There are more powerful rivals, and there are opponents that are more focused to drive, but none can match the all-round ability of SEAT’s Leon Cupra.
On a twisting B-road, the Cupra delivers huge grip and razor-sharp handling, especially when you select Cupra mode from the Drive Profile system. The standard adaptive dampers adjust to road conditions, while the Leon’s engaging chassis has been stiffened to deliver an even more focused drive. An electronically controlled limited-slip diff helps to put the 276bhp 2.0-litre turbo engine’s power down, and the lack of understeer in corners is astounding for such a powerful front-drive car.
Add in responsive steering and a rasping exhaust note in Cupra mode, and the Leon is a blast to drive fast. But the best hot hatch needs to be a master of many talents to shine, and selecting Comfort mode transforms the Cupra into a docile family car. And standard-fit stop/start helps to save fuel ready for the next B-road blast.
What’s more, the Leon doesn’t shout about its performance. SEAT does offer some colour packs to help the car stand out, but if you’d rather go incognito, then 19-inch alloys and subtle Cupra badging are the only giveaways to its potential.
And unlike many hot hatch rivals, there’s a Cupra to suit all occasions. The three-door SC will appeal to those with an eye for style, the five-door hatch is a fine all-rounder, while the ST estate can keep pace with the fastest of growing families.
Leon SC Cupra 280 (£27,910)
The three-door Leon Cupra is our pick, as the slightly sharper lines suit the hot hatch better than the five-door or estate models. You can get a DSG automatic gearbox, but while it adds launch control, we think the six-speed manual version is more engaging to drive.
The Fiesta ST has managed to fend off a slew of new arrivals to keep its crown as the best supermini hot hatch. Its great-value price tag and massively entertaining chassis mean it could be all the car you’d ever need, while upgrading to the Mountune performance kit is money well spent.
The car that started the hot hatch phenomenon is still a great choice for those drivers wanting a high-quality performance model that can keep them entertained and has a real feelgood factor about it. Stick with the tartan cloth trim and manual gearbox with its golf ball gearlever, while adding the Performance Pack is a wise move.
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