What a little nation of speed freaks we are here in Britain. Between January and June this year we bought 833 SEAT Leon Cupra Rs - impressive stuff considering the Spaniards' initial global sales forecast was only 850 a year. Britain is the Cupra R's biggest fan, followed by Germany (predictable) and Mexico (what?), and soon our collective enthusiasm for the stylish hatchback is likely to be raised a couple more notches with the arrival of a 225PS (222bhp) version.
If there's a certain ring of familiarity to that power output, it's because that was what the most powerful Audi TT produced, prior to the arrival of the new V6 model of course. And the Cupra R uses the Audi's 1.8-litre turbocharged four, albeit suitably redecorated with a veneer of carbonfibre atop the cam cover proclaiming 'Powered by SEAT Sport'.
The current Cupra R - the 225 doesn't arrive here until September - was pinned at 210bhp presumably because VAG internal politics wouldn't allow upstart SEAT to directly rival the sleek offerings from Audi. Now, though, SEAT is a member of the 'Audi Group', making it part of a collective of sporting marques that includes Lamborghini. Going up in the world, then.
With other group-sourced powerplants SEAT's engineers have done a marvellous job of tickling the engine management systems to alter the torque characteristics and give their cars a little more zing than, say, the equivalent Golf or Polo, but in the case of the TT's twin-intercooler unit it's just a straight lift and no fiddling. There wasn't even the need to reprogram the standard-fit ESP (electronic stability control) despite a hike in torque from 199lb ft to 206lb ft. The sole mechanical change is a revised wheel hub bearing design.
In these days when even the humblest back-street tuner reckons to liberate another 15bhp by simply whacking in a new air filter, the uprated outputs of the Cupra R might seem modest, but at least they're genuine and reliable. Don't imagine that you will immediately feel the extra urge compared with the 210bhp car. There's no wham-bam instant gratification on offer here. Instead, there's a subtle swelling of muscle that will take you a good many miles to appreciate.
In the 210bhp Cupra R there are times when you're aware that you'd like something more - when you're thrusting out of roundabouts, say, or using the torque rather than the power to whisk you along back roads.
With the new car those moments of Acceleration Deficiency Syndrome are fewer and your pace quicker. What you still don't get is the feeling of frantic forces at work, like you do in the Focus RS, but then neither do you get the convulsive twitching through the steering wheel and chassis that afflict the flawed front-drive Ford.
Even with this extra potency, the Cupra R remains a civilised machine. Perhaps a tad too civilised. The engine and exhaust do sing a rorty duet, but you have to be listening intently or standing outside to hear it at an emotion-inspiring volume. And given that the Cupra R trundles along on 40-profile rubber, its ride quality is commendably good on all manner of evil surfaces. But these attributes, which make the Cupra R such an untaxing daily partner, also mean that on short acquaintances, such as a round-the-block test drive, you might find it lacks the immediate sparkle of, say, a Honda Civic Type-R. On the other hand, the SEAT does make a Golf GTI seem unforgivably dull and it could cause you to question spending thousands extra on an Audi S3.
SEAT hasn't felt the urge to change much else on the Leon to celebrate the arrival of the gutsier Cupra R. The badge on the bootlid now has a red 'R' rather than a black one, while inside there's a rally-style red band around the steering wheel rim to mark out top centre.
The price has risen from £17K to £18K, though you do now get Tracker Retrieve system thrown in for free, which should be good for your insurance premiums. The Cupra R still looks conspicuously good value for money. It's perhaps not for those who like their thrills visceral and full-on, but if you need a performance tool for day-in, day-out living, it's a cracking package.