Ad Radar

Forbidden Fruit: Seat Leon Cupra R

The Volkswagen Group has a bold strategy for turning Seat into the marque of choice for the discerning and not-so-wealthy enthusiast. The theory is that Europe's youth will indulge themselves with a Spanish hatch before trading up to an Audi when their coffers are filled.

It's a quest that has led to the creation of some focused and exciting sport compact cars, the best of which is the Leon Cupra R. This mid-sized hatchback is based on the same platform as the VW Golf and the outgoing Audi A3, and the R boasts the 225-bhp 1.8t engine that originally powered the S3. Indeed, it's best to think of the Seat as a poor man's S3 - without the Quattro drivetrain but with $11,000 lopped off the price.

To create the R, Seat's stylists imbued the standard Cupra with a bold body kit. The front end is particularly aggressive, where a redesigned bumper incorporates a small aerodynamic splitter and a pair of poly-elliptical fog lamps. In combination with some stunning five-spoke 18-inch alloys, it provides the Leon with a welcome dose of drama.

The interior is more somber, but it's been spiced up with some red stitching on the seats, wheel and gearknob. White-faced instruments also provide a welcome break from the funeral theme. And because the fascia is borrowed from the Audi A3, the quality is first rate - only the cheap cup holder suggests that this is a downmarket alternative.

The R has been lowered by 6mm compared with the 180-bhp Cupra and this, coupled with a new front subframe, a thinner front anti-roll bar and a quicker steering rack sharpens the handling. None of its siblings - not the S3 and certainly not the Golf GTi - are such a hoot to drive. By turning off the stability control and lifting off the throttle on the entry to a corner, it's possible to tempt the Leon into a glorious four-wheel drift.

In first and second gears the traction control works overtime to put the power down, but in the mid-range - anywhere from 2100-6000 rpm - the Seat can keep pace with a Ford Focus RS (which costs #3000 ($4710) more). The throttle response is excellent for a car with a single blower and a six-speed gearbox with well-chosen ratios also helps its cause.

The ride is firm and on some broken surfaces it can crash uncomfortably, but it seems a small price to pay for the body control. Crucially, this is a car that feels fun at low speeds - where the whoosh of the turbo is accompanied by a grin-inducing surge of acceleration.

In many ways, the Cupra R is the car that the Golf GTi should be but isn't. It may lack the single-minded pedigree of the Focus RS but it's a match for the Civic Type-R and at #16,995 ($26,700), represents outstanding value for the money.

Seat is booming in Europe right now and it's not hard to see why. As a cut price Audi with a smile on its face it, the brand has found its niche and with a 180-bhp version of the smaller Ibiza on the way, the news is only going to get better for the enthusiast. Except, of course, for those in America.

Enjoyed this Post? Subscribe to our RSS Feed, or use your favorite social media to recommend us to friends and colleagues!