UK Car Road Test

Seat Leon Cupra 2001

 Movie Clips of this Car

Exterior Movie Interior Movie

 


Q: What was the last real sporting VW  

A: Is it the Audi TT, or the original Golf GTi or was it Herbie, a VW sporster with real soul

 

Or alternatively there is the SEAT LEON CUPRA, VW's ubiquitous turbo motor 

The VAG group has long insisted that the SEAT brand would be the sporty young things, VW of choice, but in truth the SEAT cars has shown little evidence of the plan so far.

At last here is the evidence for us all to see,  chequered graphics, don't a sporty car make. but  a blindingly cheap 15000 pounds gets you this rather hot little number, and its not even the top dog of the range to boot. So there is scope to spend another 2000 getting and even more exciting  R version with its 210bhp tugging at the front wheels

Its amazing how over the past decade, SEAT has accelerated itself from relative obscurity, to its new  position whether its quite there yet as a sporting brand leader, I don't know, but lots of people are attracted to the stylish sub VW brand.

As or despite being part of the VAG Group, its unique image is in no small part due to its Martorell Technical Centre and SEAT Sport Division located near the company's Barcelona headquarters.

Together they have raised the image of the company through its rallying successes and the performance edge has filtered down into its road cars.

Sharing access to Volkswagen and Audi power units, SEAT has pressed on to assert its own authority on two wheel drive power delivery and chassis dynamics. It began with the firmer set-up of the Alhambra and now the company has coined the phrase 'Agile Chassis Concept' to describe its latest range of finely tuned chassis packages.

 

The Leon is the hatchback version of Toledo, or the last mainstream derivative of the Golf IV family. despite  being strictly 5-door only, The Leon is probably the most handsome car among its family members. The hatchback design is somewhat similar to the Rover 200 , with a tilted rear window enhancing sporty image but also limiting cargo-carrying ability. It's subtle nose even looks like a BMW 3-series.

As Q-cars go Seat's Leon 20VT Cupra is one of the best. The only visual signs of its considerable performance potential are the large alloy wheels shod with ultra low profile tyre's and the twin exhaust tailpipes peeking out from under the rear valance. It is available in a rather vivid shade of yellow but more subdued colours are available and this dark bluey black version is nicely subdued .  There are certainly more obvious performance machines on the road but few, if any, can match the Seat's measure of performance per pound with 180bhp and sheer practicality. This is the family car with added sharp bite.

The Styling is very Latin, in a Rover kind of fashion, the  front-end is mean looking and squat, the  back-end all rounded with neat rear light clusters. 5 doors in total, 2 either side and one hatch at the back. Alloy wheels fitted as standard to all models. It could well be the result of some Italian manufacture. Though there is a hint of Saab from a couple of angles. 

The Leon King,  or  The Beast From Barcelona choose what fits best, in this colour it does not look a beast, but its hiding its light under a very stylish bushell.

Outside it is nicely finished with colour coded bumpers and wing mirrors and alloy wheels and twin exhaust. 

Inside the front sports seats keep you in check when cornering at speed and the 6-cd autochanger in the glove box keeps you entertained on your journey. The leather steering wheel has a nice feel to it and all the controls are easy to access.

The only problem I would say is that the stereo does not have controls on the steering wheel or in a convenient place such as this. Therefore, you need to reach down to the stereo to change channels, volume, etc. But hey the engine can entertain you better than  any ICE unit will ever do.

The interior of my test car was a little on the plain side with grey, albeit two tone, being rather too prominent for my taste. 

That said if your liking were for the more Germanic style interior you would have no complaints. Though you expect some thing a little more Alfa styled. On the practical front the 5-door Leon has plenty of head and legroom for front and rear passengers along with a capacious luggage area. A good range of adjustment on the seating should ensure drivers of varying frames are comfortable and the seats offer support in all the right places.

Build quality on my test car is  reassuringly good with no rattles and a very solid feel throughout.

 

Decent front room  Bit tight in here though

 

But the car isn't all about performance at the expense of comfort and specification. 

Standard fare on the Cupra includes all-round power windows, power steering, heated and power adjustable door mirrors, remote central locking, climate control, sound system with CD autochanger and rear headphone connectors, interior courtesy and reading lights plus leather upholstery. 

