Hot hatchback fans have never had it so good. Cars like the Ford Focus ST and Mercedes A45 AMG, plus Volkswagen’s Golf GTI and R, are pushing the envelope of performance for small hatches to new limits.

One such hot hatch with a cult following is the SEAT Leon Cupra. As with past versions, the new third-generation model is the hottest and most focused driving machine in the brand’s line-up. So does the Cupra deliver the thrills to put it at the front of the pack, or will it trail behind a consistent benchmarker?

• SEAT Leon Cupra review

• Renaultsport Megane 265 review

To find out, we’ve lined up the recently facelifted Renaultsport Megane – a hot hatch that delivers an intense driving experience few competitors can match. We see if the new SEAT has the talent to edge ahead.

Click the links above to read each review, and then read on for our verdict.

Head-to-head

Styling

Our biggest gripe with the SEAT Leon Cupra is that it looks understated. While the Renaultsport’s black alloy wheels, red detailing and F1-inspired front spoiler won’t be to all tastes, the sporty touches at least make it stand out from the regular Megane Coupe. It’s only when you line up the Cupra next to a Leon FR that you can really see the differences between the standard version and SEAT’s new flagship model.

Badge heritage

SEAT introduced the Cupra badge on the original Leon in 1999. Renaultsport has more heritage, having replaced the Alpine marque in 1994, and it’s synonymous with the Clio and Megane hot hatches. Both brands use their badges to promote motorsport activity and one-make racing across the globe.

Performance

On the test track, the Leon was faster than the Megane from 0-60mph thanks to the launch control on our DSG test model. There was nothing between the two under braking, but the SEAT was a more consistent performer.

Verdict

1st place: SEAT Leon Cupra

The SEAT Leon Cupra delivers stunning performance and handling in a high-quality package, plus it represents decent value for money and won’t cost a lot to run. What's more, it can be civilised when you’re taking it easy. We think it’s the best front-wheel-drive hot hatchback you can buy today.

2nd place: Renaultsport Megane 265

There’s no faulting the Renaultsport Megane’s performance on the limit, and it’s still a great-handling hot hatch. But its looks and cabin quality are starting to show their age. Also, the focused driving experience will be too much for most people on a daily basis.

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