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Driven: SEAT Leon ST Cupra 280. Image by SEAT.

Driven: SEAT Leon ST Cupra 280
On UK roads in SEAT’s load-lugging record-holder…

 



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SEAT Leon ST Cupra

4.5 4.5 4.5 4.5 4.5

Good points: Just as fast and engaging as the Cupra hatchback

Not so good: It's not a Golf R Estate...

Key Facts

Model tested: SEAT Leon ST Cupra 280 manual
Price: from £28,505; car as tested £31,520
Engine: 2.0-litre turbocharged four-cylinder petrol
Transmission: front-wheel drive, six-speed manual
Body style: five-door estate
CO2 emissions: 157g/km (Band G, £180 per year)
Combined economy: 42.2mpg
Top speed: 155mph
0-62mph: 6.1 seconds
Power: 280hp at 5,600- to 6,500rpm
Torque 350Nm at 1,700- to 5,600rpm

Our view:

The SEAT Leon ST Cupra, emulating its hatchback brother, recently lapped the Nurburgring Nordschleife in less than eight minutes. In fact, it did the route in 7:58.12, making it even quicker than the three-door Cupra and becoming the 'Fastest Ever Estate Car' around the awesome German circuit in the process.

And there's even better news for the Leon, because the fast-yet-compact wagon segment has yet to take off like the hot hatchback market. Its obvious rivals are the Peugeot 308 SW GT, Ford Focus ST Estate, Skoda Octavia vRS Estate, Volkswagen Golf R Estate and Mercedes CLA 45 AMG Shooting Brake. SEAT's ballistic five-door is comfortably quicker than the first three cars in this list and considerably cheaper than the latter pair, so things are looking rosy.

Transposing the Cupra's drivetrain into the ST bodyshell hasn't diminished the brilliance of this Iberian motor one bit. The ST is a handsome thing anyway, so adding Cupra styling - 19-inch alloys, beefy bumpers, large air intakes and side skirts - only helps matters. Choose the £500 Orange Line option carefully, though, because it finishes the wheels, door mirrors, front grille surround and boot Cupra badge in, well... orange. Which is fine, if you're an extrovert.

The cabin is as with the hatch. Spacious, comfortable, well-built and lavishly equipped for the money, but with the sneaking suspicion that Volkswagen would only let SEAT have the interior trims from a Mk6 Golf. Step into the Leon in isolation and you'll marvel at how far SEAT has come in terms of quality in two decades. Step into it from another VW Group product and you'll notice the small screen for the standard-fit satnav, the abundance of various shades of charcoal grey plastics and a lack of visual sparkle. However, there are just enough signifiers to make it worthwhile, like the white-flash trim, great bucket seats and flat-bottomed steering wheel backed by Cupra-specific dials.

Tackling the ST Cupra with a sensible head on, it's remarkably docile and comfortable when you're not on it. This is because it has Dynamic Chassis Control (DCC) as standard, meaning you can adjust the dampers through three settings via the Cupra switch on the left of the centre console. In Comfort mode, the Leon turns in a superb display. It glides along motorways and A-roads on a wave of easy mid-range torque, the ride is astonishingly supple (way better than the crashy diesel FR Leon ST we drove last year on 18s; proof that big wheels are fine if the damping is correctly set up) and the cabin hushed. It also turns in economy approaching 40mpg on a run, which is decent. As a cruiser, it truly excels.

Step it up a notch, even just into Sport mode, and the Leon awakens. But don't mess about. Get the ST into Cupra mode and really cut loose. Because you'll be gobsmacked by how fast and involving a front-drive family car can be. We have one criticism here and that's the steering, which only comes across as either light or heavy, not feelsome. It's good but by the exalted standards of the rest of the car, it's the clear weak point.

Other than that, the ST Cupra is sublime fun. There's no 265hp entry-level model here, simply a choice of manual or dual-clutch DSG transmissions. That's no hardship, because the 280hp turbo four is one of the greatest sounding forced induction four-pots of all. It has a rasping snarl to it through the lower revs, transforming into a metallic bark up into the 900rpm-wide peak power band. And boy, does it feel quick. OK, it loses a few tenths to the hatchback, courtesy of 70kg of extra ballast, but no one in their right mind is going to complain about the sheer oomph of the ST Cupra.

Nor the handling, which is sensational. The limited-slip diff up front blesses the Leon with epic traction out of bends, there's little to no torque steer despite the fronts dealing with 350Nm, the brakes are faultless and the six-speed manual is a delight to stir about the gate. The cherry on the cake is that the chassis is actually throttle adjustable. Get the Leon ST Cupra dancing on your favourite back road and you'll be grinning from ear to ear. And going bloody quickly, no doubt.

The long and short of all this is that we adore the Leon ST Cupra, which hasn't been undone by a week in its company on crumbling UK tarmac. It's one of the best performance estates we've ever encountered, at any price or power, and the fact it does everything really well - save for steering feel and the final degree of interior finishing - for less than thirty grand makes it look a ridiculous bargain. In theory, there should be nothing stopping it from total domination of this class. It's way more entertaining than the Peugeot, Skoda and even the fabulous Ford, and it makes the dull CLA 45 Shooting Brake look hopelessly overpriced.

But... you probably know what's coming here. There's one rival from the list we've missed, and it's the Golf R Estate. More power. More driven wheels. More pace. And not that much more expensive. If you could ever reach the limits of the Leon ST Cupra on road, it would be at that point that the Golf R would be coming up with some ingenious answers, courtesy of the best damping in the business.

So the Leon is pipped for victory right at the death by a distant stablemate. A pity for SEAT. But no problem to anyone who goes out and buys this fantastic ST Cupra. After all, it's a Nurburgring lap record-holder, when all's said and done...

Alternatives:

VW Golf R Estate: Shares much with the Cupra ST, but four-wheel drive helps to give the Golf R another level of performance over the SEAT.

Skoda Octavia vRS Estate: It can carry more luggage than the Leon, but it's down on power in comparison, and not quite as engaging, either.

Ford Focus ST Estate: An old stager these days, and the lack of adaptive dampers means you can't dial back the stiffness when you want to take it easy. Still great fun to drive, though.


Matt Robinson - 18 May 2015









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2015 SEAT Leon ST Cupra drive. Image by SEAT.2015 SEAT Leon ST Cupra drive. Image by SEAT.2015 SEAT Leon ST Cupra drive. Image by SEAT.2015 SEAT Leon ST Cupra drive. Image by SEAT.2015 SEAT Leon ST Cupra drive. Image by SEAT.

2015 SEAT Leon ST Cupra drive. Image by SEAT.  







 

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