Earlier this week you’ll hopefully have read that Cupra has now become a standalone brand under the ever-widening Volkswagen Group umbrella. Good for them, etc.
In time-honoured CT tradition, all this has really done for us right now is give us inspiration to consult the Internet to see what’s what with Cupra’s most affordable wares, which for better or worse are scattered thickly across the dirty end of the classifieds.
Cheapest doesn’t, in this case, mean oldest. The origins of Cupra as we know it today go way back to Seat’s first brisk Ibiza, in 1988. The Ibiza SXi had a respectable 100bhp or so behind its thin, easily crumpled but lightweight panels. Anyone doubting how much fun it was only has to look at the Fiat Panda 100hp that came along more than 15 years later.
The Cupra name arrived on the turbocharged Mk2.5 Ibiza in the year 2000, and it was a belter, with taut but supple suspension and a superb, alive-feeling chassis. Just 2000 were made and they’re now extremely rare by hot hatch standards.
A year later the badge hit the Leon, which was ultimately made in massive numbers and now carpets the cheaper reaches of the classifieds like pebbles on the ocean floor. Initially made in a half-hearted fashion with many, many-spoked wheels and unpainted bump strips all around, it looked a mess. That’s where you’ll find the cheapest Leon Cupra on Auto Trader, selling for just £390 despite the fact that it has an MOT until November…
We’re not focusing on that one, though. We’ve picked a later, much nicer option that’s still stupidly cheap. As with all early Leon Cupras, this one shares the same turbocharged 1.8-litre 20-valve engine that graced everything from the Audi TT to the Skoda Superb. Its 180bhp or so was, and is, plenty to keep you bubbling along very nicely. It’s really smooth, too, and the super-linear torque delivery was a revelation among hot hatches at the time, giving a boosted alternative to the likes of the EP3 Civic Type R.
Our silver pick has, amazingly, had just one owner from new. On an ‘02’ number plate this shows off the facelifted Leon’s better spec, with painted bump strips and the lovely five-twin-spoke alloys that became synonymous with the car. Its documented history is impeccable, with evidence of all the work carried out, scheduled and otherwise, plus all the MOTs and the ‘fully-stamped’ original service book.
Naturally you’ll want to make sure the ‘hot’ box is ticked if you’re buying a hot hatch. This little five-door beauty will crack 142mph if you have access to a runway or an Autobahn, while 62mph comes up in a healthy 7.7 seconds. There was also a 225bhp Cupra R to speak of, but this one has performance enough and is cheaper to insure.
It has covered 104,000 miles but the 1.8 under the bonnet has a solid reputation if looked after like this one has been. Full leather seats, still in great condition despite their age, are probably the highlight of a very tidy-looking cabin. You simply don’t find these in this sort of condition anymore.
The price is silly. Ridiculous, even, for what we’ve described above. It’s listed at just £1750 by a small-scale trader in Rickmansworth, to the north-west of London. This car, with this history and in this condition, will sell quickly when word gets out. Do it. You know you want to.