in a way front-wheel drive cars aren’t supposed to be’
If you’re wondering if the 290 suffix means it’s more powerful than the previous Cupra 280 that previously topped the range, you’d be right; this latest flagship produces 290hp from its turbocharged 2.0-litre engine.
Is that enough to ward off the threat of the Ford Focus RS and Honda Civic Type R, as well as offering a cut-price alternative to the Volkswagen Golf R? Do you feel that extra power? In isolation, no – you’d have to drive the 290 and its less well-endowed predecessor back to back – and very hard – to spot those additional horses galloping away; the top speed stays pegged at 155mph.
What’s more obvious is both the greater spread of torque and the rortier accompaniment from the tail pipe. While the peak figure remains steady at 350Nm it’s now available from 1,700rpm all the way through to 5,800rpm, compared with 1,750-5,300rpm before.
Point the Leon Cupra 290 at a set of challenging bends and you’ll revel in how nimble and controllable it is, darting this way and that in a way front-wheel drive cars simply aren’t supposed to.
Under harder acceleration there’s still some evidence of torque steer, which is likely to be more problematic in drizzly Britain, despite the best efforts of the limited-slip differential to feed more power to the front wheel with the greater adhesion through corners.
Ride quality is impressively compliant, both at lower speeds through town and on higher motorway cruises – at least you can smile knowingly at Civic Type R drivers as your fillings remain in situ at the end of your journey, even with the adaptive dampers firmed up in Cupra driving mode.
Suggesting the SEAT Leon Cupra 290 feels like a slightly downmarket VW Golf R sounds like it’s being damned with faint praise. Far from it, it’s a capable, engaging and good-looking hot hatchback, that’s £2,200 less expensive than its cousin as tested.
The problem is that Sub8 pack nudges it north of what you could obtain a Civic Type R or a Focus RS for.
SEAT Leon FR 2.0 TDI 184PS (Tested: April 2013)
‘FR models have a more sophisticated multi-link rear suspension arrangement’
Volkswagen may have kicked off the diesel hot-hatch genre with the Golf GTD from 1990, but it’s SEAT that has taken the idea and run with it. Witness the latest Leon FR, available with a 2.0-litre 184hp diesel engine and firmer suspension than the S and SE models.
The springs are not only 15mm shorter than regular Leons, but both they and the dampers are stiffer. Higher performance FR models also ditch the simple semi-rigid rear-axle and replace it with a more sophisticated multi-link setup.
In the real world many owners would struggle to notice the difference between the two, with only back-to-back drives of the different set ups revealing any nuances. It is slightly quieter and offers a fractionally more forgiving ride, though.
While the previous FR models always felt incredibly stiff, the new FR is far better-judged. Composed and assured, the FR comes with the firm’s electronic differential (XDS) as standard, which helps pull the nose of the car into the corner when driving quickly.
It’s the 2.0-litre TDI engine that’s the star here though, the 184hp power output supplemented by 380Nm from 1,750rpm to 3,000rpm – allowing the FR to sprint from 0-62mph in 7.5 seconds.
SEAT Leon SE 1.4 TSI 140PS (Tested: February 2013)
‘Stick to smaller wheel sizes for a better ride quality’
The 1.4-litre turbocharged TSI petrol engine available with the Leon SE trim level offers a gutsy 140hp and a top speed north of 130mph. It can reach 62mph from rest in less than eight seconds but emits less than 120g/km of CO2.
The 1.4 TSI is currently paired with a six-speed manual gearbox only, although a swift-shifting dual-clutch DSG automatic gearbox is available for other engines within the range.
Standard equipment includes cruise control, stability control and Bluetooth connectivity. To help the car look the part, the SE’s option list also includes leather and Alcantara seats and arch-filling 17-inch alloy wheels.
Given that the Leon’s ride is a bit on the firm side, it’s probably best to leave that particular box unticked and stick with the smaller wheels for a more controlled ride over bumps.
SEAT Leon S 1.2 TSI 105PS (Tested: February 2013)
‘You won’t feel short-changed in the entry-level Leon S’
If you’ve decided the Leon’s the car for you, you’ll be faced with the usual conundrum of whether to go for an economical but comparatively expensive diesel version or a less efficient but cheaper to buy petrol derivative.
The Leon’s range of trim levels is helpfully straightforward. There are just three grades to choose from, starting with the basic S and ranging to the sporty FR, with the well-appointed SE in the middle.
S grade is the cheapest and is currently offered with either a 1.2-litre TSI petrol engine or a 1.6-litre TDI diesel engine, both with 105hp. The TDI has the lowest running costs in terms of fuel consumption, but the 1.2 TSI petrol is hardly thirsty with an official average figure of 58mpg.
It may be a base-level derivative, but you won’t feel too deprived in the Leon S. It comes with generous kit levels including air-conditioning, seven airbags, a hill-start assist system and a 5.0-inch touchscreen multimedia system complete with a USB port.
SEAT Leon SE 1.6 TDI 105PS (Tested: February 2013)
‘SE trim comes with plenty of kit as standard’
Family buyers won’t go far wrong by opting for the 1.6-litre TDI diesel version in SE trim as it offers a strong mix of equipment and economy. It is the most fuel-efficient Leon available at this time, averaging 74mpg and emitting less than 100g/km of CO2, helping to keep running costs low.
