It’s perhaps not unfair to suggest that the problem with the previous-generation Leon was that it made its debut after the Altea.

The Altea was a small MPV along the lines of the Renault Scenic, and the Leon was a hatchback version that spoke a similar design language. Had the Leon come first, the Altea would have inherited the hatch’s style. Instead, the Leon ended up looking like a squished people carrier.

Matt Prior

Matt Prior

Road test editor
Both versiosn are good-looking cars and the interior quality is far better

This time around the Leon has conventional hatchback proportions mixed with distinctive, stylish details, and Seat has got it pretty well spot on.

Beneath the skin is the increasingly familiar VW Group MQB platform and EA888 turbocharged 2.0-litre, four-cylinder petrol engine. It originally produced 261bhp or 276bhp, but now it produces a heady 286bhp.

The 290 is particularly impressive, making its peak from 5350rpm right the way to the 6600rpm red line – unusual in itself for a turbo. Moreover, the 258lb ft torque peak appears from 1750rpm all the way to 5300rpm (as it did in the previous Cupras) – just beyond the point where power becomes the dominant performance factor.

All of this is driven as standard via a six-speed manual gearbox. However, the 290 is available with an optional DSG dual-clutch automatic gearbox, albeit one that has six rather than seven speeds.

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When the Volkswagen Group moved from six to seven-speed dual-clutch DSG (Direktschaltgetriebe) automatic gearboxes, it didn’t just add another ratio. It also switched from wet clutches, which use an oil bath to cool them, to dry clutches.

The clutches’ electronic controls mean they can operate without overheating, and thus they’re all a little less complicated and expensive. But there’s a limit to the torque loading the seven-speed units can manage – and that limit is 184lb ft, beyond which the dry clutches feel the strain, whereas the wet clutches do not.

If you look through the Leon range, you’ll note that where a car has a torque output of up to 184lb ft, it’ll come with a seven-speed DSG ’box (if one is offered). If the torque output is more than 184lb ft, it’ll get the six-speed DSG option.

Suspension is by MacPherson struts at the front and a multi-link set-up at the rear, while drive goes through a locking differential. It’s not simply an extension of the ESP, but neither is it a conventional mechanical limited-slip diff.

Instead, it’s an electronically controlled, hydraulically actuated multi-plate differential. Whatever the set-up, the goal, as ever, is to transfer power to the more heavily loaded outside wheel when cornering. The diff can send up to 100 per cent of power to the wheel with most grip, without, Seat says, affecting steering feel. We’ll come to that.

Both outputs of Cupra come with Dynamic Chassis Control, which functions via variably valved dampers whose stiffness is continually adjusted and whose outer limits are set through a so-called Cupra Drive Profile.

It’s one of those functions that marketeers say makes everything ‘sportier’, letting the engine rev longer in each gear, decreasing steering assistance levels, sharpening throttle response, making the diff work harder and unleashing a sound symposer’s noise into the cabin.

The design alterations between the two cars are less significant. The 290 gets a rear spoiler and prettier 19-inch alloy wheels to distinguish it, with only the bigger air intakes and diffuser-effect rear skirt, threatens to blend into the crowd a little too well.

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