 

Air con top notch

Comfort Features
Adjustable Steering Column
Adjustable Steering Column
Cloth Trim
Cloth Trim
Cup holders
Cup holders
Front Door Bins
Front Door Bins
Head Rests (front & rear)
Head Rests (front & rear)
Height Adjustable Drivers Seat
Height Adjustable Drivers Seat
Height Adjustable Seat Belts
Height Adjustable Seat Belts
Pollen Filter
Pollen Filter
Split rear seats
Split rear seats
Sports Front Seats
Sports Front Seats
Time Clock
Time Clock
General Features
Colour Coded Bumpers
Colour Coded Bumpers
Colour Coded Mirrors
Colour Coded Mirrors
Digital Odometer
Digital Odometer
Exterior Side Mouldings
Exterior Side Mouldings
Heated Rear Window
Heated Rear Window
Rear Wash Wipe
Rear Wash Wipe
Tinted Windows
Tinted Windows
Luxury Features
Air Conditioning
Air Conditioning
Cigarette Lighter
Cigarette Lighter
Climate Control
Climate Control
Electric Mirrors
Electric Mirrors
Electric Windows (front & rear)
Electric Windows (front & rear)
Heated Mirrors
Heated Mirrors
Multiplay CD
Multiplay CD
Radio Cassette
Radio Cassette
Trip Counter
Trip Counter

 The Cupra has a 6-speed gearbox, a rain sensor, anti-dazzle rear view mirror, CD autochanger, ESP (Electronic Stability Protection), electric seat adjustment, leather trim.

 

 

Mechanically the Leon owes much to the A3, such as the 1.8T engine serving the 20VT. Like some Audis, it has 180 horsepower on tap, eclipsing virtually any hot hatch although the Leon politely considers itself only as a refined warm hatch. 

The engine is tractable, torquey from very low revs and quiet. Thanks to a torque curve peaking 173 lbft across a wide band between 1,950 and 5,000 rpm, it has an easy-going manner, and is a doodle to drive.

Four cylinders, 1.8 litres and a 6-speed manual gearbox translate into a 142 mph top speed with 60 mph passed in just 7.7 seconds. 

Such a high top speed is of no real benefit in this country though, unless you have the use of a weekend racetrack. 

What is of real use is the 173 lb ft of torque,  that the engine delivers from 1950 rpm through to 5000 rpm. This means that even at lower speeds in higher gears the car has very useable reserves of power to pass slower traffic very quickly and safely. Beyond that its revs happily beyond 6500rpm before the management switches it all off, so its not particularly gear or change point fussy.

All this has been made possible by only minor changes to the engine's air filter, exhaust manifold, pistons and management system, thats the beauty of the Turbo system for big corporations, reuse in lots of scenarios with little re-tooling. Just a tweak here and there. 

Service Interval Insurance Group Safety Rating Smog Rating
10000 16 Not Available Band (D)
Engine BHP CC Fuel Inj.
4 Cylinder 20 Valve DOHC Turbo 180 1781 Yes
Cyl Camshafts Valves/cyl Compressor
4 Double 5 Turbo Charger
Top Speed 0 to 60 BHP per Tonne
142mph 7.7seconds 138
MPG@Urban MPG@Cruise MPG@Speed Fuel Type
23.5mpg 42.8mpg 33.2mpg Unleaded
Kerb Weight Tow Weight Length Width Height
1322kg 1500kg 418cm 196cm 144cm
Boot Seats/up Boot Seats/Down Seats
340 Litres 0 Litres 5

SEAT also gave it a close-ratio 6-speeder that the vag group has never applied to the 180 hp engine. It is very slick and close gaited with ratios for every occasion, and is slightly overkill for the broad power band of the engine. But it is a delight anyway offering a slickness that only the  225 hp TT and the VR6 which share this kind of box can offer on other group cars.

On the safety side, a tolerable traction control will intervene whenever really needed, but is not overly intrusive like many.

The brakes were fantastic, nice pedal feel and they stopped the car from speed as quick as any other car I've driven.

Fuel economy isn't bad... about 30-32 MPG on long highway trips (up to 80 mph), 24-26 MPG around town.. that is if you drive it casually as a family car ;-).. driven fast it's nearer like 20 MPG, but it does shift somewhat and you just can not drive around like that constantly.

Its chassis might not have the ultimate sharpness of some GTi's, but the way it deliver its lively performance is no less confidence-inspiring. The steering is well weighted and accurate. The suspension damps well on bumpy B-roads. Cornering is stable and fluent, with typical mild under steer to enhance security but not to the extent that it spoils driving pleasure. Accompanied by  the torquey engine, it's easy to go quicker than the driver will notice, so keep an eye on the clock and the other on the plod.

