First drive: Seat Leon Cupra 300

Say hello to the new and very mildly improved Seat Leon Cupra 300. Following the model's recent facelift, the flagship hot hatch version is now with us with slightly more power and torque.

Changes elsewhere are few and far between, but that's not necessarily a bad thing because it's always been a stonking little hot hatch.
AOL Cars heads to Spain to find out if the Leon Cupra's as good as ever, or if it's losing ground on its rivals.

What is it?

The hottest version of the newly facelifted Leon. There are a few minor styling tweaks including full LED headlights, while under the skin we're told the chassis has also been tweaked slightly.

Aside from the aforementioned bump in power, the major talking point is the addition of a four-wheel-drive system to the estate variant. It costs a few grand more than its front-wheel-drive equivalent and isn't quite as fun to drive – it's great if you live somewhere that sees a lot of rain, though. England, for example...

What's under the bonnet?

There's a 2.0-litre petrol engine, which is pretty much identical to the previous version in this car. The only change is an ECU tweak that unleashes an extra 10bhp, so the total output is now 296bhp.

It might not have the most exciting power delivery on the market but it's an extremely capable unit. It pulls hard even from lower revs and there's more than enough power on offer for fast road driving, while selecting the 'Cupra' driving mode improves throttle response and the engine's soundtrack.

There are two gearboxes available: a six-speed manual and six-speed DSG automatic.

What's the spec like?

The specification befits that of a manufacturer's halo performance model. There's launch control on automatic, four-wheel-drive models, while the electronic stability aids can be fully switched off if the driver desires.

The interior sees improvements including a sporty flat-bottomed Cupra-specific steering wheel, sports seats clad in black Alcantara and an infotainment system with an eight-inch touchscreen, DAB radio and mobile phone connectivity.

Any rivals?

This is where it becomes a little more difficult to recommend the Leon Cupra 300 – to keen drivers, at least.

Prices for front-wheel-drive models are all around the £30,000 mark, which pitches it against the likes of the Ford Focus RS and Honda Civic Type R, both of which are much more fun to drive.

However, the Leon wins as a daily driver, offering the most pliant ride and plenty of space for most families.

First Drive: Seat Leon Cupra 300
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First Drive: Seat Leon Cupra 300

What's it like to drive?

In front-wheel-drive guise there's still an impressive lack of torque steer – despite the increase in power – thanks to that clever differential Seat uses to put power down. Grip was highly impressive on a totally sodden Castelloli race track, too.

We spent the bulk of our time in the four-wheel-drive variant. Thanks to the fact the rain in Spain fell mostly on our test route that day, the impressive all-weather grip was much appreciated.

However, the Haldex system does seem to suck some of the enjoyment out of faster driving. The front-wheel-drive version is much more fun to chuck through a corner while still coping admirably when the heavens open.

AOL Cars verdict

This 'new' Cupra feels a little like Seat just keeping up with the Joneses. It's become the norm for hot hatches to put out more than 300bhp, so the Spanish manufacturer's feisty little hatchback was in danger of falling a bit behind the pack.

However, it's still an utterly brilliant all-rounder. Those keen for driving thrills might do better looking to the Civic Type R, but as a fun family car the Seat Leon Cupra 300 is hard to beat.

The Knowledge:

Power (bhp): 296
Torque (Nm): 380
Max speed (mph): 155mph (electronically limited)
0-60mph: 4.9 seconds
MPG: 39.2 (combined)
Emissions (g/km): 164
Price: £34,170
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