It is no secret that the Seat Leon Cupra has long provided access to the same engines, gearboxes and technology as the Volkswagen Golf GTI, but for a heavily reduced price. So the story went when the third generation Leon hot hatch was introduced to the UK in early 2014, using the VW Group’s MQB architecture as also seen on the Golf. Difference was, Seat added a lot more power to the mix…
That was particularly the case if you skipped over the standard 265 model and instead went for the Cupra 280. For here was a hot hatch with 276bhp, marking a not insignificant increase of 59bhp over a Golf GTI. Like the Golf you can find the Cupra 280 in three-door and five-door guise, but Seat also added to the range with an even more spacious ST estate version.
Whichever you choose you’ll find a very high standard specification that includes built-in sat-nav, LED headlights, figure-hugging sports seats, 19-inch alloy wheels, Brembo brakes with four-piston calipers, adaptive dampers and a limited-slip differential to help put the power to the road. Order a Golf GTI in a similar specification and you’d be looking at spending around £3000 more than the Leon 280 cost when new. Better still, these days you can find used examples of the Leon Cupra 280 on CarGurus for around 50% of what they cost when new, making it the ideal subject for our latest half price hot hatch.
With all that power the Cupra 280 is not merely fast, but savagely quick. Getting from 0-62mph takes just 5.8 seconds, which puts it among the fastest of front-wheel-drive hot hatches. However, it’s also how the torque is so generously spread that impresses, with the 2.0-litre turbocharged unit’s peak of 258lb ft available from 1750rpm all the way through to 5600rpm, ensuring the 280 feels strong regardless of what gear you’re in.
It’s versatile too, thanks to a selection of drive modes that range from Comfort with its softer dampers, quieter engine note and relaxed steering, through to Cupra, where the controls sharpen to deliver a significantly sportier drive. Despite all that power going through the front wheels the Leon doesn’t tend to torque steer too much either, so you can make full use of the performance. Knowing as much allows you to really lean on the front end, where you’ll find a huge amount of grip, while the brakes are every bit as powerful as you’d expect given their specification.
In terms of gearboxes there’s the option of a slick six-speed manual or the VW Group’s six-speed dual-clutch DSG automatic, the latter not as involving but taking more of the stress out of urban driving and knocking a tenth off the 0-62mph time.
Given the performance on offer fuel economy can be surprisingly good, with some owners reporting seeing as much as 40mpg from the Cupra 280 when driven gently. Increase the pace and that figure will of course fall, but even then 30mpg shouldn’t be too difficult to achieve.
One of the things buyers love about the Cupra 280 is that it is ripe for upgrades. Whether that’s in styling or mechanical specification, be aware that anything that alters the car from standard will need to be declared to your insurer, and could significantly push up your premium. Additionally, if a car has been tuned you’ll want to be certain it’s been done to a high standard and that the changes won’t be detrimental to reliability. Online clubs and forums can be extremely helpful on advising about with this kind of thing; if you’re in the market for a Leon it could be well worth signing up to one.
Regardless of whether you’re looking at a modified car or one that is standard, all the clever hardware will only work if it’s wearing a decent set of tyres, so ensure there’s suitable (matching) rubber on each corner of the car, and that there’s still lots of tread left.
A full vehicle history check and service history is also essential. With the latter look to see that the oil in the differential (and DSG gearbox if relevant) has been changed every three years, as this is sometimes missed. The DSG gearbox used in the Cupra is generally strong, but it’s still worth checking it shifts smoothly between drive and reverse as well as through the gears, and that the engine idles properly. For a car with a manual gearbox look for a clutch that feels strong and quickly springs back after being depressed.
If you fancy something a little more out of the ordinary meanwhile (and are prepared to overlook the half price criteria), have a look for a Sub8 or even more extreme Sub8 PerformancePack special edition of the Cupra 280, which come with bigger brakes, less equipment (to save weight), different wheels and the option of Michelin Pilot Sport Cup 2 tyres, reflecting the specification of the car Seat used to break the Nurburgring lap record for a front-wheel-drive production car. Later Leon Cupras meanwhile gained more power to become the 290 and 300.
Seat Leon Cupra 280
Power: 276bhp @ 5700-6200rpm/258lb ft @ 1750-5600rpm
Acceleration: 0-62mph in 5.8 seconds
Top speed: 155mph
See examples of the Seat Leon Cupra 280 for sale on CarGurus
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