When the Leon Cupra R was launched back in 2003, it became the fastest SEAT ever made. Based on the regular ‘warm’ 180bhp Seat Leon Cupra, the ‘R’ version had a 210bhp detuned version of the Audi S3 222bhp unit. Aside from the engine, there’s a raft of performance upgrades that set the R apart from the regular Cupra.
The exterior got a makeover with a front splitter and 18in alloys, and together with an oval tailpipe and fantastic Brembo front brakes, the R looked far more purposeful than the Cupra. Inside boasted solid VAG kit such as an A3 dashboard, but look out for the Recaro sports seats which were an expensive but worthwhile option. But it wasn’t just skin deep. Underneath it got a slightly detuned, 210bhp version of the 1.8ltr 20v turbo lump found in the Audi TT and S3 which has the larger K04 turbo which gives the potential for 275bhp with some simple upgrades.
When it was launched the motoring press put it against the Civic Type R, Mk4 Golf GTI and Mk1 Focus RS, where it held its own. The SEAT stands out as a bit different in comparison to some of the more obvious hot hatches, and thanks to its shared parts with other VAG parts it can be transformed into a real giant killer with some choice tuning.
We’ve seen plenty of examples with 350bhp that will leave much more exotic stuff for dead, and with some money spent you could go for almost double that number if you was crazy enough. The Cupra R is a fast, good looking, tunable car that makes a lot of sense, especially if you need four doors.
SEAT LEON CUPRA R (2003-2006)
Engine: 1.8ltr 20v turbo
Top speed: 150mph (figures for 225 model)
WHAT TO LOOK FOR
The dash is from an Audi A3, so check the computer works okay as they’re prone to fail. The 1.8T unit is pretty reliable if serviced regularly, but MAF sensors and coil packs are common failures. It sounds daft, but make sure it’s a genuine R. A lot of 180bhp Cupras were done up to look like the R. Also check the V5 to see which engine it has; earlier cars (up to September 2003) had the detuned 210bhp engine.
TUNING A CUPRA R
The ubiquitous 1.8T engine is ripe for more power. A simple plug and play remap can unleash around 40bhp peak power, but it’s the extra mid range grunt that makes the real difference to drivability. An uprated intercooler and full exhaust with down pipe will make a big difference and should see you on your way to 270bhp. From here you’ll be looking at a larger turbo, and uprated fuelling to get up to about 350bhp, which is around the point where uprated internals are needed, and from then on the limit is purely your wallet!
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