Vehicle Comparisons

SEAT Leon Cupra

SEAT Leon Cupra

Looking for something fast, practical and which won't send you to the wall financially? The mighty SEAT Leon Cupra could be the answer. There's a choice of hatch or estate, plus the option of 4WD. It can get to 62mph in well under 6 seconds, return around 45mpg, seat five and, thanks to recent price cuts, prices start from no more than about £30,000. As a one car solution, this one's got legs. Teeth too.

The Leon Cupra has some formline. There's never been a duff one and this latest Cupra gives SEAT's hatch real giant-killing ability. It comes in two guises; as a five-door hatch with front wheel drive and 290PS. Or in ST estate form with '4Drive' 4WD and 300PS. Either way, you get a DSG auto paddleshift 'box. In both cases, you're looking at a power output that will catapult this car to 62mph in around five and a half seconds. Top speed is limited to 155mph although it would be interesting to see how fast it would go before physics intervened. The uprated 380Nm maximum torque of both versions spreads from just 1,750 rpm all the way up to 5,300 rpm, guaranteeing impressive pulling power and overtaking flexibility.

The chassis has more tricks up its sleeve than David Blaine and features DCC dynamic chassis control, a front-axle differential lock and progressive steering all as standard, as well as a Cupra-specific, high-performance brake system, recognisable by its red callipers. The ESC handling system has been developed specifically for the Cupra and can be deactivated in two stages - the first stage deactivates the traction control and puts the ESC into sport mode, permitting greater yaw angles. The second stage deactivates the ESC completely. The Cupra Drive Profile allows the driver to set the car into one of three modes, 'Comfort', 'Sport' and 'Cupra'. This raciest setting gives you a hair trigger throttle response and most aggressive DSG shifts, while the sound actuator turns the volume up to eleven. The DCC dynamic chassis control, progressive steering and the front-axle differential lock are also dialled to their most focused settings.

Any Leon that wears a Cupra badge has to dose up the attitude a degree, but this Cupra looks really gym-toned, whether you order it as a five-door hatch or in the ST estate bodystyle. The front end features big air intakes and beady-eyed all-LED headlamps. There's a combined rear skirt and diffuser and twin oval tail pipes to ensure the powerful look continued by the rear skirt with its diffuser effect and two oval end pipes. The Cupra also gets unique 19-inch wheels with a titanium paint finish, plus the Aerodynamic Pack, which comprises a spoiler on the rear roof edge, Cupra lettering on the brake callipers and black exterior mirror housings.

Inside, you get trim elements finished in a gloss black and a smart Cupra sports steering wheel, complete with shifting paddles for the optional DSG transmission. The sports seats, in dark grey Alcantara finished with white stitching, are another interior highlight. Black full-leather upholstery, likewise with white stitching, is also available. The pedals and entry sills are made from aluminium to add a bit of eye candy to a fundamentally low-key cabin. There's a 380-litre luggage bay and the quality feels up to the mark, with a dashboard that no longer looks so obviously built down to a price.

And in summary? Well SEAT has come good in recent years with the Leon, a car that many felt had peaked early in Cupra guise. The Cupra version is without doubt fast and exciting and thanks to the recent asking price reductions, it now looks like very good value too. Despite that, this hot hatch is very well equipped, with satellite navigation, 19-inch alloys, a smart media system and full-LED headlights, features which could easily tack on over £1,500 to the price of rival cars.

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Hyundai i30 N

Hyundai i30 N

With this i30 N hot hatch, Hyundai launches its new 'N' performance sub-brand. It's the kind of car you simply wouldn't expect from this Korean maker, with a choice of either 250 or 275PS outputs intended to provide performance to embarrass this car's Volkswagen Golf GTI arch-rival.

The stats certainly look promising. Beneath the bonnet, you'll find a 2.0-litre turbocharged four-cylinder engine, delivering 250PS and 353Nm of torque. In the uprated 'N Performance' model, that output is boosted to 275PS. As a point of comparison, the most you can get from a Golf GTI is 245PS - and that's only if you pay extra for a 'Performance Pack' on that car. The i30 N is front-driven - there's no sign of a 4WD option - and if you're quick with the 6-speed manual stick shift, 62mph can be reached from rest in just 6.4s en route to 155mph in the 250PS variant. In the 272PS 'N Performance' derivative, that figure is slashed to 6.1 seconds, though top speed remains the same.

As segment buyers will expect, 'Launch control' for 'Grand Prix'-style getaways and a rev-matching function both feature in the standard spec, plus there are five selectable driving modes and an electronically managed suspension set-up. An 'N button' will switch the car into its most dynamic setup and drivers can tailor settings through an 'N Custom' mode. If you go for the 'N Performance' variant, you get an electronic limited slip differential, plus larger brakes, a variable valve exhaust system, and larger 19-inch wheels shod in Pirelli P Zero rubber. The handling of this variant was perfected at the legendary Nurburgring Nordschliefe race track - and you'll feel like you're on a circuit when you're pressing on behind the wheel, thanks to an Electronic Sound Generator that creates a rorty engine note.

