Seat Leon Cupra R vs Honda Civic Type R head to head

Seat Leon Cupra R vs Honda Civic Type R head to head
Seat Leon Cupra R vs Honda Civic Type R head to head

Which of these two Rs is the real kicker?

What do you think of the copper-coloured highlights on the Cupra R? They might be construed as quite a divisive package, but in response there are two points. Firstly, Seat is only bringing in 24 and they’re all sold, so who cares what we think. And the second point is that we’re matching it with a Honda Civic Type R, so any concern about some styling elements of the Seat being over the top are completely redundant.

Styling on the Leon is enhanced by a modified Cupra body kit, and it comes with big brakes, revamped steering and camber angles, and a rortier exhaust. Styling on the Honda is, well, it’s whatever you think it is. So let’s stop looking at that outrageous spoiler and those basking shark vents, and step inside.

At which point you’re met by a certain amount of red but beyond that you’re noticing that this is a seriously sorted, well laid out cabin that is a big step up from where the Civic Type R used to be. The seats – very red – are also very low, putting you just where you want to be when the rev counter heads towards the red.

Honda Civict Type R

Price: £30,995
Engine: 2.0-litre, four-cylinder, turbo, petrol
Power: 316bhp
Torque: 295lb/ft
0-62mph: 5.8sec
Top speed: 169mph
Economy: 36.7mpg
CO2 emissions: 176g/km

In the Cupra R it’s all pretty good, with highlights including the Alcantara wrapped round the steering wheel, and the great infotainment system (the one in the Honda is beyond hopeless). But, taken overall, you seem to be sitting too high and it feels more like a city car than a serious sporting proposition.

There’s nothing city car about the Honda, which is obviously bigger, lower and just generally more. The chassis feels supremely well sorted, leaving the suspension to do its thing of absorbing what we laughingly call our roads. It’s never going to be anything other than firm, even in Comfort setting, yet it’s not overly firm. Generally it feels brilliantly right.

Honda spent a very large fortune and sacrificed slaves and territories to turn the family saloon into something so very special. It’s clear that Seat tried very hard but they didn’t quite have so many human sacrifices to offer, nor as much gold in the treasury – or, at least, they weren’t prepared to spend it all.

The effect is a car that is very good by the standards of these things, but in comfort mode it feels like a jelly compared to the Honda, and then the jelly sets rather hard further up the scale.

Once you’re really motoring though, you’re reminded of the similarity in DNA between the Cupra and VW’s Golf Clubsport S. The real highlight though isn’t the top end, fabulous though that is.

Seat Leon Cupra R

Price: £34,995
Engine: 2.0-litre, four-cylinder, turbo, petrol
Power: 305bhp
Torque: 280lb/ft
Transmission: 6-speed manual, front-wheel drive
0-62mph: 5.8sec
Top speed: 155mph
Economy: 38.7mpg
CO2 emissions: 170g/km

It’s the Leon’s remarkable ability to pull from just about anywhere on the dial that really impresses. This is a very easy engine to use, and it means you can rev it out like a boy racer or go virtually as quickly but with minimal sweat. That’s a neat trick.

And it’s one the Honda can’t quite match. The turbocharged four-pot in the Honda certainly pulls hard, let’s not get carried away, but there’s just a hint of lag, just a bit more need for revs than in the Seat. The effect is that the Honda seems to build harder as the revs rise, aided further by a really delightful clutch and gearbox.

It’s the Honda that really talks to you, telling you what’s going on all the time, helping you feel more at one with the machine. All those slaves and empires didn’t fall for nothing. The depth of ability here is basically bottomless, right up until R+ mode, which is actually a bit much for British roads – it can be too much on some racetracks even. Short of that though, the Type R is really, truly remarkable.

The Cupra gets better as you go harder, but you can feel it taking the steps, stiffening the suspension and steering, while the Honda has such a wondrous chassis there isn’t such an awareness that these things are happening or need to happen.

There are going to be some who will find the styling of the latest Type R simply too much to stomach. They’d prefer the Cupra R, but they’re only going to get one if they buy it already owned.

ut aesthetics aside, while the Cupra R is a great car and Seat must be commended for turning the Leon into such a remarkable force, it’s the Honda every time that shows what endless commitment, budget and engineering brilliance can achieve, even with a family saloon.

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