Spanish automaker makes its presence felt in the hot hatch segment

The 2017 Frankfurt Motor Show is just around the corner and we’re already getting a steady stream of cars that will be in attendance at the event. One car that has our attention is a hot hatchback from an automaker that normally doesn’t get its share of the spotlight. Prepare yourselves as Seat is looking to take Frankfurt by storm with the new Leon Cupra R, the automaker’s most powerful road car in history.

The Leon Cupra R will be joined by the likes of the Ibiza and the Leon Cupra Evo 17 in Frankfurt, but make no mistake, the Cupra R will be the highlight of Seat’s booth, in large part because of its status as a limited edition model and its significance for the company moving forward. Remember, Seat recently filed trademark applications for a Cupra sub-brand, seemingly separating the model from the entire Seat family in hopes of turning it into a performance sub-brand. I can’t help but wonder then if the Leon Cupra R is more than just a limited edition hot hatch, but a preview of sorts of what we can expect from the Cupra sub-brand in the event that its separation from Seat does happen. For now, though, our attention should be on the Frankfurt-bound Leon Cupra R. With its credentials, the hot hatch has at least earned its place as one of the most exciting cars to hit the upcoming motor show.

Continue after the jump to read more about the Seat Leon Cupra R.

Exterior

2018 Seat Leon Cupra R High Resolution Exterior
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The first thing you’ll notice about the Seat Leon Cupra R is that it still takes the form of the Leon Cupra 300, the car that it’s likely based from. The angular, Audi-like headlights remain, as do the tout body and shoulder lines that give it that aggressive look. That said, there’s a reason that the special edition model has an “R” badge in it. The body itself features plenty of aerodynamic bits, not the least of which are the larger air intakes that evoke the design of those found in Lamborghinis. The front spoiler is also different, having now been made from carbon fiber. Same thing with the side skirts and the rear spoiler, both of which also use the premium lightweight material.

Compare the look of the Leon Cupra R to the Leon Cupra 300 and you’ll see a stark difference in posture.

On the cosmetic front, the Leon Cupra R will be available in three distinct colors: Midnight Black, Pyrenees Grey, and Matte Grey. Copper trim is also visible in the car, specifically used on the side mirrors, wheels, intakes, and the Seat badge located right smack in the middle of the hot hatch’s front grille.

Compare the look of the Leon Cupra R to the Leon Cupra 300 and you’ll see a stark difference in posture. As impressive as the Leon Cupra 300 is, the Leon Cupra R just looks naturally sportier and far more aggressive than any road car that Seat has ever produced.

2018 Seat Leon Cupra R High Resolution Exterior
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2017 Seat Leon CUPRA 300 High Resolution Exterior
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Note: side-by-side photo of the Seat Leon Cupra R and the Seat Leon Cupra 300.

Interior

2016 Seat Leon Cross Sport High Resolution Interior
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Note: Standard Seat Leon pictured here.

At this point, the Spanish automaker hasn’t shown any photos of the Leon Cupra R’s interior, so we’re going to have to get creative to have a clear picture of what we can expect from the limited edition hot hatch.

What we do know at this point is that the exterior defining copper accents can also be found in the cabin, possibly in trim or accent form. According to Seat, the interior will also host a generous amount of carbon fiber and Alcantara, the latter of which is tipped to be used on the steering wheel and gearstick of the car.

The interior will also host a generous amount of carbon fiber and Alcantara, the latter of which is tipped to be used on the steering wheel and gearstick of the car

As far as the layout is concerned, I don’t expect there to be any changes at all. The same clean design of the Cupra Leon 300 should be present in the “R” version. It’s not the most impressive interior we’ve seen, but as far as being up-to-the-times, the Cupra Leon R should also receive a new center console, an electronic parking brake, and an advanced sound insulation that helps minimize the noise coming inside the car from the road. Expect more details to arrive on this section of the hot hatch when it officially makes its debut at the 2017 Frankfurt Motor Show.