The 105hp 1.6-litre diesel is the most popular engine for the SE trim and comes with a five-speed manual gearbox as standard. A seven-speed DSG automatic is available, although it adds around £1,250 to the on-the-road price. The engine is sourced from the VW Group and on past form should run and run without any major problems.
The SE trim offers plenty of kit as standard. Cruise control, a touchscreen multimedia system and Bluetooth connectivity are all included, while there are plenty of optional extras to choose from including sat-nav, an electric sunroof and 17-inch alloy wheels.
Standard safety kit includes stability control with a hill-start assistance system for SE models and a set of front, side and curtain airbags for the driver and front passenger.
SEAT Leon hatchback model history
- October 2012 – Third-generation SEAT Leon available to order with deliveries in March 2013, starting from £15,670 for an entry-level S model. SE and FR trims also available, with petrol engines consisting of 105hp 1.2-litre TSI, 140hp 1.4-litre TSI and 180hp 1.8-litre TSI units, while the diesel range is made up of 105hp 1.6-litre TDI, 150hp 2.0-litre TDI and 184hp 2.0-litre TDI engines.
- June 2013 – Range-topping Leon FR 2.0-litre TDI 184PS available to order from £22,375, with first deliveries in September 2013.
- July 2013 – SEAT makes Technology Pack available for free on all Leon models ordered before September 2013. Bundle includes full LED headlamps, sat-nav and DAB radio.
- October 2013 – Low-emission Leon Ecomotive available to order priced from £19,360, with deliveries in January 2014. Powered by a 1.6-litre TDI diesel, it’s capable of returning up to 85.6mpg and emits just 87g/km of CO2.
- January 2014 – High-performance Leon Cupra 280 available to order with first deliveries in March. Powered by a 280hp 2.0-litre turbo petrol, it’s available with a choice of manual or DSG gearboxes.
- March 2014 – Available with dealer-fit sports styling kit on any model, consisting of different front and rear bumpers, roof spoiler, side skirts, twin sports exhaust and 19-inch alloy wheels.
- March 2015 – Power for Cupra increased to 290hp as Cupra 290 introduced.
- October 2016 – Facelifted Leon revealed, available in showrooms from February 2017. Minor tweaks to the styling include redesigned bumpers and lights, while the trim line-up alters to consist of S, SE Dynamic, SE Technology, FR Technology and Xcellence Technology. A new 1.0-litre TSI turbo petrol with 115hp joins the range.
- March 2017 – Facelifted Leon Cupra 300 in showrooms with a boost in power up to 300hp from the same 2.0-litre TSI engine.
- January 2018 - Deliveries begin of limited edition Leon Cupra R, with 310hp and all-wheel drive. Only 24 examples available.
Buying a new SEAT Leon hatchback
- Enormous cash discounts online
- Strong value PCP finance offers
- FR Technology trim the bestseller
The Leon is good value for money because it shares engines, in-car tech and many other elements with the Audi A3 and the VW Golf but is cheaper than both. This is true for cash purchases and cars financed through SEAT’s PCP scheme.
The Leon is typically available with strong value finance offers, making this a car that you can finance without paying a premium for spreading the cost in some cases.
The 150hp 1.4-litre petrol is the most popular engine with well-equipped FR Technology trim likely to sell best. Most models get plenty of kit as standard, so you shouldn’t have to venture too far into the options list to get the equipment you want.
Shop around online and you can find huge cash discounts across the SEAT Leon range, too. In some cases savings can be so big that you’d pay less overall by getting a loan and purchasing the car outright compared with buying the car at the end of SEAT’s PCP finance scheme. Visit the Parkers car finance section to find out how PCP finance works.
Buying a used SEAT Leon hatchback
- FR Technology trim likely to be most common
- Most models include lots of standard equipment
- S trim is basic, lacking alloy wheels and DAB radio
The Leon makes for an attractive proposition as a used buy. Cars in SE specifications (Dynamic and Technology) come with a good amount of standard kit including alloys, cruise control and Hill Hold Control.
As one of the bestselling trims, you should find many cars in FR Technology form on the used market. From the 2017 update this includes equipment such as sat-nav, LED headlights and distinct driving modes, making these versions a desirable choice.
All models should have most of the kit you could want, bar entry-level S versions, which feature air conditioning and Bluetooth but a basic small-screen media system, no alloy wheels and a lack of DAB radio.
Get a Parkers Car History Check in order to make sure there won’t be any unwelcome surprises.
Selling your SEAT Leon Hatchback
- SEAT Leon retains value reasonably well
- Worth more used than previous model
- Should hold value better than Focus and Astra
List prices for the SEAT Leon are competitive and depreciation figures are ahead of some rivals including the Ford Focus and Vauxhall Astra. That means that you should get more money back when you come to sell on an equivalent Leon a few years down the line.
However, to cut your overall bills it’s best to hunt out the large cash discounts available when buying new – or going for PCP finance over a loan, as in some cases you’ll pay no more to finance the car this way than paying cash – for the lowest total costs.
This latest generation loses less value than the previous-generation model, meaning that you could save around 10 percentage points in depreciation over three years and 60,000 miles of ownership.