A great-driving and reliable Cupra and Cupra R can be yours from £600 used
Interesting fact: today’s fastest Leon, the 296bhp Cupra 300, is only just over half a second quicker over the 0-62mph sprint than its 14-year-old predecessor, the Leon Cupra R.
The older but also lighter car achieved that very respectable time with just 221bhp. The financial news is even better. At £30,455, a new five-door Cupra 300 is well over £27,000 more expensive than a late-model 2005-reg Cupra R with 107,000 miles.
Alongside its snooty Volkswagen Mk4 Golf GTI brother, the standard Leon Cupra (or Leon 20VT to give it its correct name) of 1999 looked – and went – like a breath of fresh air, especially in its banana yellow paint job. Its 177bhp 1.8-litre 20-valve turbocharged four-cylinder engine drove the front wheels via a six-speed manual gearbox. Even with that bargain basement engine it did the 0-62mph in 7.7 seconds and was an engaging drive.
The big arrival though was the 2002 Cupra R. A bigger turbo with twin intercoolers cranked the power up to 207bhp and knocked the 0-62 time down to 7.2 seconds. It looked the biz too with a front spoiler, handsome 18-inch alloys, four-pot Brembo front calipers, faster steering and stiffer suspension.
Just one year later Seat upped the ante by releasing a 221bhp version with a 6.5-second 0-60 time. At £17,000, it made the similarly priced 148bhp Golf GTI look a bit weedy and the £7000 more expensive Audi S3 somewhat pricey.
Cupra buyers weren’t shortchanged on build quality either, apart from incorrectly-specced door seals which have resulted in damp smells and rusty floors. The interior design is not what you’d call exciting but the sports seats grip well and there’s climate control on the R cars.
With diligent servicing (changing the oil at 10,000 miles, the cambelt and water pump at 60,000 miles, and the hoses at 100,000 miles) both the Cupra and the R will reward their owners with long lives. Giving the turbo time to warm and cool down before and after hard driving will help too.
Pete Evans of TC Garage is a Cupra specialist. He has a lot of time for the Cupra. “I really rate it. As a cheap hot hatch, I’d buy one over any other rival.” He’s less complimentary about those “low-quality foam” door seals. “Water ingress is a major issue. Seat should have used silicone instead of foam.
“A damp musty smell spells trouble, as does a thin line of water on the plastic step. The trouble is, damp rises and it can affect the dashboard as well as rot the kick panel near the foot pedals. You have to take the doors apart to fix it but there is a ‘secret’ cure we know that will stop it for good.”
Seat Leon Cupra Mk1 problems
Engine and transmission
Pipes and hoses are susceptible to heat damage, creating tiny leaks or bursts under pressure. Oil smoke on higher-mileage cars can mean the turbo’s on its way out. Cambelt and water pump changes need to happen at 60,000 miles. Coil packs failures are common across all VW Group products of this era, causing misfiring and poor running. The manual gearbox is strong but clutches tend to expire at about 80,000 miles.
Suspension and brakes
Cupra R strut top mounts fail, as do the lower rear spring coils on all Cupras. Worn bushes will cause ‘body rock’ under low-speed braking. Polyurethane replacements will fix that.
If there’s visible rust, that probably means it’s had a bump that’s been mended. Lift the carpets and the kick panel behind the pedals to check for rusty floors. The R’s front splitter is often damaged and the headlight lenses fog up.
Air-con and electric windows regularly die. The window issue is likely to be a faulty regulator.
£600-£995: Cupra trade-ins and Cat D write-offs, usually over 120k miles
£1000-£1495: Cupras with full service histories, inc new belt and water pump
£1500-£2295: Cupras under 100,000 miles, clean and well-historied
£2300-£2695: best ‘03/’04 one- or two-owner full-history Cupras
£2700+: some 210 and 225 Cupra Rs