Speed comes at a cost – That’s my first thought when I drive the Seat Leon Cupra. It’s a fast five-door hatchback and the price paid is modest economy of around 38mpg.
In these days of high insurance premiums and costly fuel is this a price worth paying for what is arguably a very stylish, well-made car?
Well, let’s see.
As I stand in the dining room I am able to savour the design of the car as it stands on our driveway. Its side profile highlights some interesting lines, slightly higher at the front and lower at the back. Then there are the bright red brake callipers inside the black alloys and their low profile tyres.
The test model is finished in a staid silvery grey; it is a wolf in sheep’s clothing. There are tell tale twin tail pipes, the Cupra name and a little 300 emblem on the bootlid, giving a little hint as to what is under that bonnet – a Seat TSi engine producing… 300bhp.
This is coupled to a six speed manual gearbox. The result is a boy racer’s delight; a blisteringly hot hatch. 0 to 60mph in 5.6secs and a top speed of 155mph. These figures are quite an achievement for a family vehicle powered by a 2-litre petrol engine.
As is always the case it seems the fuel economy suffers, though. However, for those boring so-and-sos with only fuel efficiency on their minds, they can drive it with a light foot and receive 40mpg as a reward.
You might think in this day and age when the roads are swamped with traffic and the primary aim of the police seems to be to generate funds for the public purse by catching speeding motorists, that there is little place for a car like the Leon.
That was certainly my feeling. But it isn’t anymore. Because the low down acceleration is so swift, it can reach 70mph quicker than many cars could reach 30mph. And so there are times when it really does come into its own.
The other night I was driving through the New Forest with the flow of the traffic when an ageing Renault Laguna sped up behind me, after overtaking some cars behind. After a brief moment the driver visibly allowed a space to return between the Leon and himself. The threat of those 300bhp was enough to put him in his place. After a while he realised I was sensible and was not going to overtake. Off he went on his merry way tailgating more unsuspecting motorists.
The Leon demands respect from others but most importantly from the person behind the wheel. As I found when accelerating away from a roundabout onto a dual carriageway, there is so much power being fed to those front wheels that a senseless boy racer could very easily lose control. You cannot help but love the roar it makes when the accelerator is pushed to the floor. It is a joy and is sure to raise a smile from even the most dull, boring motorist.
On the motorway when there seem to be no spaces to join, the Leon quickly gathers speed and creates its own gap. The little accompanying roar is enough to make the driver next to us do a double take. “Slow down Daddy,” my whole family repeat.
To which I reply, look at the dial, I am only doing 70mph. Because the Leon is quite low to the ground and is fitted with low profile tyres it has the uncanny ability of making it feel as if you are going faster than you actually are. The addition of cruise control ensures that the speed limit can be set and not exceeded.
While driving through Kensington I have to smile as I pass Lord Alan Sugar behind the wheel of his Rolls Royce (days after his chauffeur pranged it) parked by the roadside outside the Apprentice house, deep in conversation – no doubt in the midst of another business deal.
Inside the Leon is exceptionally comfortable with supportive, almost bucket seats that are leather edged suede and it’s big enough to be a family car. I feel that the gearbox is not as decisive as it should be but overall there’s a good driving experience and all things considered the Leon makes an attractive proposition.
FACTS AT A GLANCE
Model tested: Seat Leon Cupra 300 2-litre TSi
Top speed: 155mph
0 to 60mph: 5.6secs
Watch the video at www.testdrives.biz