The SEAT Cupra is better and more fun than the VW Golf...or is it?
THE chance to pit two closely related cars on the track doesn't come around too often.
So when the opportunity to race the SEAT Leon Cupra and the Golf GTi around Mondello came at the recent Volkswagen Group day, it was an opportunity to be savoured.
The Golf won, right?
Not really either.
Ah! maybe it did.
Here's what happened.
The Cupra went like a rocket and had me bright-eyed and thrilled. I was convinced it was better than the Golf, on which so much of it is based.
It felt like it had fire in its belly and gave me an extraordinary grippy and true ride around tight bends. It was straining to pass the safety car all the way.
I had the 280bhp 2-litre petrol with the DSG automatic box. Now I didn't have great memories of that transmission from driving it on a Spanish track some time back but this felt a million times better.
I got out of the Cupra at Mondello certain it was the best thing I'd driven like that for a long time. Hugely deceptive car with pace to burn and a chassis to bring a smile to even this woebegone and increasingly hairy face. And the fact it is a little less expensive than the GTi made it a cert.
Then I got into the Golf. It is less powerful so I reckoned it was trailing from the start.
Yet I got around every bit as quickly; I didn't have to work as hard because it just seemed to ease around. I kept waiting for the gush of 'go' that comes with a bit of speed and swerve on the track.
Not a bit; I didn't feel I was going fast at all, or braking late or getting all excited or nearly missing my racing line.
The Cupra thrilled. It really did. I got out of it craving more; elated at the touch, feel and force of the drive.
I got out of the Golf feeling I had missed the energy, excitement, the rock-and-roll. A bit like listening to Daniel O'Donnell smoothing his way through Queen's 'Bohemian Rhapsody'. He'd do a lovely job, I'm certain of that, but it wouldn't exactly be screaming multi-layered rasping vocals at me that would make me want to leap up and do air guitars and drums and shout the words (especially at the 'Mamma Mia' bit).
I know many a one would savour the subdued control he would have over some of the most difficult lyrics and notes in the business. Our Daniel would take them in his stride.
That's what the Golf did.
Only I wanted a lot more because the Cupra had given me another taste of Life in the Fast Lane (Daniel would do a good job on that Eagles hit too).
So, I'm in a quandary. The Cupra lets you tingle at its power and push. The Golf is peerlessly sophisticated in its ability to subdue ferocious forces and make it seem unflappable.
Up to €37,500 for the powerful SEAT is a lot of money (€5,000 less expensive than the old one).
Lots of technology (diff lock; dynamic chassis control system lets you drive madly or comfortable at the press of a button), power and equipment and it's less expensive than the GTi (220bhp – I had 240bhp Performance Pack on track). Mmm. And a lot, lot less expensive than the mad-money Golf R (€52,980).
On a power-per-euro basis, the Cupra wins by a mile.
But the GTi had something about it. Of course, in terms of spending money, it is a 'safer' bet. Everyone knows the GTi; the Cupra is a relatively recent upstart. If I had the money I'd be conservative. Have to be honest. But I'd always feel I was missing the nerve and verve of the Cupra. Like that car a lot.
Ah! It's a hard ould life.
Cupra: 2.0 TSI (in GTi as well but tweaked to give either 265bhp or 280bhp). In GTi it has 220bhp (or 240bhp with Performance Pack).
Zips to 100kmh in 5.7 seconds (Golf 6.5 secs). Top speed is limited to 250 kmh (Golf 246kmh)
Cupra: from €33,895 (265bhp) and €35,409 (280bhp). Delivery/related charges are extra
Golf: from €34,570 on the road (OTR) for 3dr; €35,520 for 5dr. Delivery and related charges of €750 are included.