Not so much a halo as horns distinguish the new SEAT Leon Cupra and Cupra 280 from its stablemates.
The Spanish brand has always marked out a distinctive design line with a flamenco ability to excite and a bullish attitude towards performance.
Little wonder that the ultimate sporting SEATs in the Cupra series are among the most desired drives of enthusiasts, who can enjoy the dedicated Cupra Cup racing series in Europe as well with a round at Silverstone in July.
Originally introduced in 2000, the first generation Cupra models ended in 2005, the next continued until 2012, and now the third generation with its new chassis, wider front track and fully independent suspension is reaching its 125 UK dealers who have enjoyed a 18% rise in SEAT sales last year, its best ever with 45,312 registrations.
From its unveiling at the 2012 Paris motor show, the SEAT Leon five-door has spawned the three-door SC (Sports Coupe) and both body-styles are available in the latest Cupra specification.
They come with a choice of 265PS or 280PS 2.0-litre four-cylinder turbocharged petrol engines and the latter is the most powerful production model ever made by SEAT. Drivers can choose either six-speed close ratio manual or six-speed DSG twin-clutch transmission with paddle selectors and for the first time you can order a SEAT with active suspension management through the Dynamic Chassis Control system which tailors ride, handling and responses to individual preferences.
The 265PS model reaches 62mph in 5.8 seconds and the 280PS DSG is a whisker twitching quicker in 5.7secs, both limited to 155mph maximum.
Prices for the five versions rise from £25,695 to £28,530 while PCP packages are £265 or £285 a month depending on engine output.
SEAT UK managing director Neil Williamson says these are the ‘halo’ cars the dealers have been waiting for to meet demand and initial orders suggested the Cupra models will exceed 4% of Leon sales, which is slightly more than expected.
“Our owners love the look and dynamics of the Leon Cupra and about 95% of registrations will be for the 280 versions, and then roughly split 50/ 50 between the two transmissions,” he added.
Leon product manager Steve Mirfin added that it is a very exciting range offering something for everyone from practical to performance packages.“If you look back over the previous generations of Cupra they have attracted huge sales through drivers who really appreciate their style and performance; they have a cult following, and this new series looks like it will continue that trend judging by the first orders,” he said.
The immense power output of the Leon Cupra is well matched by its ability to put it down quickly and securely, thanks to the limited slip differential and fully independent suspension. Selectable suspension really takes the Leon Cupra into a new sector inhabited up to now by much more expensive performance or luxury cars.
Whether you choose the 265 or 280PS engines, they are both highly responsive and the deeper engine note of the more powerful version is intoxicating. Direct manual gearbox or seamless shifting DSG are a delight to experience, matched only by the sharpness of the steering and powerful progressive brakes underfoot.
Even in the Sport suspension setting the ride is surprisingly good, but softies can always default to the comfort mode if the road is particularly bad.
Both SC three door and five door Hatchbacks are fairly roomy and have good oddments and boot space but their sophistication does not extend to the road noise which is ever present and sometimes pronounced from the 18 or 19-inch wheels and tyres depending on output.
We managed to eek out 28.5mpg from the 265PS manual and with some motorway driving included in the 280PS manual test it showed 34.7mpg but without motorway and in DSG version it slipped to 24mpg.
This suggests the more powerful engine is better suited to longer steady speed journeys but in everyday give and take traffic the better choice might be the less powerful manual version. It’s a devil of a choice.
Milestones. SEAT Leon Cupra 280 5-Door Hatchback. £27,245. Engine/transmission: 2.0-litre, 280PS, 258lb ft of torque, 4-cylinder, turbocharged petrol engine, 6-speed manual. Performance: 155mph. 0-62mph: 5.7sec, Combined mpg: 42.8mpg (34.7mpg on test), CO2 emissions: 154gkm, VED road tax £180, BIK company car tax 23%. insurance group: 33E. Warranty: 3yrs/ unlimited mileage. For: Powertrain, performance, equipment, sports styling, handling. Against: Road noise, fuel consumption, insurance costs. By Robin Roberts Miles better news agency