UK Car Road Test

Seat Leon Cupra 150 TDi 2003


UK Car Used Car Road Test.

2003 Seat Leon Cupra 1.9 TDi 150bhp very hot hatch.

Some may compare this stunning diesel to a VW Golf in Sunday attire and it does have very much in common mechanically plus it shares many parts from the vast range of VAG component storage bins.

Seat's Leon has been produced for some years now, it is best regarded for it's high powered Cupra R models which are very credible cars indeed. This Cupra however has a diesel engine with the famous Cupra badge and body styling equipment. It would instantly seem a strange mixture to have Cupra and diesel together but this small diesel unit generates a whopping 150 bhp and that is not too far behind the petrol Cupra's 180 bhp. Its torque is however much better, even in comparison to the petrol R version which has a stonking 225 bhp like the Audi TT. 

Nonetheless, it is a credible and very sporty looking diesel hatch equal in appearance to the petrol versions and with significantly more torque and bottom end power it leaves the petrol versions revving up to rival its lazy but assured power delivery.


The Leon Cupra is similar in size to the VW Golf but is not as boxy in looks and presents itself in a far more aggressive manner. The Cupra model in the Leon range has a larger front bumper which houses the large grille which consumes volumes of air for induction and cooling and encompasses the stylish fog lamps. It does not appear to be too aerodynamic but it does look effective in the aggression department. The rear has a more subtle boot spoiler and the side of the car is equipped with stunning alloys and colour coded side skirts.

The interior of this car is synonymous with the Cupra badge, everything inside provides a sporty appearance with obvious quality, everything about the drivers area does simply feel good. This car tested had the optional extra of leather trim which was very nice indeed and once again finished to a very high standard .

Being finished in metallic black pearl and fitted with OZ gun metal grey 17" alloy rims seriously enhanced the image of this car to the point of looking hostile. All it needed as extra was dark tinted windows and you may think it was a form of transport for Darth Vader.

Inside was not passive either. The seats were very detailed with a deep hollow for your back to wedge within gripping you tightly so you can corner even faster without any body roll or movement. The steering wheel was perfect in size and grip with the airbag not influencing the sport-like effect at all. The dashboard was also black with brushed steel inserts which were very striking and effective contrasting with the clocks which were flaunted themselves in white.

For a diesel car this is extremely aggressive in looks which suggests a very serious attitude.

But hey, it has a tiny 1.9 diesel four cylinder which burns heavy oil! That's the same fuel as the trains and buses use and you would be forgiven for thinking that Seat have lost direction. Consider this - another car made to pose and not drive, a car with aesthetics and no umph and one which possibly requires Viagra or nitro glycerine between every gear change.


Considering this is a car which is manufactured for high performance, Seat have fitted a lot of luxury items which add lots of undesired weight. The balance between weight ratio and power is very credible and the car achieves an acceptable compromise between the two very well. Fitted is the usual air conditioning, electric windows and mirrors along with remote locking which are all appreciated along with extras such as electric seats and multi-play cd player in the glove box and the now standard cup holder for the drink you cannot consume whilst driving.

The engineers and marketing staff have communicated very well in making this Cupra both useable, comfortable and relatively quick. It lacks some modern comforts such as cruise control and sunroof which I really did not miss from this car, after all it is not a luxurious cruiser it is a Cupra and has been designed around its name with a moderate luxury level and more important emphasis on acceleration and road-holding. Comfort Features  
Adjustable Steering Column from
Adjustable Steering Column
Cloth Trim from
Cloth Trim
Front Door Bins from
Front Door Bins
Head Rests (front & rear) from
Head Rests (front & rear)
Height Adjustable Drivers Seat from
Height Adjustable Drivers Seat
Height Adjustable Seat Belts from
Height Adjustable Seat Belts
Pollen Filter from
Pollen Filter
Split rear seats from
Split rear seats
Time Clock from
Time Clock General Features  
Colour Coded Bumpers from
Colour Coded Bumpers
Colour Coded Mirrors from
Colour Coded Mirrors
Digital Odometer from
Digital Odometer
Exterior Side Mouldings from
Exterior Side Mouldings
Heated Rear Window from
Heated Rear Window
Rear Wash Wipe from
Rear Wash Wipe
Tinted Windows from
Tinted Windows Luxury Features  
Air Conditioning from
Air Conditioning
Cigarette Lighter from
Cigarette Lighter
Electric Mirrors from
Electric Mirrors
Electric Windows (front & rear) from
Electric Windows (front & rear)
Heated Mirrors from
Heated Mirrors
Radio Cassette from
Radio Cassette
Trip Counter from
Trip Counter



