THERE’S something about hot hatches and how they fit the UK’s roads like a glove - nothing attacks a snaking, challenging piece of countryside asphalt like a pumped-up version of a hatchback.
In truth there are many options if you’ve £30,000 or so to spend on one: Civic Type-Rs, Focus STs and i30Ns immediately spring to mind, but the Cupra Leon in its 300bhp spec perhaps intrigues even more as it’s still a rare sight.
Effectively a Golf R albeit with front-wheel-drive, the Cupra - now forging its own path away from its Seat parentage - has many things going for it.
I like my hot hatch styling to be loud, bold and very much look-at-me so the Cupra shouldn’t be up my street, but there’s something rather appealing about driving a wolf in sheep’s clothing - aside from the quad exhaust pipes, it’s subtle.
However, the introverted styling - which will be loved by some and disliked by as many others for not shouting about what it is - cannot be trusted as the pace of this prim-and-proper car is eye-opening to say the least.
Settle into its interior - well-made, a great driving position albeit a little uninspiring again - and start it up and your ears are met with a pleasing, typically turbocharged tone which immediately gives its game away.
It’s familiar because its engine is the same as the 300bhp one fitted in the S3 and previous Golf R - a good start given just how capable those two are and how many iterations, in innumerable specs, have proven a success whether it’s been bolted into an Audi, Seat, Skoda or VW in the past.
But the Cupra isn’t four-wheel-drive like its sister cars and instead deploys each of its horses to the front wheels - I know, a recipe for disaster, or so you’d think.
If a front-wheel-drive car had 300bhp 15 years ago, it’d be scrabbling for traction and be a real handful in every weather condition - wet or dry - trying to pull you into a ditch with huge amounts of torque steer.
It is a handful in the wet and is only able to put about 25 per cent of its power down in first gear, but traffic light GPs aren’t a front-drive hot hatch’s game anyway.
Get it into second in the wet and it will sometimes show its displeasure by showing you a dancing orange light which signifies it’s struggling, but mostly it’s fine.
In the dry, it’s a different kettle of fish. It’s supremely tractable and becomes an absurdly capable machine. It makes full use of its grunt, its front end is sharp, it’s keen to tuck into a corner and the grip it generates is nothing short of phenomenal.
Because it has two less wheels to power, the rear is more playful and you know where you are with its front tyres as the feedback through the steering is informative - a trait not often found in Seats.
No-one could ever get bored of the way its engine pulls when it’s in third gear. There’s a small amount of turbo lag low down as is to be expected, but from that point on it pulls and fails to feel anything other than remarkable all the way to 7,000rpm.
If you’re after a subtle hot hatch which doesn’t draw attention to itself, the Cupra is pretty much nailed on to be a success. Although it’s much-changed looks-wise from its predecessor and its Cupra badging may not be for everyone, there’s masses of ability and it’d hold its own against the very best in the division.