Retro Road Test: SEAT Leon Cupra R

It says a lot about how much the hot hatch segment has changed that the 2010 SEAT Leon Cupra R is considered ‘retro’ just four years after production ended. Sharing its engine with the Volkswagen Golf R and Audi S3, the Cupra R was one of the most powerful hot hatches money could buy back then. With depreciation bringing this model close to the £10,000 mark, should it be on your radar – or does it feel old-fashioned in 2017?

What are its rivals?

Alongside the closely-related Audi S3, Volkswagen Golf R and Volkswagen Scirocco R, the Leon Cupra R was sold at the same time as the Ford Focus ST and Honda Civic Type R (FN2) – all of which can be bought for similar money today. When this Cupra R was new in 2011, it cost £27,520 including options (£25,995 before), which made it somewhat a bargain alongside the near-£32,000 Golf R.

Which engines does it use?

Under the bonnet is the VW Group’s 2.0-litre turbocharged petrol engine, producing 265hp. That’s 25hp more than the regular Cupra, thanks to an ECU remap, a higher pressure fuel pump, a new intercooler and a revised exhaust system. Turbo pressure was increased, too – resulting in a 0-62mph time of 6.2 seconds. Top speed is limited to 155mph.

What’s it like to drive?

What’s it like to drive?

All that power goes through the front wheels – a brave move when the Golf R had resorted to four-wheel drive, and most front-drive rivals had a reputation for being extremely frisky under acceleration. While, naturally, the Cupra R is happy to light up its front tyres if you’re ham-fisted with the throttle, it’s no Mk1 Focus RS.

There’s no old-school limited-slip diff, but instead an electronic system that uses the ABS to apply the brakes to spinning wheels and reduce understeer. It works well: while understeer could still be an issue on-track, onBuckinghamshire B-roads we didn’t find ourselves wishing we were in the four-wheel-drive Golf.

Body-roll is well contained – despite the slab-sided MPV-esque looks – and even in the age of 300hp-plus hot hatches, it still feels very quick. Power delivery is linear, with oodles of torque available from around 2,500rpm.

Reliability and running costs

The Cupra R is too new for any big reliability issues to come to light, but it should be a fairly safe bet. Make sure you get an insurance quote before parting with any money, and don’t expect much more than 30mpg in day-to-day use. SEAT servicing should be reasonable, but obviously it’ll cost more to maintain than a regular 1.2 TSI.

Could I drive it every day?

Could I drive it every day?

Yes, of course you could. There are all the creature comforts you’d expect from a modern hot hatch (including luxurious quilted leather seats), while later models from mid-2011 got a (now a bit dated) infotainment system, Bluetooth connectivity and bi-xenon headlights as standard. It’s a practical car, with plenty of room in the back and a generously-sized boot. Kids might tire of the hard ride, though.

How much should I pay?

This is the sort of car that might be driven hard and neglected, so it’s worth paying more for a good example. We reckon a budget of around £13,000 will get you a very tidy one.

What should I look out for?

What should I look out for?

Look out for signs that it has been driven hard. This isn’t an obvious track car, but some owners may have taken their Cupra R on track days. Check the condition of the tyres (and make sure they’re a good brand) and look closely at the alloys as they’re fairly easy to kerb. Also, make sure it’s been serviced regularly.

Should I buy one?

Not everyone will be taken by the people-carrier looks, but the Leon Cupra R represents excellent value for money alongside the more expensive Golf GTI. It’s rarer, too, and we think it looks rather special in the Chrono Yellow seen here. It’ll make you grin almost as much as the latest hot hatches, but for a third of the price.

Pub fact

Pub fact

Although SEAT continues to stick with front-wheel drive for the Leon Cupra, it did briefly produce a 4×4 version of the Mk1 Leon. It was sold between 2000 and 2002, but in left-hand-drive markets only. Power came from VW’s 2.8-litre VR6 engine producing ‘more than 200hp’.