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Seat’s Leon Cupra line has been making a lot of waves since the Cupra 280 seemingly came out of nowhere to set the lap time record for a front-wheel-drive production car at the Nurburgring in 2014. That record has since been claimed by the 2016 Honda Civic Type R, but Seat still proved something more important than a record lap time. It showed the world that it can compete with the best hot hatchbacks in the business. The success of the 280 is also a big reason why Seat seemingly fast-tracked the launch of its successor, the Leon Cupra 290.

Boasting all the standard features of the 280 and adding some notable upgrades on the engine and handling fronts, the Leon Cupra 290 aims to take the popularity of its predecessor to new heights, renewing Seat’s goal of hot-hatch dominance with an engine output that now eclipses that of the 2015 Renault Megane RS 275 Cup-S, a similar hot-hatch that will share the stage with the Leon Cupra 290 at the 2015 Frankfurt Motor Show.

It’s only fitting that the Leon Cupra 290 will make its debut opposite the Megane RS 275 Cup-S in the same event. After all, it was their predecessors — the 2015 Seat Leon SC Cupra 280 and the 2014 Renault Megane RS 275 Trophy — that battled for the lap record that now belongs to the Civic Type R. The Leon Cupra 290 looks up to it, as does the Megane RS 275 Cup-S.

Continue reading to learn more about the 2016 Seat Leon Cupra 290.

  • 2016 Seat Leon Cupra 290
  • Year:
    2016
  • Make:
  • Model:
  • Transmission:
    6-speed manual
  • Horsepower @ RPM:
    285
  • Torque @ RPM:
    258 @ 1700
  • Displacement:
    2.0 L
  • 0-60 time:
    5.8 sec.
  • Top Speed:
    155 mph
  • Price:
    30000 (Est.)
  • car segment:
  • body style:

Exterior

2016 Seat Leon Cupra 290 High Resolution Exterior Wallpaper quality
- image 645623

Not much has changed from the design of the Leon Cupra 280 and the Leon Cupra 290. In fact, the only noticeable difference is the Cupra 290 badge on the rear end and the retuned exhaust system that gives the hot-hatch a more refined tone.

The only noticeable difference is the Cupra 290 badge on the rear end and the retuned exhaust system that gives the hot-hatch a more refined tone.

Other than those two things, the Leon Cupra 290 remains true to the current-generation Leon styling. It has the Audi-like full-LED headlamps, the large honeycomb grille and air intakes that dominate the front end, and the titanium-finished 19-inch wheels that are exclusive to the hot-hatch.

The Leon’s distinctive character lines are also still there, extending from the front and rear lights on two different height levels like muscle cuts on a human body. At the back, the Leon Cupra 290 also received LED taillights and a rear diffuser that’s flanked by the two exhaust pipes.

Seat is offering individual options for the Leon Cupra 290, including the Aerodynamic Pack, which adds a spoiler on the rear roof edge, CUPRA lettering on the red brake calipers, and black exterior mirror housings.

Other options include the White Line, Black Line, and Orange Line. Each of these options allow the customers to have the surrounds of the radiator grille and wing mirrors and parts of the two-tone aluminum wheels painted in either white, black, or Cup Racer orange, respectively.

Interior

2014 Seat Leon SC Cupra 280 High Resolution Interior
- image 537544

Note: 2014 Leon SC Cupra interior shown.

Except for a few enhancements, the interior of the Leon Cupra 290 is similar to its predecessor. Standard features like the Cupra sports steering wheel and the sports seats dressed in Alcantara with matching white stitching are all still there. If the materials and the seats used in the cabin aren’t up to a customer’s standards, Seat is also offering black leather upholstery with white stitching and bucket seats as options.

The few noticeable upgrades include the size of the color touchscreen display, which is bigger now at 6.5 inches, compared to the 5.8-inch display in the Leon Cupra 280. LEDs in the door panels have also been added to provide a touch of ambient lighting in the cabin. These LEDs emit a white glow in standard configuration, only turning red when the car is switched into Cupra mode via the Cupra Drive Profile.

Interior space is another highlight of the Cupra Leon 290. The enhancements may be minimal, but Seat still managed to fit everything together while still achieving a maximum load space of 51.9 cubic feet.

