SEAT Leon Cupra 300 review - More excitement than a Golf GTI?

Easily the match of its rivals on paper, and entertaining to drive, but less exciting than some rivals

The SEAT Leon Cupra 300 continues SEAT’s tradition of offering some of the best bang per buck in the hot hatch class. A recent power upgrade now means you can buy a Leon with the same kind of punch as a Golf R - and in estate form with all-wheel drive, that's basically what the Leon now is. Even before that boost it was among the quickest hot hatches on sale both on the road and on track, and there are strong brakes and a talented chassis to match.

The Leon Cupra remains an impressively fast and capable hot hatch as a result, but the are alternatives at this price point that offer even more sparkling dynamic ability with, in many cases, even more power. If there's one thing the Leon Cupra currently lacks, it's that last few degrees of dynamic depth that turn a hot hatch from something you can respect into something you love.

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> SEAT Leon Cupra 300 review - Power boost for SEAT's Golf GTI rival

> SEAT Leon ST Cupra 300 4Drive review - Hot estate offers big boot and four-wheel drive

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SEAT Leon Cupra in detail

> Performance and 0-60mph time - Recent power upgrade means the Cupra 300 is the quickest yet. Quicker still as the ST estate, thanks to all-wheel drive.

> Engine and gearbox - 2-litre EA888 four-cylinder is familiar across the VW Group range. Here it makes up to 296bhp, with manual, DSG and all-wheel drive options.

> Ride and handling - Very quick and grippy, allowing for fantastic cross-country pace - but lacking in the kind of involvement we crave from a hot hatch.

> MPG and running costs - 40-plus MPG on paper, 30-plus in the real world. Expect to chew through consumables if you're partial to track days - and on some models, that means expensive Michelin Cup 2 tyres.

> Interior and tech - More imaginatively-styled than the equivalent Golf but less carefully assembled. SEAT's in-car tech is comprehensive and easy to use, though.

> Design - Still a sharp-looking car several years after launch, though less striking now than it was, and not as unique as previous Leons.

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> For an in-depth review of the SEAT Leon, check out our sister site Carbuyer

Prices, specs and rivals

A Leon SC Cupra 300 will set you back £30,155, and with lesser Cupras now disappearing from the range that’s the least you can spend on SEAT’s hottest hatch. The five-door version is actually a little cheaper these days, starting at £30,140, while the useful ST estate version starts at £31,450. DSG is a further £1350 on any of the above figures, while the ST Cupra 300 4Drive, with a Haldex all-wheel drive system, comes in at £34,485. It's DSG_only.

The recent power boost and the availability of all-wheel drive (on the ST, at least) means the Cupra is closer than ever not to the regular VW Golf GTI, but to the range-topping VW Golf R. A basic three-door R can be had for £32,310 (though competitive finance offers can make it quite affordable) while a Cupra ST 4Drive-matching Golf R Estate with DSG is £34,455 - £30 less than the SEAT, so you'd have to really want the Spanish badge to opt for that particular car.

> Volkswagen Golf R review - A consummate all-rounder

Ford’s offering is the Focus RS (£31,765), which puts more oomph to the road than the SEAT and does so through an extra powered axle. While that should be enough to give the Focus a huge advantage, the SEAT’s surprising performance is such that around a circuit there’s not a lot in it at all, and on the road the SEAT’s composure (plus lighter weight and brilliant brakes) mean there’s not much in it for fun, either.

Honda’s Civic Type R is altogether different (£30,200), with 306bhp sent to the front wheels and dramatic looks that may immediately deter those tempted by the subtler SEAT. But it too is great fun; not quite as able to soak up bumps as the SEAT on craggier roads, but sharp and very fast on smoother surfaces. There's a new one on the way in the next year or so.

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