SEAT Leon Cupra: say hola to Spain's hot hatch
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It's time for Kiwis to say "hola" to Spanish brand SEAT as the first cars arrive in the country just a few months before its store opens.
SEAT is well known in Europe and was previously known as the "Spanish Fiat" before Volkswagen Group bought it in 1986.
In New Zealand, it joins European Motor Distributors' VW Group brands, such as Audi, VW, Porsche, Bentley and Skoda.
SEAT is an acronym for the Sociedad Espanola de Automoviles de Turismo; which translates as Society of Spanish Automobile Tourism.
The brand's first vehicle here is the Leon hatchback, including the Cupra sport model, and will soon be joined by the Ateca SUV.
SEAT will be opening a store in Newmarket, Auckland, before setting up servicing departments in Wellington and Christchurch. A second store is still under discussion, with the North Shore looking like a potential area.
SEAT is pronounced say-it, but the brand's New Zealand boss, James Yates, says he's not going to turn away customers if they ask for a "seat".
The Leon is a VW Golf-sized hatchback, starting with the FR at $35,900, which goes on sale early next year, and the Cupra, at $55,400, on sale now.
Next month, the Leon will be joined by the VW Tiguan-sized Ateca, which will be priced from $38,900.
The FR is powered by a 1.4-litre turbo-petrol engine producing 110kW of power and 250Nm of torque. Paired with a seven-speed DSG transmission, it has factory fuel-efficiency numbers of 4.9 litres combined.
The FR sits on 17in tyres as standard, with safety features including city braking, rear view camera, multiple air bags plus traction control systems.
The Leon FR is 4281mm long, 1816mm wide, and 1444mm high. The Cupra, which stands for Cup Racing, is just a few millimetres lower than the FR, and is powered by a stonking 2-litre, four cylinder turbo petrol engine, producing 221kW/380Nm, and it sits on 19in. It hits 0-100km in 5.7 seconds, as apposed to the FR's 8.0 seconds.
The Cupra sits in the "hot hatch" line-up alongside the Golf GTi, Ford Fiesta ST and Honda Civic Type R; all similar prices.
The Leon Cupra has a familiar appearance, thanks to being part of the VW Group family.
The infotainment system is similar to VW and Skoda while there is the virtual cockpit style from Audi.
The Leon Cupra acts as an everyday front-wheel hatchback due to its ride level in comfort mode; but this vehicle wasn't built by SEAT to be a commuter; you are paying the $20,000 premium over FR for a track-capable car.
And you get the performance and noise from the Cupra when you dial in sport or Cupra mode. Then comes the alluring "pop" from the exhaust in the up or down shift and the firmer steering.
Given the first New Zealand drive of the Leon Cupra, I headed to my usual drive route that included motorways, main roads and winding country roads that demand more from most cars.
I dialled in sport first but found the suspension setting too firm for my liking and the steering too rigid, especially when I took on tight uphill corners that demanded low speeds.
Cupra mode should be dialled in for the style it is intended - and its moniker - cup racing. I'd love to take this hatch to a racetrack and see what it can do at speed.
Among the driving modes was "individual" and when I punched in this, I found my ideal setting with the engine set to Cupra, steering normal, and the dynamic chassis control at comfort.
Sure you may think that's a wimpy mode, but with the engine at its peak performance, and steering more receptive, I had the chance to introduce more tight manoeuvres, and without the hard ride in sport mode.
I was impressed with the handling and the exhaust noise in this mode although, once on Auckland motorways, I had to mark it down due to lack of blind spot monitoring; a must-have when navigating busy roads.
SEAT is a relatively unknown brand here, and the "S" on the front grille does resemble Suzuki's so you could be mistaken for driving the Japanese brand, but the unfamiliarity shouldn't put off conservative Kiwis.
The Cupra lived up to the hot-hatch title, and it was one of the most pleasurable road tests for a sub $60,000 car this year. Now, SEAT NZ, if you could just book Hampton Downs for a zip around in the Cupra, it'd be great.