This car is every bit as enjoyable to drive as a GTI… Now obviously this car is famous for recently setting the fastest ever front-wheel drive lap around the Nurburgring… With snazzy looks, 4wd and just shy of 300bhp, the new Golf R is the pinnacle of the massive Golf range. But is it the best hot hatch in the VW Group stable? To find out, we’ve brought along the new SEAT Leon Cupra 280, and it’s just taken the fastest ever lap time around the Nurburgring for a FWD car. So which of this pair is going to be fastest around our test track, and which one is going to be the most fun? Well, let’s find out. The most powerful production Golf ever made, the new Golf R costs £31,970 if you choose the DSG gearbox and five-door bodyshell. With 296bhp and 380Nm of torque from its 2.0-litre turbocharged engine, it has 4wd to put all the power on the road. Lighter and cheaper than the Golf, the SEAT Leon Cupra is only FWD, but it has similar underpinnings and the same engine.It develops 276bhp and 350Nm of torque. Like our Golf, this car is fitted with the DSG dual-clutch gearbox. Ok, so let’s see how we get on with the Golf R. Now, the Golf Rs have always been the most powerful Golfs but they’ve never always necessarily been the most enjoyable to drive because a lot of the time the Rs have had more power but the GTIs have remained the more enjoyable of the two.Let’s see how we get on with this one, whether this car is every bit as enjoyable to drive as a GTI. The first thing you notice with a bit of a slide there with cold tyres is that unlike the previous Golf Rs you can fully disable the stability control, which on the track obviously frees the car up a little bit and gives you the freedom to enjoy it more. We’ve got a car with a DSG gearbox and with a five-door body shape that means the price is just under £32,000 – it’s not a cheap car. But with just shy of 300bhp on the road it’s a really composed, fast relaxing performance car. But let’s find out what it’s like on the track. Now the first impressions are that it does feel very much like a front-wheel drive car. It feels very planted like the current GTI. You don’t get the sense of the 4wd becoming an agile, adjustable 4wd car like a Misubishi Evo – it still feels much like a FWD car and you can feel that when you start to get a bit of understeer you can feel the power transferring to the rear and improving your traction.But overall it’s not
groundbreaking. The gearbox is quite fast, getting a little bit of heat into the brakes. Coming round now to start a flying lap. Second gear out to the last corner, accelerating up to the line. There the traction’s really good as you accelerate up to the line and that does help matters. But it does feel through these tighter corners here, the way you’re changing direction one side to the other, it does feel a bit lazy at turn-in and there is understeer as you’re coming out of these longer corners.So again it does feel like a FWD car. Now I’m just over 100mph, brake hard into the chicken and and another thing you do find in a Golf R is that it’s not a perfectly suited track car, because it does get quite a lot of brake fade in the big braking zones so the pedal goes a little bit soft. Here we’re down to 3rd gear, really positive on the turn-in, again it’s only in the slower corners that it feels a little bit lazy. Here, 3rd gear, balancing the throttle. You can feel the front tyres cheruping a little bit like a FWD car but as it starts to understeer you feel a little bit of power transferring to the rear. Change of direction, feels very much like a GTI, down through the gears and up to the last corner. Good traction on the exit there. One more tight corner to go, playing to the Golf R’s advantage with the traction and accelerating out of the corner and across the line.Stable and powerful, the Golf R performed well around our circuit, recording a lap time of 1.14.8 seconds. Let’s see how the lighter FWD SEAT gets on. So how does the Cupra compare? If you want the ultimate in the latest generation of VW Group hot hatches, do you really need to go to a Golf R? Can you get the best in the SEAT, which is, in this spec with the DSG, nearly £4,000 cheaper than the Golf R. Same engine, same underpinnings, but it’s got 20bhp less and 30NM less torque but it does weigh 74kg less than the Golf.Obviously only FWD but you do get a really clever diff.So let’s find out how they compare. Certainly the first thing you notice is just how much more lively the SEAT is. It feels much stiffer at the front end and it reacts much quicker and turns in sharper. It changes direction better than the Golf, it just makes the Golf feel a bit lazy if I’m honest. In terms of straight-line performance the Golf feels a bit quicker but there’s a not a lot in it and the DSG gearbox works pretty much identically in both. Now
obviously this car is famous for recently setting the fastest ever front-wheel drive lap around the Nurburgring but it’s worth pointing out that car had an optional performance pack that gives you brembo brakes, a pilot sport semi-slick tyre and unique lighter wheels.You can’t get that performance pack in the UK at the moment so this isn’t exactly the same spec as the car that did that amazing lap around the Nurburgring. But you can feel that the basics are there and the chassis is capable of doing that. It’s pretty good through that high-speed change of direction there. Quite a lot of tyre scrum but that diff’s pretty clever. So let’s see if it’s maybe quicker than the Golf around our test track.Coming up to the last corner, start to tidy it up for the start of a flying lap. Accelerating up towards the line and starting the flying lap. Down to 3rd gear into here, trailbraking in, lot of grip, you can start to loosen the rear a bit with some trailbraking, it’s much better than the Golf through that change of direction, bit of understeer on the exit, scrubbing a bit but again scrubbing less than the Golf and you can feel that diff sending power from side to side.Speed up to the chicken here, pretty similar to the Golf. Now, the upgraded brakes – you can tell why the car needed those for the Nurburgring because without them there’s quite a lot of squirm on the brake because the brakes get quite hot, soft pedal and the ABS seems to struggle to cope with it. So the car seems to squirm side to side as you get different brake forces applied to each side of the car. The turn-in’s excellent, into these two fast left-handers.Same gearing as the GTI, it really hangs on there and is really stiff. Diff working well again up to 4th gear, come through these high-speed S-es. Every bit as god as the Golf through there, if anything a bit better on the transition from right to left. Hard on the brakes again, bit squirmy, hard to get it down, ABS giving up the ghost a bit. Outbraked myself a little bit there. Coming up to the last corner, keeping it nice and tight, trying to get some good traction, up to 3rd gear and across the line.Sharper and more agile than the Golf, the SEAT Leon recorded a lap time of 1.13.9 seconds. Which car comes out on top in our hot hatch head-to-head? Well, it’s a bit expensive, but we really like the Golf R.It’s a great road car – it’s fast, upmarket and composed. But on the track
the SEATLeon Cupra may only be FWD, but it has almost as much traction, it’s much more agile and it’s faster against the stopwatch. Crucially it’s nearly £4,000 cheaper, so in this head-to-head track battle it’s the SEAT Leon Cupra that takes victory. (Click here to see our latest videos) .