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SEAT Leon Cupra Mk1: Buying guide and review (1998-2005)

SEAT Leon Cupra Mk1: Buying guide and review (1998-2005) Classic and Performance Car
SEAT Leon Cupra Mk1 SEAT Leon Cupra Mk1 SEAT Leon Cupra Mk1 SEAT Leon Cupra Mk1 SEAT Leon Cupra Mk1 SEAT Leon Cupra Mk1
The SEAT Leon Cupra was a bit of an own goal for the Volkswagen group. Based on the Golf Mk4 platform, the Leon was targeted at a more youthful market and thus featured sportier styling along with a slightly less sumptuously clad interior. It slotted in below the Golf range pricewise, but in terms of driver enjoyment it was a clear winner.
Sharing the GTI’s running gear, the Cupra added a level of engagement that was sorely lacking in the Golf and in the final few years of production, Cupra R versions could be had with a slightly detuned Audi S3 motor, giving it serious performance bargain status – especially today.

Which Leon to buy?

The Cupra was introduced in 1998, featuring the same 180bhp 1.8 20 valve turbo engine as the Golf GTI. Performance was slightly better thanks to slightly lower weight, and handling that was far more engaging too. Drive was to the front wheels through a six-speed manual transmission, and the interior was derived from the A3 – which is no bad thing. 
The Cupra R arrived in 2002, sporting 207bhp and uprated Brembo brakes, improved suspension settings and an even quicker steering rack. It was updated in 2003 with the motor from the S3 (slightly detuned to 222bhp) and has become the most desirable of all the Cupra variants. To differentiate between the two models, check for an AMK engine plate on earlier cars or BAM for the 222bhp version. The standard Cupra retained the same engine throughout and was renamed the FR in late 2004.
Standard specifications may not have been as high as in the Golf Mk4, but they were generous nonetheless and in the range-topping Cupra models air conditioning, electric windows, traction control and sports seats were all standard fitment. Cupra R models got an oval tailpipe, those Brembo calipers and climate control.
Some special versions such as the left-hand drive only four-wheel drive VR6 engined Cupras never made it to our market but in truth the torquey 1.8-litre turbo mills provide at least as much straight line pace and is a lot easier to modify.
Many cars will have been remapped to liberate some extra horses from under the bonnet and as long as the work has been done professionally – and not to extremes – do not be put off by a few mild upgrades. Cars sporting uprated turbos, pistons and suspensions should be approached with a bit more caution however, the extra strain on the internals can lead to serious bills down the line.

Performance and specs

2001 SEAT Leon Cupra R
Engine 1781cc 20 valve DOHC, in-line four-cylinder
Power 207bhp @ 5800rpm 
Torque 199lb ft @ 2100rpm
Top speed 147mph 
0-60mph 6.9 seconds 
Fuel consumption 32mpg 
Gearbox Six-speed manual

Dimensions and weight

Wheelbase 2513mm
Length 4184mm
Width 1742mm
Height 1457mm
Weight 1350kg

Common problems

• Parts and spares are well catered for, and there are a number of specialists who have in-depth knowledge of Cupra models. As it’s based on the Mk4 Golf, much of the running gear is interchangeable with other cars.

• Cambelt changes should be carried out every 60,000miles as snapped belts may mean an engine rebuild. Tensioners and dampers should also be renewed at this stage.
• Gearboxes are strong and generally only play up if too much boost is channelled through them. 
• Water pumps can fail which can lead to warped heads and in extreme cases seized pistons, best to get these replaced with the cambelt to avoid issues.
• Turbos last well past 90,000miles if well cared for, but aggressive remapping, hard driving without allowing for a warming up and cooling down periods, as well as infrequent oil changes can all drastically shorten its lifespan.
• Coil packs, especially on earlier cars tend to fail rather frequently. A common fault across the VAG range, the newer cars are slightly better in this regard. Spark plugs should be done at least every 40,000 miles too.
• The fully galvanised body shells should be rust free, and any bubbling paint could indicate a poorly executed respray. Cupra R splitters are low to the ground and tend to crack.
• Three main recalls affected the Leon models, the first was for a potentially defective passenger airbag. The other two were for potential brake failure due to electrical faults or brake pipe cracking. Certain models manufactured up to the end of 2001 were affected so check if yours was one.

