Would Spain’s Seat fly in Canada?
FRANKFURT, Germany - Station wagons, manual transmissions, rear-wheel-drive and diesels—it’s the burden of many an automotive scribe—including yours truly—to bemoan of the lack of availability of all or any of the above in the Canadian new car market. And now after a day spent on Germany's autobahn, west of Frankfurt and zipping around the Eiffel mountain back roads near the Nurburgring race track in a not-for-sale-in-Canada Seat hot hatch, let me add the Volkswagen Group’s Spanish brand to my Why Can’t We Get That Here? wish list.
If you don’t already know Seat (say “say-at") is the formerly state-run Spanish automaker that VW took off Fiat’s hands years ago. And according to the blog Best Selling Cars, Seat, the brand is enjoying a sales resurgence in its home market.
Once the fifth-largest new car market in Europe (behind Germany, France, Italy and Britain), Spain’s economy has been pummeled by the ongoing recession. New car sales have dropped from over 1.6 million in 2007, to just under one million last year. And so far in 2011, sales are down again by about 25 per cent.
The only bright news is if you work at Seat. Spaniards have turned to their national car brand during the crisis. Once fourth in its homeland in sales as recently as 2009, Seat was number one in 2010, with sales of just under 90,000. While the top-selling car in Spain is the subcompact Ibiza (interestingly, the European version of our Nissan Rogue is number two) the compact Leon sits fifth.
Within VW’s massive empire, Seat is its Alfa Romeo: a more emotional take on driving. And despite being made up mainly from Teutonic bits and parts, the 2011 Leon Cupra R I got to drive in Germnay is a very emotional car.
Based on our 200 hp VW Golf GTI five-door, the Leon Cupra R has a distinctively rawer driving appeal than the cool, calm and collected VeeDub hot hatch. For starters, it sports the same 2.0-litre turbo four from our Audi TT-S, making 261 hp and 258 lb-ft of torque. Inside, its blessed with driver oriented bits like nattily attired Alcantara trimmed sports seats, and centrally mounted tach, all contrasted by the tight fit and finish expected from any modern VW product.
Everything about the Cupra R makes it feel more like a car for drivers than the GTI. The engine barks even at low revs when pressed upon, and it’ll do the 0-100 km/h run in less than 6.5 seconds. The very firm suspension that keeps the Cupra R flat through corners would normally have me clinching my teeth for fear of a harsh ride. But extra-long suspension bushes means the sportiest of Leons drives like a Mercedes E Class on the highway.
Throw in the Cupra R's XDS-fake front diff (that’s also found on our VW GTI) and I found the FWD Seat acted more like a RWD car when you pitch it into corners. And if you think the Cupra R is one of those pricey Euro hot hatches, think again. It costs a little over $40k—not bad for a family-friendly hot hatch sporting similar driving attributes as a $57k TT-RS.
Alas, the Leon Cupra R had to be returned to the Frankfurt airport by the end of the day to the nice folks at Seat who lent it to me. But the day’s drive left me thinking the Leon would be a fantastic car for Canadian enthusiasts.
Yes, I know we have the 270 hp Golf R coming here in about a year. But why isn’t the luscious Leon Cupra R—or any other Seat for that matter—sold here in Canada? I mean, if little ol’ Fiat can muster the courage to relaunch Alfa in North America, I’m sure VW could find an equal number of car zealots to make room for sporty Seats like the Leon Cupra R in their garages?
Do you agree? Or should I resign myself to simply adding Seat onto my wish list?
[Source: Best Selling Cars]