Thruxton is the United Kingdom's fastest racing circuit. Located about an hour-and-a-half southwest of London, this sweeping twist of tarmac is a throwback to the days when circuits looked and felt dangerous-the run-off areas end, quite literally, in a hedge.
It's as much a test of the driver's manhood as it is of the car, which is why we're here to drive the new Seat Leon Cupra R. Boasting Volkswagen's familiar 1.8t engine tuned to 210 bhp, this is the car the Spanish company hopes will finally establish it as a major player in the sport compact car arena.
This engine was originally used in the Audi S3, which is also built on the same VW Golf-derived platform as the Leon, so think of the Leon Cupra R as a hotrod Golf, the GTI we don't get or as a poor man's Audi S3, minus the quattro drivetrain. In the UK, the Cupra R sells for 16,995 ($26,350), which is $11,000 cheaper than an S3, and $4,651 less than the new Ford Focus RS, but $1,550 more than a Honda Civic Type-R.
The simple, elegant lines of the Leon absorb the bold body kit. The front end is particularly aggressive, where a redesigned bumper incorporates a small aerodynamic splitter and a pair of poly-elliptical fog lamps. This assembly also hides the larger vents necessary to cool the twin front intercoolers, which are unique to the R.
It's a dramatic effect enhanced by the lowered suspension. The longitudinal arms and coil springs at the rear of the R sit 6mm closer to the ground than they do on the standard Cupra, and the bumpers are 45mm lower. Deep side skirts link the front and rear and complement the extended wheelwell moldings, which are necessary to accommodate the 225/40ZR-18 Pirelli P Zero Rossos.
This rubber frames twin-five-spoke alloys, which give a good view of the Brembo red, four-pot calipers. The discs are also suitably vast-12.6 in. at the front and 10 in. at the rear.
The bold theme is completed by the chopped tailgate, which incorporates a deep-set bumper arrangement and a discreet lip spoiler at the top of the hatchback. There's also a bold Cupra R badge located south of the right taillight.
While the outside of our test car is yellow, everything inside is black. Red stitching on the steering wheel and gearstick and optional Recaro seats spice up the interior.
Out on the track we focus on the Complex, a tricky right-left-right called Campbell, Cobb and Segrave, respectively, that follows the pit straight and precedes a flat-out blast. Getting the corners right requires compromise: Enter Campbell too quickly, and you'll understeer wide, making a mess of the entry into Cobb.
To improve the Leon's athleticism, the R uses a new front sub-frame mounted to the chassis using Silentbloc bushings, a thinner (19mm) front anti-roll bar and quicker steering rack.