- We like...Speed, easy nature
- We don't...Cheap-looking plastic in cabin
Quicker than a Golf GTi, but cheaper - the Cupra is a tempting fast carGo for a known, trusted make and pay a little more for the promise of quality. Or plump for a younger, less certain brand and trust that it’ll prove a bargain. And that’s precisely where you’ll be if you’re thinking of putting your hard-earned into a Seat Leon Cupra.
Its engine, suspension and many of its oily parts are common with Volkswagen’s Golf GTi. And, like the Golf, that means its good for 197bhp and it’s a full-on performance hatch. But where the Golf looks and feels refined, the Cupra’s a rougher character. Not in the way it drives, mind: it’s biddable and even docile until you want it to go fast. Easy steering and a firm but forgiving ride make it a friend when threading through the city.
But where the Golf is premium-priced, with a classy cabin and a 30-year pedigree, the Cupra is younger, cheaper and rawer.And, compared to the Golf, it has an extra 40bhp on tap. Jump aboard, though, and first impressions conflict. The front seats are terrific: full-on body huggers as you’d expect in a no-holds barred racer. They hold you firmly but are also marvellously comfy. Look around you, though, and while the wheel and gear shift are sporty looking and nice to hold, the plastics used for the dash, door pulls and between-the-seats trays look too cheap for a £20k car.
I’d expect Seat to argue that, in such a sharply-priced, performance-focused car, it would be wrong to spend more than necessary on such items. Fair point. However, it is as practical and easy to live with as any other mid-sized hatchback, having five doors, rear seats that drop to extend the boot, and room inside for five grown-ups. And, like other models, the handles for the side rear doors hide in hollows set into the windows, to keep the side panels sleek and sporty-looking.
And it looks great in white with optional (£640) dark alloy wheels, which show off its red-painted brake callipers. On a practical note, though, the wheel rims sit flush with the skinny-sided tyres, making it too easy to catch them on kerbs.
Once you decide to stir the car it responds – fast. Just as you’d expect it’s noticeably quicker than the Golf GTi. The exhaust crackles and fizzes engagingly, while the direct-feel steering and fat tyres means you can push through corners quickly and confidently. It’s so good that it’s deceptive. Keep an eye on the speedo or else you’ll travel far quicker than you’d suppose. But once settled at a cruise, the Cupra stays quiet and calm at motorway-legal speeds.
Let’s look at buying and owning costs. At £19,495 it’s £2000 cheaper than a Golf GTi but £500 dearer than a Honda Civic Type-R GT, which at 200bhp is close on power and not quite as quick. Group 17 insurance is what you’d expect for a car such as the Cupra, but that’s affordable if you’ve a good driving record and a few grey hairs. But it’s secondhand value is weak compared to rivals. After three years and 36,000 miles the Cupra will fetch about £8000 as a trade-in, where the cheaper Civic will raise £10,000. The Golf, meanwhile is dearer at £21,325 but will raise £10,000.
There’s not enough difference between the three to sway your decision entirely. Performance-wise the Seat tops the lot, but it can’t quite take honours for all-round value. It’s good, though.
- Engines2.0 TSi
- 0-60 mph6.4sec
- Insurance groups17
Motors.co.uk value verdict: