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First drive: SEAT Leon Cupra 300. Image by SEAT.

First drive: SEAT Leon Cupra 300
An extra 10hp and many other tweaks make the SEAT Leon Cupra line-up more tempting than ever.

 



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SEAT Leon Cupra 300

4.5 4.5 4.5 4.5 4.5

A 10hp upgrade doesn't sound like much, does it? But in its new 'Cupra 300' guise, the upgraded SEAT Leon is a better rounded hot hatch than ever. Buyers are spoiled for choice in the line-up as before and the new range-topper is a four-wheel drive version of the ST estate, which expands the appeal of the brand considerably.

Test Car Specifications

Model tested: SEAT Leon SC Cupra 300
Pricing: from 29,840 on-the-road
Engine: 2.0-litre turbocharged four-cylinder petrol
Transmission: six-speed manual, four-wheel drive
Body style: three-door hatchback
CO2 emissions: 158g/km (VED Band G)
Combined economy: 40.9mpg
Top speed: 155mph
0-62mph: 5.7 seconds
Power: 300hp at 5,900- to 6,400rpm
Torque: 380Nm at 1,800- to 5,500rpm
Kerb weight: 1375kg

What's this?

The 2017MY SEAT Leon Cupra 300, that number indicating the increased maximum power on tap. It's a modest 10hp upgrade on last year's '290' model, though there are plenty of other changes, not least of which is a 30Nm torque increase to 380Nm and the option of 4Drive four-wheel drive for the ST estate body style. The three-door SC and five-door hatch remain in the line-up in front-drive format with either a manual gearbox or DSG dual-clutch automatic - both with six gears - while the four-wheel drive ST is equipped with the DSG transmission as standard. Prices start at 29,840 on-the-road for a manual three-door SC, rising to 34,170 for the new (deep breath) Leon ST Cupra 300 DSG 4Drive.

Increased outputs aside, nothing mechanical has been done to the 2.0-litre TSI petrol engine under the bonnet, though the DSG gearbox shifts a little more quickly and the exhaust tuning has been tweaked. As before, there are McPherson struts up front with coil springs, electronically controlled DCC damping all-round and a multi-link rear axle design with coil springs. A variable ratio, 'Progressive Steering' system is standard, as are a new design of 19-inch alloy wheel riding on 235/35 tyres. Buyers can upgrade to the Performance Pack, which features detail aesthetic changes and larger Brembo brakes.

Orange and black styling packs are available too, along with the choice of two new paint colours (Mystery Blue and Desire Red). The standard equipment roster is generous and the interior has been upgraded in line with the rest of the SEAT Leon 2017MY updates. The standard infotainment system is now an eight-inch touchscreen with DAB, two USB ports, Bluetooth, SD slot and more, which can all be further upgraded from the options list. There are great Alcantara sports seats up front, a thick-rimmed leather steering wheel and other Cupra-specific detailing inside.

How does it drive?

The launch in Spain provided us with a wide variety of conditions to test the new SEAT Leon Cupra under and, unusually, there were examples of nearly every model in the range to try. First up, we took a three-door SC (equipped with the DSG transmission) from Barcelona airport directly to our base for the day, Castelloli circuit. The weather was dry and traffic light. Using mostly motorways, the car proved refined and not at all uncomfortable, even in Cupra mode. Using the Comfort setting, the exhaust sound faded away into the distance, a higher gear was preferred by the gearbox, the steering assistance increased and the suspension became a little softer.

Once in Castelloli, we took a five-door Leon Cupra (DSG with the Performance Pack) on track for three quick laps behind the SEAT Leon Cupra TCR racer. Conditions were dry, though the surface was covered in a fine dust, so the car, even on optional sticky Michelin tyres, moved around a lot. It's an undulating and fast track hugging the land's steep topography and designed for fun rather than the needs of any international racing series. It's a great test of a high-performance road car, with a wide variety of challenging corners and a couple of heavy braking sections. The Cupra feels plenty fast here, monstering up the hills and through the long sweeping corners while making a stirring noise. The DSG gearbox reacts quickly to touch (shame the paddles are so small and so plastic), though it also seems to upshift at the redline even if you have been taking control of changes for yourself. I'd rather it didn't, though it's no deal-breaker. The Leon Cupra features the Haldex 'VAQ' electronically controlled front differential and it really comes into its own on track, allowing you to get the power down effectively and early out of tighter corners, while making the whole car feel more 'pointy' on the way in. Make no mistake: this is a thrilling car to drive fast on track. It's stable enough to look after the uninitiated, yet adjustable and feisty enough to keep the more experienced interested.

A narrow 'handling circuit' had been set up outside the main track as well, partially using a low-grip surface. On this we got our first experience of the 4Drive ST estate - in the dry. The surface exaggerated the effect of the transfer of power to the rear axle once slip was detected at the front, resulting in small amounts of oversteer at times, but all very measured. In truth, the tight course was better for showing off the variable ratio steering, which is a joy to use.

That came to the fore on the test drive loops from the circuit on the public road too. SEAT found an incredible piece of broken tarmac that bucked and weaved its way alongside a motorway, with fiendish cambers, bumps, rapid direction changes and an endless series of tight and testing corners. You daren't take your eyes off the road for a second. What's more, it was deserted and gloriously free of junctions or houses nearby. We enjoyed it so much that we did the route four times, testing manual and DSG hatchbacks and front- and four-wheel-drive ST estates back-to-back in both wet and dry conditions.

The most engaging and exciting car is, undoubtedly, the Leon SC Cupra, fitted with a manual gearbox. It's the lightest and feels incredibly agile and adjustable in these conditions, even if the manual transmission requires more work than the DSG and isn't the most precise. The differential allows huge speed to be carried into, through and out of tight corners, all but eradicating understeer. That is, of course, until it rains. Then it's a very different beast altogether and the differential in Cupra mode (there are three settings for it tied into the driving modes or selectable via the Individual set-up) is not at all suited to such conditions, causing the chassis to feel wayward and a real handful. Best to dial back the settings and pace.

In contrast, we found the 4Drive four-wheel-drive ST estate relatively anodyne in the dry (relative to its front-drive siblings in any case), with little or no interaction from the rear axle, just fast, surefooted cornering and loads of traction. Most will think that's a good thing (and it is), but by the measure of a hot hatch, it's just not exciting enough for keen drivers. Nonetheless, when the heavens opened, the 4Drive system revealed its merits, as it wasn't necessary to let up the pace in the least or alter our driving style. The car continued to find perfect traction, regardless of the wet surface underneath. It really is very impressive in these conditions, which, let's face it, is what will matter to its buyers.

In summary, we'd stick with the front-drive chassis for driving kicks, but the four-wheel-drive option is a great addition for those that need a car to be usable to the full all year around.

Verdict

While the upgrades to the front-drive SEAT Leon Cupra are welcome and useful, they don't radically alter the hot hatch formula we've grown to appreciate, where everyday civility mixes with serious performance and engagement. The new 4Drive ST estate adds an extra dimension to the line-up, though it does lose some agility in return for its unflappable poise and traction in all conditions. We approve of the increase in choice, bringing the Cupra brand to more potential buyers than ever before.

5 5 5 5 5 Exterior Design

4 4 4 4 4 Interior Ambience

4 4 4 4 4 Passenger Space

4 4 4 4 4 Luggage Space

4.5 4.5 4.5 4.5 4.5 Safety

4 4 4 4 4 Comfort

4.5 4.5 4.5 4.5 4.5 Driving Dynamics

4.5 4.5 4.5 4.5 4.5 Powertrain


Shane O' Donoghue - 14 Feb 2017









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2017 SEAT Leon Cupra 300 SC. Image by SEAT.2017 SEAT Leon Cupra 300 SC. Image by SEAT.2017 SEAT Leon Cupra 300 SC. Image by SEAT.2017 SEAT Leon Cupra 300 SC. Image by SEAT.2017 SEAT Leon Cupra 300 SC. Image by SEAT.

2017 SEAT Leon Cupra 300 SC. Image by SEAT.2017 SEAT Leon Cupra 300 SC. Image by SEAT.2017 SEAT Leon Cupra 300 SC. Image by SEAT.2017 SEAT Leon Cupra 300 SC. Image by SEAT.







 

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