Hot hatchback versus sports car – it’s a debate that’s been swirling around for some time. Especially as more often than not, it involves an intriguing discussion about the respective pluses and minuses of front and rear-wheel drive. This track battle involves all of those elements, while pitting two cars with pretty similar performance against each other on the near-two-mile runway of Bruntingthorpe in Leicestershire.
Our hot hatch contender is the SEAT Leon Cupra. One of a number of brisk hatches spun from the VW Group MQB platform and box of bits (see also VW Golf GTI, Skoda Octavia vRS, Audi S3), it’s here in its most potent ‘Cupra 280’ guise, which means 276bhp, 258lb ft of torque and a claimed 5.8sec 0-60 time. Top speed – while not completely relevant in this drag race – is a limited 155mph. Our test car is fitted with the optional six-speed DSG paddleshift gearbox (a six-speed manual is standard), which drops the sprint to 60mph by 0.1sec. Weighing 1320kg, it returns a power-to-weight ratio of 212bhp/ton. It’s priced from £26,945, though this DSG five-door comes in at £28,530.
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In the sports car corner, it’s the new BMW M235i. The coupe sibling of the M135i hatch, its rear wheels are powered by a 321bhp, 332lb ft 3-litre straight-six turbo engine. Performance figures? A quoted 5.0sec 0-60 time and an electronically limited 155mph top speed. Here we have a six-speed manual, but an eight-speed automatic is optional. So it’s up on power compared to the Leon Cupra, but with a 1455kg kerb weight, its power-to-weight ratio is relatively close, at 224bhp/ton. The extra cache of its coupe body style and BMW badge ensure it’s costlier, with a basic price of £34,250.
So which is your money on? Watch the drag battle above to see which streaks ahead, and to work out which will serve you best in a traffic light grand prix – front or rear-wheel drive.