This 1.9 engine is very different to the earlier 1.9 diesel motors produced by VW and should not be compared with them. 

This 1.9 TDi is all manufactured from lightweight alloys; it has two camshafts fitted which force its 16 valves down through the cylinder head which is tightly fastened down to contain the immense compression produced below in the cylinders. And this is all controlled by state-of-the-art electronics to provide an outrageous 150 bhps of staggering power. And all from a tiny 1.9 cc displacement, without compromising reliability, emission output or high service costs.

Turn the key and this diesel donkey sedately comes to life without any enticement. Started from cold it will rattle a little from the top of the engine until the oil arrives which instantly silences it. Whilst idling, the engine is smooth and stable without high levels of diesel knock, making minimal interior noise level. Depress the accelerator and the engine revs without any excitement although you can instantly detect that the turbo-charger noise is not comparable to lesser bhp models in that it has a noticeably higher whistling from the turbo and whooshing sounds from its induction.

It is very easy to compare this car to it's VW cousin, the Golf  GT TDi, and that would be a considerable compliment considering the reputation that the VW GTi has earned over the years. The Cupra does have some mechanical differences but not many and I personally would be hard pushed to choose between the two cars if given a choice. That ultimately puts this Cupra very high in any ranking as I often use the Golf as the benchmark to which most other makes fail to equal or even come close.

With VAG supplying the parts, both cars have a similar engine and gearbox which also has the benefit of a very light and complicated dual mass flywheel and clutch to take up drive effectively and without any shudder. This also aids the silky gearbox which, for a six speed, is very defined. light to shift and surefooted. 

This 1.9 diesel has a very credible amount of power and torque combined with its strong drive-train and would be well capable of powering a small lorry. 

Start this Cupra rolling in 1st gear and depress the accelerator pedal and the car's velocity changes instantly. It is so responsive and effective in hitting the red line on the rev counter that you need to select 2nd gear which has exactly the same effect, so when 3rd gear is selected and you are not rolling any more but travelling at substantial speed, then the turbo-charger and valves start producing a magnificent level of torque which lunges the car forwards with even more thrill and just as steadfast. Third gear comfortably powers the car to sixty and beyond without fuss and you still have another three gears to go. This car will break most European speed limits and still return a huge MPG at the same time. It drives like a stallion from the wild west and drinks like a cactus living there. Once fuelled up it conserves its liquid gold or diesel (not sure now which is more expensive!) so your wallet stays amazingly healthy for a lot longer. In fact it does this so much that you start doubting the fuel gauge. 
Would you buy the diesel and not the petrol Cupra? On paper it is slower to sixty with a little less at the top end but it does sixty something to the gallon and will produce its power without having to rev the engine past 3,000 rpms. 

Service Interval Insurance Group Safety Rating Smog Rating  
10000 16 Not Available Band (c)
Engine BHP CC Fuel Inj.
Turbo Diesel 4 Cylinder 16 Valve 150 1896 No
Cyl Camshafts Valves/cyl Compressor
4 Double 4 Turbo Charger
Cooling F.Susp R.Susp
Water Independant NA
Top Speed 0 to 60 BHP per Tonne
134mph 8.9seconds 115
MPG@Urban MPG@Cruise MPG@Speed Fuel Type
39.2mpg 64.2mpg 52.3mpg Diesel
Kerb Weight Tow Weight Length Width Height
1322kg 1500kg 418cm 196cm 144cm
Boot Seats/up Boot Seats/Down Seats
340 Litres 0 Litres 5

