Volkswagen Golf R vs SEAT Leon Cupra on track

This car is every bit as enjoyable to drive
as a GTI… Now obviously this car is famous for recently
setting the fastest ever front-wheel drive lap around the Nurburgring… With snazzy looks, 4wd and just shy of 300bhp,
the new Golf R is the pinnacle of the massive Golf range. But is it the best hot hatch in
the VW Group stable? To find out, we’ve brought along the new SEAT
Leon Cupra 280, and it’s just taken the fastest ever lap time around the Nurburgring for a
FWD car. So which of this pair is going to be fastest
around our test track, and which one is going to be the most fun? Well, let’s find out. The most powerful production Golf ever made,
the new Golf R costs £31,970 if you choose the DSG gearbox and five-door bodyshell. With
296bhp and 380Nm of torque from its 2.0-litre turbocharged engine, it has 4wd to put all
the power on the road. Lighter and cheaper than the Golf, the SEAT
Leon Cupra is only FWD, but it has similar underpinnings and the same engine. It develops
276bhp and 350Nm of torque. Like our Golf, this car is fitted with the DSG dual-clutch
gearbox. Ok, so let’s see how we get on with the Golf
R. Now, the Golf Rs have always been the most powerful Golfs but they’ve never always necessarily
been the most enjoyable to drive because a lot of the time the Rs have had more power
but the GTIs have remained the more enjoyable of the two. Let’s see how we get on with this
one, whether this car is every bit as enjoyable to drive as a GTI. The first thing you notice with a bit of a
slide there with cold tyres is that unlike the previous Golf Rs you can fully disable
the stability control, which on the track obviously frees the car up a little bit and
gives you the freedom to enjoy it more. We’ve got a car with a DSG gearbox and with
a five-door body shape that means the price is just under £32,000 – it’s not a cheap
car. But with just shy of 300bhp on the road it’s a really composed, fast relaxing performance
car. But let’s find out what it’s like on the track.
Now the first impressions are that it does feel very much like a front-wheel drive car.
It feels very planted like the current GTI. You don’t get the sense of the 4wd becoming
an agile, adjustable 4wd car like a Misubishi Evo – it still feels much like a FWD car and
you can feel that when you start to get a bit of understeer you can feel the power transferring
to the rear and improving your traction. But overall it’s not groundbreaking. The gearbox is quite fast, getting a little
bit of heat into the brakes. Coming round now to start a flying lap. Second gear out
to the last corner, accelerating up to the line. There the traction’s really good as
you accelerate up to the line and that does help matters. But it does feel through these tighter corners
here, the way you’re changing direction one side to the other, it does feel a bit lazy
at turn-in and there is understeer as you’re coming out of these longer corners. So again
it does feel like a FWD car. Now I’m just over 100mph, brake hard into
the chicken and and another thing you do find in a Golf R is that it’s not a perfectly suited
track car, because it does get quite a lot of brake fade in the big braking zones so
the pedal goes a little bit soft. Here we’re down to 3rd gear, really positive
on the turn-in, again it’s only in the slower corners that it feels a little bit lazy. Here, 3rd gear, balancing the throttle. You
can feel the front tyres cheruping a little bit like a FWD car but as it starts to understeer
you feel a little bit of power transferring to the rear. Change of direction, feels very
much like a GTI, down through the gears and up to the last corner. Good traction on the
exit there. One more tight corner to go, playing to the Golf R’s advantage with the traction
and accelerating out of the corner and across the line. Stable and powerful, the Golf R performed
well around our circuit, recording a lap time of 1.14.8 seconds. Let’s see how the lighter
FWD SEAT gets on. So how does the Cupra compare? If you want
the ultimate in the latest generation of VW Group hot hatches, do you really need to go
to a Golf R? Can you get the best in the SEAT, which is, in this spec with the DSG, nearly
£4,000 cheaper than the Golf R. Same engine, same underpinnings, but it’s got 20bhp less
and 30NM less torque but it does weigh 74kg less than the Golf. Obviously only FWD but you do get a really
clever diff.So let’s find out how they compare. Certainly the first thing you notice is just
how much more lively the SEAT is. It feels much stiffer at the front end and it reacts
much quicker and turns in sharper. It changes direction better than the Golf, it just makes
the Golf feel a bit lazy if I’m honest. In terms of straight-line performance the
Golf feels a bit quicker but there’s a not a lot in it and the DSG gearbox works pretty
much identically in both. Now obviously this car is famous for recently
setting the fastest ever front-wheel drive lap around the Nurburgring but it’s worth
pointing out that car had an optional performance pack that gives you brembo brakes, a pilot
sport semi-slick tyre and unique lighter wheels. You can’t get that performance pack in the
UK at the moment so this isn’t exactly the same spec as the car that did that amazing
lap around the Nurburgring. But you can feel that the basics are there
and the chassis is capable of doing that. It’s pretty good through that high-speed change
of direction there. Quite a lot of tyre scrum but that diff’s pretty clever. So let’s see if it’s maybe quicker than the
Golf around our test track.Coming up to the last corner, start to tidy it up for the start
of a flying lap. Accelerating up towards the line and starting
the flying lap. Down to 3rd gear into here, trailbraking in, lot of grip, you can start
to loosen the rear a bit with some trailbraking, it’s much better than the Golf through that
change of direction, bit of understeer on the exit, scrubbing a bit but again scrubbing
less than the Golf and you can feel that diff sending power from side to side. Speed up to the chicken here, pretty similar
to the Golf. Now, the upgraded brakes – you can tell why the car needed those for the
Nurburgring because without them there’s quite a lot of squirm on the brake because the brakes
get quite hot, soft pedal and the ABS seems to struggle to cope with it. So the car seems
to squirm side to side as you get different brake forces applied to each side of the car. The turn-in’s excellent, into these two fast
left-handers.Same gearing as the GTI, it really hangs on there and is really stiff. Diff working
well again up to 4th gear, come through these high-speed S-es. Every bit as god as the Golf
through there, if anything a bit better on the transition from right to left. Hard on
the brakes again, bit squirmy, hard to get it down, ABS giving up the ghost a bit. Outbraked
myself a little bit there. Coming up to the last corner, keeping it nice
and tight, trying to get some good traction, up to 3rd gear and across the line. Sharper and more agile than the Golf, the
SEAT Leon recorded a lap time of 1.13.9 seconds. Which car comes out on top in our hot hatch
head-to-head? Well, it’s a bit expensive, but we really like the Golf R.It’s a great
road car – it’s fast, upmarket and composed. But on the track the SEATLeon Cupra may only
be FWD, but it has almost as much traction, it’s much more agile and it’s faster against
the stopwatch. Crucially it’s nearly £4,000 cheaper, so
in this head-to-head track battle it’s the SEAT Leon Cupra that takes victory. (Click here to see our latest videos)

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