The SEAT Leon Cupra is arguably the bargain performance hatchback of the moment. It shares many components with the brilliant Volkswagen Golf R, only omitting the four-wheel-drive system, an extra 20hp and around £3,000 extra cost.
If it’s sharpness and aggression you’re after, however, the new Honda Civic Type R surely deserves your attention. This wild-looking hatchback has performance to match its outlandish style, and is a worthy contender for the hot hatch crown.
On paper though, the SEAT and the Honda are surprisingly closely matched. So which is the car for you? If you’ve already fallen for either, pop either the Honda Civic Type R or the SEAT Leon Cupra into our car configurator to see how much carwow could help you save.
SEAT and Honda couldn’t have taken more different approaches to styling. The Leon relies on simple details, making the most of the sharp, attractive lines of the regular car. If anything, it’s even more subtle than its Volkswagen Golf R cousin. Only when you move towards the more extreme 280 Sub8 version do things start to look more wild.
In contrast, the Type R is all about big grilles, outrageous side skirts and downforce-inducing wings and diffusers. It’ll certainly get you noticed, but it might be a level of attention not everyone will be comfortable with…
The Civic’s interior upgrades aren’t quite as over the top, but they still clearly hint at the performance on offer. The sports seats (which one or two testers suggested were mounted a touch too high) are trimmed in red fabric, while the sporty aluminium gear knob is close to the steering wheel for quicker gear changes. The wheel itself gains flashes of red leather, and is flat-bottomed, like many sporty cars these days.
Like the outside, the Leon’s cabin is a little more grown-up than the Civic (or dull, depending on your point of view). The cabin is well-screwed together but it’s all a little too full of black plastic to look special enough. The one saving grace is the steering wheel, which is lovely to hold.
When it comes to the sensible stuff, the Leon has a little more space for rear seat passengers (particularly headroom) but the Civic has a huge boot. However, the Leon is offered in ST estate for those needing more room.
Despite their vastly different looks, out on the road, both of these cars are exciting and entertaining in equal measure. The Cupra is praised for its tight body control and responsive chassis while the ride – although firm – is never deemed to be uncomfortable.
The Leon’s more advanced suspension setup at the rear suggests it will be the more entertaining drive, but the Civic takes all of these traits and moves each of them up another notch. The grip is described as “enormous” by testers and body control is “exemplary”. The steering is sharp and direct and, even if it is lacking in some feel, it’s still an improvement over the variable-ratio setup the Leon uses.
The Honda’s gearchange action is brilliant and adds to the sporty driving experience. The SEAT’s manual is not quite on the same level, but the optional dual-clutch automatic gearbox allows for rapid shifts or automatic operation if needed.
Both the Civic and the Leon use 2.0-litre turbocharged petrol engines to send their power to the front wheels only. The SEAT is the slower of the two, yet still hits 62mph from rest in 5.8 seconds (when equipped with the DSG gearbox) before reaching a top speed of 155mph, says it all really. The Civic? Knock another tenth off the 0-62mph time and add 12mph to the top speed…
Four-cylinder turbocharged engines aren’t normally the sweetest-sounding of units, but the SEAT and the Honda both provide a suitably naughty soundtrack to match the performance.
Value for money
Of the two, the SEAT is the cheaper car to buy. Even before the generous discounts SEAT dealers are willing to offer (particularly through our deal checker) the Leon is just under £2,500 cheaper than the Civic. It’s also worth bearing in mind that the top-spec GT version of the Honda – which adds a better stereo, dual-zone climate control and automatic lights – costs a further £2,300.
The Leon is claimed to return 44.1mpg, which is noticeably better than the Civic’s official figure of 38.7mpg. However, testers have confirmed that, in real world conditions, buyers should expect much closer to low-thirties from both.
When it comes to depreciation, both the Honda and the SEAT should hold their value quite well, and you never know – if you decide to hold onto one for a really long time and if their cult status lives on, they may start to creep up in value again…
Both the SEAT Leon Cupra and the Honda Civic Type R are class-leading hot hatches. On balance though, the Civic is faster, more exciting to look at and a little more thrilling to drive.
However, you could easily argue a case for the SEAT. Given that it’s a few grand cheaper to buy – and likely to be cheaper to run, too – any deficiencies it gives away to the Honda are due to the lower price.
Overall, the Civic wins out for the ultimate hot hatch driving experience. However, if the purchase price is just a little high or you prefer the automatic gearbox and better ride, you won’t be disappointed with the Leon at all.
Pop either the Honda Civic Type R or the SEAT Leon Cupra into our car configurator to see how much carwow could help you save. Check out our deals page for more options or, if you’re still struggling to choose what car you’d like, head over to our car chooser.