Hot hatch showdown: Seat Leon Cupra R vs Honda Civic Type R

Regardless of the outcome of this showdown, if you’re talking about hot hatches in the conventional sense, the current Civic Type R is the best money can buy.

No other front-driven car for which you can lay down a deposit at your nearest dealership marries such crushing pace with such a deep-seated sense of mechanical involvement. In fact, the only reason this magazine’s road testers elected to bestow upon it four and a half stars is because those so inclined were a little more vociferous in their sentiments than the ones who would give it five. Although it no longer rages, the debate lingers.

As you’ve probably surmised, we haven’t committed editorial hara-kiri and given up the verdict in the first line. Rather, the Honda is the only car in this duo that you can actually buy. Why a nation famous for loosening the purse strings in the pursuit of agile, affordable, peppy shopping carts should be allocated a paltry 24 cars from a run of 799 is anybody’s guess, but each right-hand-drive example of the lava-hot Seat Leon Cupra R is now spoken for, which renders this twin test both academic and fascinating.

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Academic, because even should this £34,995 newcomer bury its esteemed rival in a win that would come as a considerable but welcome surprise, you still can’t have one. Fascinating because this is the last Cupra model before ‘Cupra’ becomes an independent, performance-oriented institution in the manner of Mercedes-AMG. What this car portends–its relative strengths, drawbacks, focus and, most important for us, the ability to entertain is therefore the concern of anybody who might at some point seriously consider buying a hot hatch.

This battle is for the moral victory. Perhaps for you, it’s a conflict that the Japanese car has already surrendered. You will by now have formed your own opinion of the FK8-generation Civic Type R’s aesthetics, and it may not be entirely favourable. However, with the distinctive-looking Honda sitting longer and wider but no taller than the Seat Leon Cupra R, for sheer presence we’re talking cold-blooded murder here.

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The Civic Type R bottles the sensations common to bona fide sports cars and it’s a bottle you get to screw the top off on any road and at almost any speed. In the end, it’s simple: this limited- run Seat promises great things for an incipient Cupra brand, but the Honda is comfortably there already.

1st – Honda Civic Type R: A magnificent achievement from Honda. Tangibly the more involving proposition here, despite the unquestionable quality of its opposition

2nd – Seat Leon Cupra R: Phenomenally quick Leon bodes well for the Cupra sub-brand but never feels more than the sum of its admittedly impressive parts