Sizzling Cupra heads SEAT push

The most powerful road car it has ever created will head the local resurgence for the sunniest of Volkswagen Group’s sub-brands.
Friday June 16, 2017

By Richard Bosselman

THE name is an acronym for ‘Cup Racer’, and the engine backs up the performance talent – the car first tasked to re-establish the SEAT brand here is a hot hatch with sizzling intent.

SEAT New Zealand, part of the European Motor Distributors group that has dibs on importation of all VW Group product here, has announced it will kick off its sales drive in September with the Leon Cupra, a Golf-like rival with the same turbocharged 2.0-litre that slots into the vaunted Golf R.

This is the most potent version of the Cupra ever and will provide in six-speed direct shift gearbox or full manual transmission form, also with half a dozen forward gears, those derivatives selling for $56,900 and $55,400 respectively. Not bad when a Golf R now runs to $75,390.

Why so much cheaper than the hottest Golf? A lot to do with how those horses the road. While the Cupra is highly-loaded with VW drivetrain assisting technology – including a torque-sensing limited-slip differential and Dynamic Chassis Control – it is nonetheless not laying down its grunt in R-style: This is not a four-wheel-drive car, but purely front-driven.

Also, the Cupra has this engine is lower tune, albeit only slightly: SEAT quotes an output of 221kW, which is 7kW shy of what the latest R, in just-announced mid-life ‘7.5’ update is said to pack. There’s less pizzazz within the cabin, too.

Another version of the Leon, the FR, will follow up in early 2018. This edition has the 110kW 1.4-litre turbopetrol also familiar to Golf faithful. This model, also in five-door hatch format, will cost from $35,900 plus on road costs.

SEAT says the FR is also a “sport” version. It will be delivered here with 17 inch dynamic alloys, a body kit and a sports orientated interior; that’s more than is provided with the entry Golf Comfortline, which is now a $33,990 ask. The Comfortline also has a 92kW 1.4-litre.

Leon comes with a five-star Euro NCAP crash test score and provisions front assist with City Emergency Braking and a rear view camera. Apple CarPlay, Android Auto and MirrorLink also package.

“We believe that we have very competitive models and they will be very attractive to consumers looking for either a warm-hatch or a (very) hot hatch,” says brand manager James Yates.

Yates has not yet shared his volume aspirations for SEAT, but has previously explained his hope it will enjoy faster penetration than that enjoyed by another similar-ethos Group sub-brand, Skoda, whose stocks are really taking off with arrival of the Kodiaq crossover.

While acknowledging potential for “a multi-brand battle”, he says SEAT will also push to present as an alternative to the Mazda3 and, potentially, Holden Astra and Ford Focus.

When plans for SEAT were first announced, the thought was that the puish would start with the Ateca, a brand new medium sports utility that only started production in mid-2016. It is developed off the latest Volkswagen Tiguan (but slightly smaller) and is built for SEAT by Skoda, whose own version is the recently-announced Karoq, coming next year.

New Zealand will nonetheless become one of the first right-hand-drive markets for the 2017 Leon as it was only unveiled by SEAT last October. SEAT NZ is also hoping to secure two more cars, a new Ibiza small hatch that shares DNA with the VW Polo and a compact crossover variant, the Arona, off VW’s MQB platform.

There are also rumours about a large sports utility, potentially a sister ship to the Kodiaq.