Drivetrain

2016 Seat Leon Cupra 290 High Resolution Exterior
- image 645619

The range-topping Leon Cupra 290 will continue to use a 2.0-liter turbocharged TSI engine. Power has been raised to 286 horsepower and 258 pound-feet of torque, 10 ponies more than the Leon Cupra 280 it replaces. The new output pushes the hot-hatch past the just-announced Renault Megane RS 275 Cup-S and within striking distance of the 292-horsepower 2016 Volkswagen Golf R.

Seat will also offer an optional Performance pack for its new hot-hatch, giving the Leon Cupra 290 a set of Brembo brake calipers, new wheels, and special tires.

The Leon Cupra 290 still falls short of the 308-horsepower Honda Civic Type R, but its output still allows it to remain competitive in a market that’s not short of worthy adversaries. All that power is channeled to the two front wheels courtesy of a six-speed manual transmission, allowing the car to sprint from 0 to 62 mph in just 5.8 seconds.

An optional DSG transmission is also available. With it, the Leon Cupra 290 can cover the same sprint time in 5.7 seconds. The car also has an electronically limited top speed of 155 mph.

Seat will also offer an optional Performance pack for its new hot-hatch, giving the Leon Cupra 290 a set of Brembo brake calipers, new wheels, and special tires. I don’t think these options, even combined with the raised power from the 2.0 engine, will make a world of difference on the streets of Europe, but they could make for some interesting track and/or drag races between the Leon Cupra 290 and the likes of the Golf R and the Megane RS 275 Cup-S.

At the very least, I’d like to see the Leon Cupra 290 take a stab at the Renault Megane RS 275 Trophy-R’s lap time around the Nurburgring. Given the recent history between these two models (the Megane RS 275 Trophy-R was specifically built to beat the Leon Cupra 280’s ‘Ring lap time), I’d pay good money to see if Seat can do it again.

Drivetrain Specifications

Type 2.0 TSI engine
Output 285 HP
Torque 258 LB-FT @ 1,700 - 5,800 RPM
Top Speed 155 MPH
0 to 60 mph 5.8 seconds manual (5.7 seconds DSG)
Transmission 6-speed manual standard (optional DSG)

Safety

2016 Seat Leon Cupra 290 High Resolution Exterior
- image 645621

The Leon Cupra 290 benefits from having Seat’s new chassis, developed specifically for the model. The design is stiff enough to handle the rigors of the road and light enough to increase the car’s responsiveness depending on the road and track conditions. A new front-axle differential lock feature and progressive steering are both standard features on the Leon Cupra 290. The two systems may function independent of the other but they work hand-in-hand in improving traction and handling of the car while also cutting down on the torque steer. This ensures peace of mind for the driver, who won’t have to worry about grip changes and unwanted steering movement, especially in tight corners.

The hot hatch also comes with Seat’s ESP handling system, which can be manipulated to change the car’s driving character, especially when it hits the race track. In its default setting, the system is fully activated to improve the car’s stability by reducing the loss of traction on any of the two front wheels. That said, drivers can be a little more adventurous with the car by deactivating stages of the ESP, first by taking out traction control and putting the system into sport mode, and second by deactivating the system entirely, putting the car’s driving dynamics squarely in the hands of the driver.

Prices

2016 Seat Leon Cupra 290 High Resolution Exterior
- image 645620

Everything about the Cupra Leon 290 points to a really impressive hot hatch. That much can’t be disputed if you take into account what the Cupra Leon 280 was able to accomplish. About the only downside to the car is its availability, or lack thereof in the US. Sadly, as awesome as the Cupra Leon 290 is, it’s not going to be sold here. For those who will have a chance to buy the Cupra Leon 290 in Europe, the hot hatch is expected to retail from £30,000, which would be about $46,370 based on current exchange rates.

Competition

2016 Volkswagen Golf R

2016 Volkswagen Golf R High Resolution Exterior
- image 613744

The hot hatch market in Europe is arguably one of the most competitive segments in the industry today. The Seat Leon Cupra 290 is an up-and-coming star in this segment. That’s a good place to be in as the Seat can measure itself against a good number of competitors, including an established hot hatch like the Volkswagen Golf R.