Model history

1998: SEAT Leon Cupra introduced with 180bhp 20v turbo engine. Six-speed manual gearbox and four-door body style standard. Specification includes air conditioning, electric windows and sports suspension.
2001: Cupra R introduced with 207bhp and detail upgrades over standard Cupra including Brembo brakes
2003: Cupra R gets detuned 222bhp engine from S3
2004: Cupra gets rebranded as an FR with no mechanical changes
2005: Final year of production for first generation Cupra models

Owners clubs, forums and websites

• www.seatcupra.net – Cupra enthusiast site
• www.seatowners.club – SEAT owners club
• www.leonoc.com – Leon enthusiast site

Summary and prices

The earliest Cupras are now languishing under the £1000 mark. While a few clean high-milers may be lurking down there, it’s better to start your search closer to the £2000 mark, which gets you a 2003 model with a proper service history.

Cupra R models, especially with low mileages tend to range between £3000 and £5000. The later S3-engined cars are especially sought after. Offering a desirable mix of pace and practicality, the first gen Cupra is a desirable thing and at these prices it has precious few rivals. 

Words: John Tallodi
SEAT Leon Cupra Mk1 SEAT Leon Cupra Mk1 SEAT Leon Cupra Mk1 SEAT Leon Cupra Mk1 SEAT Leon Cupra Mk1 SEAT Leon Cupra Mk1
Last updated: 23rd Feb 2017
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  • SEAT Leon

    £20,000 £20,000

    Variant name:Sport Tourer Cupra ,Derivative:Cupra ,Variant: 2.0 TSI Cupra 290 5dr Seat Leon 2.0 TSI Cupra 290 5dr

    • Year: 2016
    • Mileage: 18418 mi
    • Engine size: 2
    For sale
    £20,000 £20,000
    Marshall Motor Group-Marshall SEAT of Braintree
    01376 767043 View contact number
  • SEAT Leon

    £19,950 £19,950

    No service history Drivers knee airbag,Steering wheel mounted audio/phone controls,Auto dimming rear view mirror,Curtain airbags,Progressive power assisted steering,Front and rear parking sensors,ESP+EBA,Ambient lighting,Dynamic chassis control,Front side airbags,Electric adjustable/heated/folding door mirrors,DAB Digital radio,Driver/passenger sunvisors with illuminated vanity mirrors,Touch screen display,Bluetooth audio streaming,Body coloured bumpers,Exclusive Cupra front and rear bumpers,3 height adjustable rear headrests,Gloss black door mirrors,Packs,Automatic headlights,Dark tinted rear windows,Front sports seats,Engine immobiliser,Cornering front fog lights,Height/reach adjust steering wheel,Front cupholders x 2,Split folding rear seat,Trim,Radio/CD + MP3,Driver seat height/lumbar adjust,Digital clock and outside temperature display,3 point rear seatbelts x3,Remote fuel flap release,Collision mitigation braking system,Space saver spare wheel,Tyre pressure monitoring system,Rear wash/wipe,Front/rear floor mats,Wheels,'Lights On' warning buzzer,12v power point in centre console,19 inch multi black alloy wheels,Active head restraints,Aluminium front door sills,Auxiliary input socket,Bluetooth Handsfree Phone Connection,Body colour door handles,Child proof door locks,Driver/Front Passenger airbags,Dust/pollen filter,Electric headlamp adjustment,Front adjustable head restraints,Front armrest with storage box,Front map reading lights,Front seatback pockets,Front seatbelt pretensioners,Hill ho

