Revisions to the Leon Cupra have increased power and introduced a new, lighter sports exhaust. Do they make it a more compelling hot hatch?

What is it?

Seat’s performance boffins have been busy beavering away to make their quickest hot hatch even faster. The already rapid Leon Cupra 280 model has been replaced with this new 290 version that gains an extra 10bhp over the old model. That takes power up to 286bhp.

Not only is it more powerful, the Leon’s peak torque output is available over an extra 550rpm: it now arrives slightly sooner at just 1700rpm and hangs around until 5800rpm. Despite the increase, emissions and economy are unchanged.

Helping performance and also generating a sportier sound is a new exhaust system. This has a lower backpressure than the previous pipework and is also 5.8kg lighter. Rounding off the changes is Seat’s Full Link infotainment system that supports Mirrorlink, Android Auto and Apple Carplay.

As before, you get a limited-slip differential up front to keep things under control, plus the option of a Sub8 Performance Pack, which adds bigger Brembo brakes with four-pot callipers and lightweight 19in wheels. If you’re really serious, you can have sticky track day spec Michelin Cup 2 tyres, too.

What's it like?

You’d be hard pushed to tell a Cupra 290 from the outgoing Cupra 280. Externally, the only difference is a change to the boot badge to reflect the car’s additional power.Behind the wheel, it’s a similar story. There’s no doubting that it’s a seriously rapid hatchback, but then, you could say the same about the Cupra 280.

Ultimately you’ll be hard pushed to notice the difference unless you drive the 280 and 290 back-to-back. Even then, we doubt you’d really feel the extra get up and go. You’ll certainly appreciate the broad spread of torque, though.

The Cupra 290 starts pulling hard from around 2000rpm meaning that even on the twistiest of roads, you can happily leave it in third gear and still make brisk progress. If you want to go faster, the manual gearbox is slick while the dual-clutch auto is predictably smooth, intelligent and swift to change gears.

The rest of the package is as effective as ever. The VAQ electronically controlled limited slip diff may work in a more subtle manner than those fitted to the Renaultsport Megane or Honda Civic Type-R, but it still helps the front tyres find impressive traction. On smooth Spanish roads, our car's Cup 2 tyres no doubt played more than a small part.

Dynamically the Cupra 290 is still less agile and aggressively set-up than our favourite fiery front-wheel drivers. A closed stretch of Tarmac showed the Seat could carry remarkable speed down the equivalent of a British B-road, but it never felt particularly involving.

The steering is precise but not overly feelsome and there’s not the real sense of adjustability that makes the best hot hatches such a riot. It also doesn’t sound quite as fierce as some rivals, despite the new exhaust. The optional Brembo brakes do deserve a mention, however; even after a hard workout they remained fade free, something that gives you a great deal of confidence when pushing on.

Should I buy one?

If you were tempted by the Cupra 280, then the 290 should prove even more of a draw. You still get a choice of a three or five-door hatch, plus the option of a practical estate, while the Sub8 pack makes it a genuinely more aggressive offering. That said, you’d really only appreciate the latter on track, we suspect.

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However, with the range starting at £28,375, rising to £32,780 for the DSG-equipped estate before you’ve added any options, there are other cars for similar money that are outright faster, and even more fun. First and foremost, despite not trying one in the UK just yet, and if you can settle for something with five doors, we’d be tempted by a recent introduction from Ford that has an R and an S in its name.

Seat Leon Cupra 290

Location Spain; On sale Now; Price £29,730; Engine 4 cyls inline, 1984cc, turbocharged, petrol; Power 286bhp at 5900-6400rpm; Torque 258Ib ft at 1700-5800rpm; Kerb weight 1395kg; Gearbox 6-spd dual clutch automatic; 0-62mph 5.6sec; Top speed 155mph; Economy 43.5mpg (combined); CO2/tax band 149g/km, 24%

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bowsersheepdog 6 March 2016

Second favourite son

I'm sure it's excellent, but the Golf R looks better inside and out, and if I were buying one the estate version of that car would be my choice.
DVB99 1 March 2016

re: Price

the S3 starts at £32k, a few options and its probably at £35-36k
simonali 27 February 2016

They've not done a thing to

They've not done a thing to the engine, as it was already making that amount of power anyway. All they've done is added the new pipe so it sounds a bit different and added 10 to the badge.