By most measures, the Golf R has the advantage over the Leon Cupra 290. It’s more powerful, thanks to a 2.0-liter turbo our-cylinder that produces 292 horsepower and 280 pound-feet of torque. To be fair, Seat has managed to cut down on that advantage by adding more power to the Leon Cupra 290. Unfortunately, there’s still nothing the Leon Cupra 290 can do about its front-wheel-drive system. That’s always going to be a drawback against a car with a four-wheel-drive system like the Golf R. That advantage of having power sent to all four wheels (as opposed to just the two front ones) allows the VW to sprint from 0 to 62 mph in just 4.9 seconds, almost a second faster than the Leon Cupra 290.

Then there’s plain old appeal and recognition. The Golf R is a Volkswagen. The Leon Cupra 290 is a Seat. Hot hatch enthusiasts will likely have less of a problem choosing the Leon Cupra 290 if it suits them more than the Golf R. But customers who aren’t as technically proficient with the finer workings of either car will more than likely go for the established name.

Fortunately for us here in the US, the choice becomes moot because the Leon Cupra 290 isn’t available here. Still, it would’ve been fun it were just so we can see how they line up against one another. The Volkswagen Golf R starts at $36,595 in the US. Add the DCC and Nav options and the price goes up to $39,090.

You can read our full review here.

2015 Renault Megane RS 275 Cup-S

2015 Renault Megane Renaultsport 275 Cup-S High Resolution Exterior
- image 644047

The Golf R may have the edge over the Seat Leon Cupra 290, but that’s understandable considering the VW’s stature in the hot hatch hierarchy. There is one hot hatch that the Leon Cupra 290 considers as its real rival. That’s the Renault Megane RS 275 Cup-S, and based on the history between these two cars, the feeling is mutual.

When the two cars aren’t exchanging lap records for a front-wheel-drive hatchback at the Nurburgring, the Leon Cupra 290 and the Megane RS 275 Cup-S also share one thing in common: they’re both making their debuts at the 2015 Frankfurt Motor Show. Sales should start soon after that so we’re going to find out which model ends up with the upper hand where it really matters for Seat and Renault.

In the mean time, both the Leon Cupra 290 and the Megane RS 275 Cup-S make compelling cases in the styling department. Both were styled like proper hot hatchbacks, which is to say that they look fit for the role. The Megane RS 275 Cup-S also functions like a proper sports car, thanks in part to its own 2.0-liter turbo four engine that can produce as much as 275 horsepower and 265 pound-feet of torque. The Leon Cupra 290 has the edge in that department, but it’s not like the Megane RS 275 Cup-S will be severely handicapped by having 11 less horsepower than its rival.

Ultimately, the biggest difference between these two might end up in the price of each hot hatchback. The Megane RS 275 Cup-S will retail for £23,935, or about $36,500 based on current exchange rates. Seat hasn’t released the price of the Leon Cupra 290, but expect it to be a little bit more expensive than the £28,785 Cupra 280. If the Leon Cupra 290 is priced north of £30,000, that would be a huge advantage for the Megane RS 275 Cup-S.

You can read our full review here.

Conclusion

2016 Seat Leon Cupra 290 High Resolution Exterior
- image 645622

I don’t often find myself getting intrigued about anything that Seat releases, but I’m making an exception for the Leon Cupra 290 because as a hot hatch enthusiast, I didn’t expect Seat to come up with a car that can really hold its own against the titans of the segment. It would have been nice to see the car become available in the US, but that’s unlikely to happen anytime soon. So once again, importing expenses will likely keep us from ever seeing the Cupra 290 in our soil. That’s about the only thing wrong with the car and to its credit, it’s not even its own fault. So the hot hatch battles will continue over in Europe and we’re once again left as mere spectators.

  • Leave it
    • Still wishing for AWD on this thing
    • Pricier than some of its rivals
    • Seat has to deal with name backlash
Kirby Garlitos
Kirby Garlitos
Automotive Aftermarket Expert - kirby@topspeed.com
Kirby’s first exposure into the world of automobiles happened when he caught Knight Rider on television as a five-year old boy. David Hasselhoff didn’t leave much of an impression on him (that happened later on in Baywatch), but KITT certainly did. To this day, Kirby remains convinced that he will one day own a car with the same ‘spirit’ as the original KITT (not the 2008 monstrosity). He doesn't know when that will be, but until then, he’s committed to expressing his love for KITT, and all cars for that matter, here at TopSpeed.  Read full bio
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Press Release

SEAT presents the perfect car for enjoying a dynamic lifestyle. The top version of the Leon range – the CUPRA 290 – now delivers a maximum of 213 kW / 290 PS, guaranteeing outstanding performance paired with excellent efficiency. The stunning design, individual equipment options and excellent quality are further points that make the Leon CUPRA a very special proposition indeed. In true SEAT fashion, exceptional value-for-money is, of course, a given.

