Most powerful Seat hatch is hot, hot, hot
Until a few years ago, about 250bhp was unofficially considered the limit for hot hatches. Then the bonkers Mercedes-AMG A45 and Audi RS3 came along to spice things up at 300bhp-plus, and now the latter is even touching 400bhp. It’s led to a sector-wise upping of the game, with 300bhp now being the benchmark even for more affordable hot hatches. Enter Seat’s latest Leon Cupra SC 300.
With 300PS (OK, that’s 296bhp), boosted torque, an electronically-controlled limited-slip diff to help harness all this drive plus adjustable dampers, it’s certainly got all the right go-faster kit, even if you wouldn’t know by merely looking at it. The Cupra’s styling belies its power, with a lack of widened wheelarches or sculpted bumpers; only aggressive 19-inch alloys to hint at its muscle. Our test car is the three-door SC sport coupe version, but it also comes as a five-door hatch and an ST estate.
Seat Leon SC Cupra 300
Engine: 2.0-litre, four-cylinder, turbocharged, petrol
Gearbox: Six-speed manual
Top speed: 155mph
Economy: 40.9mpg (combined)
CO2/tax band: 158g/km, 28%
In keeping with its looks, the Seat’s drive is surprisingly compliant and jostle-free, particularly in the Comfort chassis setting. It’s complemented by the easy-going and refined behaviour of the engine – at low revs, at least. Stick your foot down and the car’s wild side soon breaks free, with that 296bhp pinning you back in your seat.
Sometimes it feels as though the Seat finds it difficult to corral those horses. The traction control system kicks in surprisingly often, and the wheels spin through the first couple of gears. The chassis jolts and crashes over bumps, with an unruliness that half leads you to expect the front end to dart and self-steer itself all over the place. That it doesn’t is thanks to the subtle electronic differential.
The Leon Cupra’s endless grip through corners unfortunately lacks adjustability, impacting on any real sports car feel. The ‘progressive’ steering, which speeds up up as you wind on lock, is good for slow-speed manoeuvring but doesn’t seems natural at higher mph, and there’s a distinct lack of feel through the wheel. Also, the adjustable dampers are too firm on anything other than Comfort setting.
Other than the smart new infotainment set-up, the cabin hasn’t been upgraded. As a result it feels fairly dark and gloomy, with some cheap plastics and pitiful faux carbon fibre trim. You get something much nicer in the Volkswagen Golf R for not a lot more money.
Ultimately, the powerful Leon Cupra turns out to be something of a pussycat. Yes, it has monstrous power that’s quickly available – if you’re prepared to work hard to control it – and it’s a great cruiser, too. We’d anticipated more thrills for the spec and cost, though, which is exactly what you get with the Golf R or Ford Focus RS for similar or only slightly more money. The Seat is an adrenaline shot short of its rivals.