Drivetrain

2018 Seat Leon Cupra R
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The Seat Leon Cupra R is largely defined by two things: it’s a limited edition model and more importantly, it holds the distinction of being the most powerful road-going car Seat has ever made.

The latter title is impressive though it must also be said that its power output isn’t too far away from the Leon Cupra 300 and the Leon Cupra wagon, both of which come with 300 horsepower. Still, if every single horsepower counts as something significant in your eyes, the Leon Cupra R stands head and shoulders above everybody else thanks in large part to an output that goes up to as much as 310 horsepower when it’s equipped with a manual transmission. That’s an important caveat because customers who opt for the DSG-equipped version will only get 300 horsepower out of their Cupra Leon Rs.

The Leon Cupra R stands head and shoulders above everybody else thanks in large part to an output that goes up to as much as 310 horsepower

Whichever transmission option you get, the Leon Cupra R’s power is going to be sent to the front wheels, owing to the hot hatch’s front-wheel drive configuration. Should you wish for a grippier ride, Seat’s 4Drive traction all-wheel drive system is available on the longer wagon version of the model, though you will have to make some compromises, all thanks to the car’s added weight.

Performance numbers haven’t been announced at this point but expect the Leon Cupra R to be capable of accelerating from 0 to 60 mph in about 5.5 seconds, 0.2 seconds quicker than the Leon Cupra 300. Top speed is likely to be limited to 155 mph, though if you want to unlock more of the hot hatch’s potential, the aftermarket scene is as good a place as any to find the key.

Pricing

Seat hasn’t announced how much the Leon Cupra R is going to cost. It should be pricier than the Cupra Leon 300, which has a starting price in the U.K. of £30,155, or just under $40,000 based on current exchange rates. If I were to make an estimate, I think the Leon Cupra R will retail for around £32,000 to £35,000 ($41,300 to $45,200) as only 799 units of the model will be made available.

Competition

Volkswagen Golf R

2018 Volkswagen Golf R High Resolution Exterior
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2018 Volkswagen Golf R High Resolution Exterior
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It goes without saying that the hot hatch market is alive, healthy, and super competitive in the European market. The Seat Leon Cupra R, as impressive as it is, still has to deal with a lot of competition in this region. Chief among the competitors is the long-standing Volkswagen Golf R Mk VII. While it’s true that this generation’s Golf R is a little bit long in the tooth compared to its rivals, the hot hatch still packs a menacing punch. That’s largely due to a 2.0-liter four-cylinder turbocharged engine that packs a tidy 295 horsepower and 280 pound-feet of torque. It’s not as much as the Cupra Leon R, or other hot hatchbacks for that matter, but it’s still the Golf R. Its place as one of the top models of its segment is secure.

Read out full review on the Volkswagen Golf R.

Ford Focus RS

2016 Ford Focus RS High Resolution Exterior
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2016 Ford Focus RS High Resolution Exterior
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Speaking of a hot hatch that’s dripping in its own vat of power, the Ford Focus RS is a market favorite. It’s relatively new compared to some of its rivals. It also has a good amount of tech features – drift mode! – that stand out. Most important is that it has one of the highest power ratings of any hot hatch in the segment. It packs a 2.3-liter EcoBoost four-cylinder engine that pumps out a staggering 350 horsepower and 350 pound-feet of torque. That power is sent to all four wheels, making the Focus RS one of the most formidable hot hatchbacks on the market today.

Read our full review on the Ford Focus RS.

Conclusion

2018 Seat Leon Cupra R High Resolution Exterior
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A very pleasant surprise of a car from a rather surprising source. That’s my first reaction upon seeing the Seat Leon Cupra R. It looks the part of a limited edition model. It has plenty of premium materials in it. Best of all, it’s got enough power to really make a difference in this super competitive segment.