The i30 N certainly talks the talk in terms of its looks. At the front, the headlamps have black bezels and the 'Cascading' grille has a red insert. There's a front splitter and a prominent rear wing spoiler for extra downforce and aero-balance. Air inlets have been added to each corner of the car's front end, aiding aerodynamics and brake cooling. The larger wheel arches house standard 18-inch rims with a 4mm lowered ride height - or larger 19-inch wheels with an 8mm lower ride height.

Inside, you get an exclusive blue-stitched 'N' steering wheel to the left of which is the drive mode selection system. To the right of the wheel, there's a chequered flag 'N' button for the 'N-mode' that releases this car most focused red mist performance setting. The red zone of the variable LED rev-counter changes according to the driving performance and varies with the engine's oil temperature. The 'ball-type' gearknob bears the N-badge. There are high-performance 'N'-embossed sport seats trimmed in a combination of suede and leather or cloth. These chairs feature extendable cushions.

So will potential hot hatch buyers consider an i30 N in preference to a Volkswagen Golf GTI, a Ford Focus ST, a SEAT Leon Cupra, a Renaultsport Megane or a Peugeot 308 Gti? That's a big ask. These established segment players have had decades to cement their credentials in this sector.

Yet Hyundai has certainly gone about this the right way. The engineering's been done thoroughly and the performance stats certainly look promising, offering owners slightly more performance than competitors can deliver. We'd say that if you're shopping in this market, this Korean contender's well worth a test drive. At the very least, you'll certainly enjoy the experience.

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Volkswagen Golf GTI

Volkswagen Golf GTI

The Volkswagen Golf GTI has upped its game in the face of increasing competition and offers up to 245PS, plus there are smarter looks, a classier cabin and improved media connectivity. Though little of the original GTI DNA remains, it's a very complete hot hatch indeed.

The big news for enthusiasts is that this GTI continues to be available in two different power outputs. Before, the standard car offered 220PS and there was a 230PS GTI Performance model. Now, Volkswagen has upped these outputs, so the normal version gets 230PS and the GTI Performance model features 245PS. Expect that to be enough to get you from rest to 62mph in only a fraction over 6s. As before, the GTI Performance variant also gets bigger brakes and an electronically controlled mechanical front axle differential lock for improved cornering.

Both cars get a 'progressive steering' system which means low effort at parking speeds but a smooth, natural feel when moving from small steering angles to larger ones at speed, something that has often escaped designers of modern electrically-assisted steering systems. A six-speed gearbox is fitted as standard to both cars, with the option of a six-gear DSG twin-clutch transmission for those who don't fancy a clutch pedal. If you like the GTI look but want to optimise frugality, a GTD diesel variant using a 2.0 TDI 184PS powerplant continues to be offered.

On to design. The first thing you'll notice about this revised Golf GTI is probably its slightly sleeker front end. There are full-LED headlamps and the air intakes at either corner of the front bumper have been restyled too. Jewel-like LED tail lamps are now standard too, with smart animated flowing indicators too. Otherwise, things are much as before - which means that there's a choice between three or five-door hatch bodystyles, both of which sit on the Volkswagen Group's light, stiff and very sophisticated MQB chassis.

There's no doubt that this is a seriously good looking car these days. Some of the detailing is quite exquisite. Red, black and white production paint finishes hark back to the Eighties heyday of the Golf GTI, while the big roof spoiler is neatly integrated to the roof line and door pillars.

The flat-bottomed steering wheel is a delight, with a circular hub and a deep dish with audio, telephone and cruise control buttons mounted on two of its three spokes. The dash is finished in an interesting capping which at first looks a little like carbon fibre but is in fact a technical finish that manages to escape the essential cheesiness of fake carbon. There's also a set of drilled pedals and a big alloy foot rest.

In summary, this current Volkswagen Golf GTI is a different car to the original. It has grown up, become more refined, smarter and, yes, better in virtually every regard. It doesn't need to constantly remind its customers of its roots. Time has moved on and it is what it is. And what it is is the go-to car if you want a quality hot hatch. Yes, it now campaigns in the upper echelons pricewise but the value proposition nevertheless looks good, with this improved Mk 7 model promising some really strong residual values that take the edge off the cost of ownership.

Volkswagen hasn't forgotten about driving enjoyment as the Golf enters middle age. This one's still got the chops to entertain with its clever front axle diff lock signalling that this isn't just for people who merely want the most expensive Golf. There are some formidable vehicles in the hot hatch division, but the Golf GTI almost campaigns in its own sub niche. It's all about authenticity, something true hot hatch buyers don't need unsubtle history lessons to understand.

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