I'VE just stepped off the race track after giving a couple of new SEAT Leon Cupras a decent whizz and I've rarely known a gearbox to make such a difference to a car.
With the 280bhp 2-litre petrol I had a DSG automatic, which – on the face of it – should have seriously outgunned its 265bhp counterpart.
Well, take my advice after pushing both to near my limit (not the cars) – buy the six-speed manual.
It is so much better, a different, more engaging motor and I got more noise out the oval tailpipes (they should tune them even stronger, I think).
That is if you decide to buy, of course.
Around €34,000 and as much as €37,500 for a punchy, powerful SEAT is, regardless of performance, a lot of money, even if it is €5,000 less expensive than the previous one.
Naturally, they are emphasising that raw power (best unfurled in the manual), some impressive technological inclusions, lots of equipment and a favourable price comparison with the Volkswagen Golf GTi and, especially, the higher-powered Golf R.
You can get a GTi (220bhp or 240bhp depending on version) for €700 or so more, but you will still be a lot of horses down. And the Golf R is mad money by comparison (€52,980).
Anyway, this is now SEAT's most powerful production motor and is certainly staking a claim.
That latter criticism apart, it is worth noting the DCC (dynamic chassis control) system permits out-and-out muscle driving but also allows more comfortable modes for everyday travel. That's important because it lets you change the car's entire behaviour at the touch of a fingertip.
It gets here in mid-April and will come as a five-door and as a three-door Cupra SC (for the first time).
At its heart is the 2.0 TSI engine we know from the GTi (Volkswagen own SEAT), which is lighter and tweaked to give either 265bhp or 280bhp.
No surprise to find it zips to 100kmh in 5.7 seconds (5.8 with the manual gearbox in the SC) and that top speed is limited to 250kph.
Pulling power (torque) was exceptional in fourth gear on the track (I also drove on ordinary roads but nothing to report).
They claim just 6.4 litres of petrol every 100km with the DSG and 6.6 litres with the manual gearbox. That puts emissions at 149g/km and 154g/km respectively (€390 road tax for both) – a substantial 41 grammes down on before.
This also sits 10mm lower than the FR hot version and adds a fair bit of stuff to that spec.
Along with dynamic chassis control, it has front differential lock (impressive on the track and capable of giving 100pc power to one wheel), progressive steering and full-LED headlamps, red brake callipers (17ins – one inch larger than FR), sports seats in Alcantara leather, media system with 5.8ins colour touchscreen etc.
Another bit of advice? Buy a red or blue-green one. There's an off-white one that's awful.
I'll be honest, I'd still plump for the GTi.
It's the conservative in me.
But I do know that for the Cupra's bhp-for-your-euro there isn't much else of this nature out there to compete.
And there are enough real enthusiasts out there to appreciate that. Wait until it gets here. This will grow a reputation.