Hot hatchbacks have evolved in recent years into very strong and stable cars, giving greater resistance to body roll and tremendous safety. This car shares its body with other Leons but has a far more complicated suspension and steering system. Modern lightweight alloys are utilised in the suspension arms and the wheels are all independent of each other with sports springs and shock-absorbers to help keep contact with the tarmac at all times. Heavy duty anti-roll bars are fitted to the front and rear to assist the car's shell to resist any attempt to stretch and the only thing missing is strut braces which is surprising but not noticed when driving, such is the high standard build quality of this car.

Wide sill steps add to
this cars strength & safety

Lots of rubber on stylish rims
all adds to the drive.

With the front wheels providing the drive in this car you might expect a lack of traction or compromised steering under extreme conditions. Well, it is not the case, the gearbox differential has LSD (limited slip diff) with TC (traction control) which all add to the effect of putting the whopping engine power onto the road without burning the tyres through lack of traction. The suspension is very rigid and reacts very well to the road under all driving conditions and does not allow the car's power or extreme cornering to overwhelm it. I have driven both the petrol and diesel in the Cupra and found both alike which would come as a surprise considering the extra weight the diesel donkey places onto the front wheels. 



With such a high power output and speed being the causation of most car accidents, it is assuring to know that if you do collide with something, this car is deceptively strong and equipped with the most modern features to preserve its occupants.

Very well styled drivers airbag.

 Minor styling effort for the passengers.

The body shell is strengthened throughout, even the front and rear doors have to carry the extra weight of the side impact protection bars for an impact which may never occur. However, if it did you would be only too happy to have them and accept the cost and extra weight that they have added for the previously uneventful years. There are also pre-tensioned seat belts which have an explosive canister attached to the anchorage point which, when activated, pulls the seat belt and ultimately you into the seat for enhanced safety. The air bags are intelligent and only activate under certain conditions so they won't all detonate at once and the centre rear seat has a three point fixing so if you do have a large person in the middle they will stay there if shunted.

One thing I did find a little quirky was the central locking. I don't particularly like the new anti-hijacking locking systems although I can see the logic and tolerate them. I do question why the door buttons have been omitted though. OK, so cars are evolving and they are not required now with nearly all having central locking and you simply don't need to pull the button up to allow passenger entry any more. But they can be required to lock a door from the inside. This Leon can only be locked with the ignition key or from the driver's seat using the electronic button provided on the door panel. I guess that the driver has the ultimate control and the passengers are in their hands in all eventualities, driving or otherwise. Safety/Security Features  
Alarm from
Antilock Braking System from
Antilock Braking System
Child Locks from
Child Locks
Engine Immobiliser from
Engine Immobiliser
Front Side Air Bags from
Front Side Air Bags
High level brake Light from
High level brake Light
Locking Fuel Cap from
Locking Fuel Cap
Pre Tensioned front Seat Belts from
Pre Tensioned front Seat Belts
Remote Central Locking from
Remote Central Locking
Side Impact Protection from
Side Impact Protection
Three Rear 3 Point Seat Belts from
Three Rear 3 Point Seat Belts

In summary this car is a great runaround with a very credible modern appearance and a magnificent fuel economy. I personally found the car very easy to drive and the mechanics of the drive train and engine were a credit to the boffins behind the scenes who created this car. It is a car which I would be only too happy to use day-to-day. It would not however be a car that I would want to compete with from the traffic lights every time because it just is not quite quick enough, even though you would be likely to win most times. If you wanted to win nearly all of the time then the Cupra R 225 is the one for you. It will, however, cost much more to run, service and insure. Ultimately, then, the diesel would have to be my choice. I also like the idea of giving our UK money grabbing ******* chancellor less in fuel and road tax duty!



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UK Car Road Test Seat Leon Cupra 150 TDi 2003

UK Car Road Test Keywords: diesel hatchback sportsLeon Cupra 150 TDi