    • Mileage: 19500 mi
    • Engine size: 1984
    For sale
    £19,950 £19,950

    £10,995 £10,995

    FINANCE AVAILABLE WITH 0 DEPOSIT...;;2011 SEAT LEON CUPRA R TSI;;MANUAL GERBOX;;MOT JAN 2019;;FULL SERVICE HISTORY;;FULLY LOADED WITH SAT NAV, 19INCH WHEELS ETC;;EXCELLENT EXAMPLE;;MUST BE SEEN AND DRIVEN TO BE APPRECIATED;;Upgrades - Black Leather Upholstery Pack, SEAT Media System, Standard Features - Alloy Wheels - 19in Potenza Wheels (White), Bi-Xenon Headlights with Adaptive Front-Lighting System, LED Daytime Running Lights and Coming/Leaving Home Headlight Function, Bluetooth Audio Streaming/Integrated Bluetooth Handsfree System, Body Coloured Bumpers with Integrated Mouldings, Exclusive Cupra Front and Rear Bumpers, Cruise Control, Dual Zone Climate Control, Electric Front and Rear Windows (One Touch with Anti-Squeeze), FM/AM Radio, MP3 Compatible CD Player with AUX-In Port, Front and Rear Parking Sensors, High Resolution Multi-Function Display, Leather Upholstery, Quilted Black Leather Upholstery Pack, Rain Sensing Wipers, SEAT Portable System Live Includes Satellite Navigation with Live Services, MicroSD Card Slot, Bluetooth Audio Streeming, Sports Suspension, Tinted Windows and Dark Tinted Rear Windows, Tyre Pressure Monitoring, Volumetric Alarm with Back-Up Horn. 5 seats, Red,;;Autoland​ look to offer great customer service to go along with great cars at great prices. All our cars are competitively priced and we are constantly price matching competitors. ;;Vehicles priced from GBP 1000 to GBP 30,000 ;;All vehicles hpi checked ;;32 point inspection carried out on vehicles ;;All vehicles come with 30 day warranty for complete peace of mind** ;;Part exchange welcome ;;Autoland car sales is based on the outskirts of Edinburgh In the heart of the Luxury Motor Village. We are based 5 mins from Edinburgh Airport and 20 mins from Haymarket Train station. ​ ;;Viewings can be arranged out with these times by arranging an appointment...... ;;Extended warranties are available at additional cost 3,6,12 and 24 months starting from only GBP 49..... ;;CALL US TODAY FOR COMPETITIVE FINANCE RATES....... ;;ALL MAJOR DEBIT AND CREDIT CARDS ACCEPTED FOR A SMALL FEE ;;CHECK OUR WEBSITE FOR OTHER CARS ;;;OPENING HOURS : ;;TUE TO FRI 10.30am til 5.00pm ;SAT 10am til 5pm ;SUN 12pm til 5pm ;;AUTOLAND ;Quality used cars ;;64a and 64b Bridge Street ;Newbridge ;EH28 8SH ;;07756584624

    • Mileage: 57000 mi
    • Engine size: 1.998
    For sale
    £10,995 £10,995

    £39,995 £39,995

    WE ARE DELIGHTED TO PRESENT THIS BRAND NEW LIMITED EDITION SEAT LEON CUPRA R! THIS VEHICLE IS 1 OF 24 UK CARS WITH SEATS MOST POWERFUL ENGINE. THE CUPRA R FEATURES CARBON FIBRE, EXTENDED WHEEL ARCHES, LARGER AIR INTAKES AND EXTRAVAGANT COPPER DETAILING. PLEASE CALL TO REGISTER YOUR INTEREST. ;;2018/18 SEAT Leon Cupra R Finished In Monsoon Grey. Great Specification to Include- Brembo Four Pot Calipers, Michelin Pilot Sport Cup 2 tyres, LED Headlamps, BEATSAUDIO Sound System, Alcantara Steering Wheel, Keyless Entry and Push Button Start, Bucket Seats, Navigation System High with 8in Screen, Voice Control, Bluetooth with Audio Streaming, Winter Pack with Heated Seats, Adaptive Cruise Control with Anti Collision Warning System, Rear View Camera, Front and Rear Parking Sensors. HPI CLEAR;;THIS VEHICLE COMES WITH BALANCE OF SEAT WARRANTY UNTIL 2021. ;;INDOOR SHOWROOM- LOW RATE FINANCE WITH ZERO DEPOSIT OPTIONS- PART EXCHANGE- FREE DRIVE AWAY INSURANCE- NATIONWIDE DELIVERY. ALL MAJOR CREDIT AND DEBIT CARDS ACCEPTED- VIEWINGS BY APPOINTMENTS ONLY;

    • Mileage: 50 mi
    For sale
    £39,995 £39,995