I am surprised though that Seat is offering this hot hatch as a limited edition model, but if the company’s plan for doing so is to gauge the market for long-term interest, I’m on board with it, especially if there’s really more to the automaker’s plans of establishing Cupra as a separate performance brand. Could this be a sign of things to come then? Perhaps. Either way, I’m looking forward to seeing what the Spanish automaker has up its sleeves for the future.

  • Leave it
    • * Limited availability
    • * Could be pricey
    • * No chance of making it stateside

References

Seat Leon Cupra 300

2017 Seat Leon CUPRA 300 High Resolution Exterior
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Read our full review on the Seat Leon Cupra 300.

Seat Leon

2017 Seat Leon High Resolution Exterior
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Read our full review on the Seat Leon.

Press release

Luca de Meo, President of SEAT, has unveiled to the media the main novelties of the upcoming IAA Motorshow via a Web Media Conference (http://iaawebconference.seatprapp.com).

2018 Seat Leon Cupra R High Resolution Exterior
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For such a special occasion, the Arona and the Leon CUPRA R will take centre stage on the first press day and will be presented in a different way. On Tuesday 12 September at 12:15, the SEAT Press Conference will be hosted by Luca de Meo, President of SEAT, who will be tackling corporate figures, New Arona, Leon CUPRA R, Alexa and the public announcement of the New Large SUV Finalist Names. In the afternoon, members of the Executive Committee will give two Press Talks: At 15:00, Wayne Griffiths, Executive Vice-President for Sales and Marketing and Dr. Matthias Rabe, Executive Vice-President for Research and Development will be presenting the New Leon CUPRA R and the future CUPRA business projects, and at 16:30, Ned Curic, Vice-President for Alexa by Amazon and Dr. Matthias Rabe will be speaking about the integration of Alexa, the new innovative voice-controlled digital assistant in the SEAT range.

SEAT is experiencing some of its best times as a company. In the last four years, it has achieved growth of 30%; last year it sold almost 410,000 units and made operating profits of 143 million euros, the company’s best ever results. So far in 2017, in the first eight months of the year, SEAT has sold more than 310,000 cars, which represents an increase of more than 13% compared to the same period last year. This is the best result since 2001.

The increase in sales in 2017 is reflected in SEAT’s first half financial results. Operating profit went up by 40.9% in the first half of the year compared to the same period in 2016, reaching a record figure of 130 million euros. At the same time, turnover went up by 12.7% to stand at 5,054 million euros in the first six months of the year.

CUPRA R, SEAT’s most powerful and exclusive car - Limited Edition Only

The new SEAT Leon CUPRA R will undoubtedly capture show visitor attention on the Spanish brand’s stand at the IAA 2017. SEAT’s most powerful road car in history will also be its most exclusive, owing to the fact that it will be limited to 799 units. The new SEAT Leon CUPRA R will be available with manual gearbox (310 PS) and DSG (300 PS), with six speeds and front wheel drive. There are some stand-out details on the bodywork such as exclusive carbon fibre details on the front and rear spoilers, side skirts and rear diffuser, wing mirrors in copper, as well as the rims, with the wheel arches and the front area getting a new, more powerful design around the air intakes.

The SEAT Leon CUPRA R will be available at the end of 2017 and the 799 lucky owners will be able to enjoy an interior that has also been given the carbon fibre and copper treatment, plus a steering wheel and gearstick upholstered in Alcantara®. There will be three colours to choose from; Midnight Black, Pyrenees Grey (neither with extra cost) and the exclusive Matte Grey.

2018 Seat Leon Cupra R High Resolution Exterior
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The new Leon CUPRA R also receives a few extras. On the front axle, the camber has been modified and the adaptive suspension DCC (Dynamic Chassis Control), not forgetting the Brembo brakes. There is a new exhaust system too. So sportier, yes, but above all else a unique and unrepeatable model, reserved for 799 of the brand’s most demanding drivers.

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