2016 Seat Leon Cupra 290 High Resolution Exterior
- image 645620

Among journalists and customers alike, the SEAT Leon CUPRA is much admired as a Sport Coupé, as five-door and as Sports Tourer. In the trade media cross Europe, the CUPRA immediately became a consistent winner in comparison tests; its owners love its design and road manners. The new Leon ST CUPRA adds another dimension – the space of an estate. For work and family, for sports and hobbies – thanks to its versatility and the maximum load space of 1,470 litres, the Leon ST CUPRA is the perfect sports car for all aspects of life.

A concentrated package of hi-tech guarantees the enormous performance of the new Leon ST CUPRA. At the top is the 2.0 TSI engine with dual injection and variable camshaft timing. Depending on the version, it delivers an output of 195 kW / 265 PS or now 213 kW / 290 PS. The DCC dynamic chassis control, the front differential lock, the progressive steering, the CUPRA Drive Profile and the standard-fit full-LED headlamps are further examples of its state-of-the-art technologies.

The Drive - top performance included

CUPRA stands for power, performance, dynamics – and the Leon CUPRA fulfils all these promises perfectly. The CUPRA 290 with optional DSG transmission catapults from zero to 100 km/h in just 5,7 seconds, and in 5,8 seconds with the manual gearbox. The regulated top speed of 250 km/h is a matter of course. The maximum torque of 350 Newton meters is now available across an even broader rev range from 1,700 to 5,800 rpm and guarantees impressive pulling power in every situation. Against this, the new Leon CUPRA 290 is astonishingly efficient. The average fuel consumption for both power variants is just 6.6 litres with DSG and 6.7 litres with the Leon SC manual gearbox. This equates to CO2 figures of just 149 and 156 grams (Leon SC).

The performance of the Leon CUPRA 290 can be raised even further with the optional Performance pack, which includes a set of Brembo brake calipers, an exclusive wheel design and special tyres.

From the outside, the new model at the top of the SEAT line-up is recognisable only from the CUPRA 290 lettering on the rear end. Inside, it boasts chromed trim elements, with high-gloss black available as an option. And the new, increased power output is audible, too – a retuned exhaust system gives the sports engine an even more refined tone.

Hi-tech engine components

2016 Seat Leon Cupra 290 High Resolution Exterior
- image 645621

As a true sports engine, the 2.0 TSI reacts spontaneously to every movement of the gas pedal and is deliciously high revving. The all-new power unit with its exceptionally responsive turbocharger is packed full with hi-tech and groundbreaking features – in the dual-injection system, the gasoline direct injection is complemented under partial load by manifold injection. Its optimum set-up reduces fuel consumption and particulate emissions. Cylinder fill is always in the optimum range – the camshafts are adjustable, with the valve lift system regulating opening on the exhaust side. The exhaust manifold is integrated into the cylinder head and is part of the innovative thermo system. A new kind of coating on the aluminium pistons and the bearings keeps friction to a minimum. The CUPRA efficiency package also includes the start/stop system and brake energy regeneration.

The Chassis - hi-tech for precision and dynamics

CUPRA has always been synonymous with outstanding dynamics, precise agility and amazing sporting character. The Leon CUPRA manages to set the bar a good deal higher – in every dimension. With the DCC dynamic chassis control, front-axle differential lock and progressive steering all fitted as standard, the new Leon CUPRA achieves considerably faster laps on the track than its already impressive predecessor. At the same time, it is significantly more relaxed to drive, with a surprisingly refined level of comfort even on long motorway journeys. Safe and reliable deceleration comes courtesy of the CUPRA-specific, high-performance brake system, recognisable by its red callipers.

DCC dynamic chassis control

The key fundamentals of the dynamics are low weight and a stiff structure. The systematic lightweight design of the new Leon family is also evident on the CUPRA. The new generation of the DCC dynamic chassis control developed specifically for the CUPRA is even more sensitive and responsive, adapting the chassis characteristics to the prevailing conditions in a matter of milliseconds. The same applies to the driver’s preferences - the CUPRA Drive Profile permits extensive individualisation of the ride.