The suspension set is lowered by 15mm and includes a rear anti-roll bar in order to firm up the ride and tighten the car's handling over the standard model. Not big changes but added to the fat low rubber the result is tremendous.

On the road is where the car really does light up though. Despite its impeccable performance credentials you do not have to drive the car fast for it to be enjoyable. 

With the tenacious road holding ability of those big Alloys it has to rate as one of the most enjoyable and fastest cars in which to travel across country. At motorway speeds it shows another side to its character being very refined. The suspension is a perfect mix between firmness for handling and suppleness for comfort. Unlike many high performance machines this one won't attempt to rearrange your fillings over every minor bump and road imperfection.

The suspension is quite firm, notably so around town, but aided by its small dimensions this makes the Cupra a fun car to hustle about. The steering gives quite good feedback through the twisty bits, and it has a little more weight than a  stock Leon, though that may just be a function of the fatter tyres.

In short, Leon is gifted with a chassis that handles sharper yet rides smoother than its sister cars, especially the Golf GTi. 

Saab Anyone

Just a hint of rover

Steer/Susp/Tech Features
Alloy Wheels
Alloy Wheels
Catalytic Converter
Catalytic Converter
Disc Brakes Front & Rear
Disc Brakes Front & Rear
External Temperature Gauge Fitted
External Temperature Gauge Fitted
Front Fog lamps fitted
Front Fog lamps fitted
Halogen Head Lights
Halogen Head Lights
Height Adjustable Headlight Aim
Height Adjustable Headlight Aim
Independent Suspension
Independent Suspension
Intermittent Wash Wipe
Intermittent Wash Wipe
Power Assisted Steering
Power Assisted Steering
Rev Counter
Rev Counter
Service Level Indicator
Service Level Indicator
Traction Control
Traction Control

 

On the safety front ABS, traction control along with dual front and side airbags are all included as are rain sensing wipers and anti-dazzle rear view mirror. 

 

Security is well catered for too, though you should not expect any less in this day and age for a attractive performance car. 

Safety/Security Features
Alarm
Alarm
Antilock Braking System
Antilock Braking System
Child Locks
Child Locks
Engine Immobiliser
Engine Immobiliser
Front Side Air Bags
Front Side Air Bags
Front Twin Airbags
Front Twin Airbags
High level brake Light
High level brake Light
Locking Fuel Cap
Locking Fuel Cap
Pre Tensioned front Seat Belts
Pre Tensioned front Seat Belts
Remote Central Locking
Remote Central Locking
Side Impact Protection
Side Impact Protection
Three Rear 3 Point Seat Belts
Three Rear 3 Point Seat Belts
Visible Identification Number
Visible Identification Number

 

 

 

Small but adequate

Slick badge come handle.

On the motorway the Cupra cruised steadily without excessive wind or road noise and with the suspension being on the soft side of rigid sporter, it makes a comfortable motorway car. Not like some other GTIs where M-way travel is a bind to be lived with in between back road pleasure.

The Cupra has  Ample leg and head room for a 6+ footer, but the rear seats are lacking in  width and legroom. Front seats were comfortable yet firm and hugged my hips well. All the controls were clear and within easy reach. A nice touch was the orange glow from the dash and centre console even in daytime. Boot space was not huge but was ample and  there is  always the "booted" SEAT Toledo if this a really big factor.

It is  a serious consideration because like the Civic Type S the Leon Cupra scores highly in the family use test by having five doors,. it's a typically effective VW/Audi group layout, everything where you expect it to be, along with the additions that go with the Cupra's racy pretensions.

The leather-rimmed steering wheel and more supportive seats are nice and add a touch of sporty class, but if, however, you are looking for  the full sports interior, a highly stylish black with hints of red - you have to jump up to the hotter Cupra R.

It may not have the badge cachet of a premium brand but I really not notice the badge, such was the entertainment it provided. It is rare to find a car that will accommodate a family with comfortable and practical transport yet offer the performance and enjoyment of a sports car. 

The Leon  Cupra does just that. This is the GTI reborn and showing its true colours.

Slim mean look

20VT says so little does so much.

 

Vents not anywhere near TT standard yet.


 

Sample data Click here to access specifications for over 30,000 UK cars. 

Car information and car pictures.

Many more used car road tests. 

 

For all Seat cars specifications and data from:
www.ukcar.com click here.

UK Car Road Test Seat Leon Cupra 2001

UK Car Road Test Keywords: Sports HatchbackLeon Cupra