The inclement British weather usually inspires caution in drivers, especially when you're forced to share the road with half-melted snow and pedestrians avoiding icy pavements. So it's slightly disconcerting that Seat's premier hot hatchback -- the Leon Cupra TSI -- is bringing out the Michael Schumacher in us, even when we're surrounded by a good foot of snow.
Fire and ice
There are a couple of reasons for this unseasonal recklessness. Firstly, the Cupra TSI is phenomenally quick -- its 2.0-litre, 231bhp turbocharged engine is capable of propelling the thing from 0-62mph in 6.4 seconds and on to a quite alarming 153mph. It always feels eager in everyday conditions, too, its 221lb/ft of torque -- available from as low as 2,200rpm -- inspiring overtaking manoeuvres that would be suicidal in slower vehicles.
The second 'problem' is that it handles with such aplomb that thoughts of ploughing into a tree will be the furthest thing from your mind. This came as a surprise to us, since hot hatches -- and indeed any powerful front-wheel-drive vehicle -- are usually frustrating to drive under heavy acceleration. Torque steer -- the phenomenon where the power of the engine pulls the car off course -- is kept to a minimum in the Cupra TSI, though. The ride is flat and firm, yet comfortable, and the brakes -- aided by huge 345mm discs -- are arguably more impressive than the acceleration.
Orange skin, lemon within
We're not fully convinced by the car's looks. The exterior is very attractive, and like it or loathe it, the Lumina Orange paintwork certainly attracts attention. But the interior is so bland, it almost beggars belief. The plastic dashboard has a cheap feel about it and really does its best to convince you you're driving something exceptionally dull.
Seat's made a decent fist of equipping the Leon with interesting tech. Standard equipment includes an eight-speaker audio system with MP3-compatible CD player and an auxiliary port for connecting your MP3 player. The latter is mounted on the centre console next to the handbrake -- unlike most cars, which have their aux ports all the way over in the glove compartment. An extra £88 buys you either a USB port for connecting players directly or a proprietary iPod connector, while the convenience pack, consisting of rain-sensing wipers, automatic headlings and an auto-dimming rear view mirror, costs £191.
Hot to trot
Running costs on a hot hatch are usually higher than those on their lukewarm counterparts, but the Cupra TSI certainly won't break the bank. Extra-urban fuel consumption is rated at 43.5mpg, urban at 24.8mpg, while the combined figure sits at 34mpg. CO2 emissions are fairly high at 199g/km, but that's the price you pay for brutal performance.
Ultimately, the Seat Leon Cupra TSI ticks most of the boxes we require in a hot hatch. It's fast, it's fun to drive and it most definitely stands out from the crowd -- on the outside, at least. If you're after something that isn't the usual Golf, Focus or Megane, you should give it a closer look.