Front-axle differential lock

2016 Seat Leon Cupra 290 High Resolution Exterior
- image 645622

The new front-axle differential lock significantly improves the traction and handling of this front-wheel drive car. The system uses a multi-plate package that is hydraulically actuated and electronically controlled. The maximum locking force is 1,600 Newton metres and, in extreme cases, 100 percent of the drive can be sent to one wheel. The differential lock is integrated into all the handling systems like ESP and EDS. It improves not only the traction, but also reduces torque steer. Furthermore, its sensitive control has no negative impact on steering feel.

Progressive steering

Also included as standard equipment, the progressive steering improves the agile handling of the new Leon CUPRA. The driver experiences a precise and relaxed steering feel, less steering movement is required, reducing the number of grip changes, especially in cornering or parking manoeuvres. The steering in the new Leon CUPRA works with a progressive ratio through variable toothing on the rack.

The ESP handling system has been further developed specifically for the Leon CUPRA and enables a very sporty driving style with full retention of safety functionality. For extremely dynamic use, such as on a race track, it can also be deactivated in two stages – the first stage deactivates the traction control and puts the ESP into sport mode, permitting greater yaw angles. The second stage deactivates the ESP completely.

CUPRA Drive Profile

The CUPRA Drive Profile enables the characteristics of the Leon CUPRA to be adapted across a very wide range to meet the individual preferences of the driver. Alongside the Comfort and Sport modes, the CUPRA mode was, of course, a focal point for the engineers in Martorell. Throttle response is particularly sensitive in this setting, while the DSG operates in its sportiest shifting mode and the sound actuator supports the full tone of the turbocharged engine. DCC dynamic chassis control, progressive steering and the front-axle differential lock also operate at their sportiest settings.

The Design - emotional and powerful

Emotional design is a great strength of the Leon family. For the CUPRA, this has been developed one step further. The new front end with its large air intakes and full-LED headlamps ensures a powerful look, as do the rear skirt with its diffuser effect and the two oval end pipes. The alloy wheels are exclusive to the CUPRA, while the red brake callipers and tinted side and rear windshields underscore its individuality.

The focus of the interior is on the CUPRA sports steering wheel in its own unique design complete with shifting paddles for the optional DSG transmission, as well as the top sports seats in Alcantara finished with white stitching. Black full-leather upholstery, likewise with white stitching, is also available. For extreme lateral grip, there are optional bucket seats. The pedals and entry sills are made from aluminium.

2016 Seat Leon Cupra 290 High Resolution Exterior Wallpaper quality
- image 645623

The CUPRA 290 is visually differentiated by its unique 19-inch wheels with a titanium paint finish, the Aerodynamic Pack with the spoiler on the rear roof edge, CUPRA lettering on the brake callipers and black exterior mirror housings. The trim elements in the cockpit of this top sporty variant are in gleaming chrome or optional black.

The Equipment - exclusive and individual

The Leon CUPRA also states its position as the top model in the SEAT range through the progressive steering, dynamic chassis control, front-axle differential lock, CUPRA Drive Profile and high-performance brake system with 19-inch wheels (CUPRA 290).

Also standard equipment, are the full-LED headlamps and the LED rear lights. Alongside their distinctive design, LED headlamps have many further benefits – they illuminate the road ahead at a colour temperature of 5,300 Kelvin. Because this is very similar to daylight, it places very little strain on the eyes. When it comes to efficiency, the LEDs consume minimal energy – dipped beam, for instance, draws just 20 watts per unit.

The top sports seats in Alcantara, the CUPRA steering wheel and the Media System Plus with a 6.5-inch colour touchscreen are all among the standard interior features in addition to the extensive base equipment of the Leon FR. One particular feature in the CUPRA interior is the ambient lighting. LEDs in the door panels emphasize the contours of the interior design and add to the premium feel of the passenger compartment. At the same time, the ambient lighting offers occupants improved orientation and an even greater sense of spaciousness. The colour of the LEDs can be adapted via the CUPRA Drive Profile – they glow red in CUPRA mode, with the standard setting being white.

The look of the Leon CUPRA can be further individualised with the options White Line, Black Line and Orange Line. The surrounds of the radiator grille and wing mirrors and parts of the two-tone aluminium wheels are painted in the respective colour – with the Orange Line standing for Cup Racer orange.

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