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Driven: SEAT Leon ST Cupra 300 4Drive. Image by SEAT.

Driven: SEAT Leon ST Cupra 300 4Drive
A Spanish Volkswagen Golf R for (slightly) less money, but beware the law of diminishing returns…

 



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SEAT Leon ST Cupra 300 4Drive

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Good points: The loveable Leon ST Cupra gets more horsepower and four-wheel drive...

Not so good: ...but its pricing now puts it into direct competition with the Volkswagen Golf R Estate

Key Facts

Model tested: SEAT Leon ST Cupra 300 4Drive DSG
Price: Leon ST range starts from £18,450; ST Cupra 300 4Drive from £34,485, car as tested £35,135
Engine: 2.0-litre turbocharged four-cylinder petrol
Transmission: all-wheel drive, six-speed DSG twin-clutch automatic
Body style: five-door estate
CO2 emissions: 164g/km (£500 VED first 12 months, then £140 annually thereafter)
Combined economy: 39.2mpg
Top speed: 155mph (limited)
0-62mph: 4.9 seconds
Power: 300hp at 5,500- to 6,200rpm
Torque: 380Nm at 1,800- to 5,500rpm

Our view:

The SEAT Leon Cupra is getting on for being four years old now. But the searing pace of change in the hot hatch world means any model that stands still in terms of ongoing development can quickly become usurped by faster, harder and meaner new metal. So the Spanish firm has tried to stave off the possibility of the Cupra becoming 'el sombrero viejo' by continually tweaking its performance flagship ever since it arrived.

This third-gen Leon Cupra began life in 2014 as either a 265hp variant or the then-full-fat 280hp model. Not too long after, SEAT decided to lift the performance totem to 290hp. Then, presumably following endless cajoling discussions with parent group Volkswagen, the company managed to get the Leon to 300hp... right about the time the Golf R went from that output to 310hp.

Now, of course, we have the criminally rare (just 24 UK examples have been confirmed) Leon Cupra R range-topper, which does indeed get the 310hp motor and sundry other chassis tweaks to make it the most focused fast Leon yet built. But it's not the fastest, certainly if you put great stock in quoted 0-62mph times. Alone of the Cupras, the 300hp ST estate version - which competes in a much narrower 'rapid wagon' sector than its hatchback siblings - gains SEAT's 4Drive all-corners traction, which means that the ST Cupra 300 4Drive DSG is the first production car from the Spanish firm to dip below five seconds for its 0-62mph run; that's fully nine-tenths quicker than the front-wheel-drive, traction-limited Cupra R can manage.

So is this estate actually the pinnacle of the Cupra breed? Well... no. Much of what we've always loved about the Cupra is preserved by the addition of an extra driven axle, and of course that four-wheel drive brings with it extra bonuses, like the ability to fire the SEAT out of a bend at speeds that make it appear as if it's surfing the bow-wave of an invisible explosion behind it. Honestly, there's a lot less scrabbling from the driven wheels of this Leon ST Cupra, which means you can better exploit that rasping, muscular four-cylinder engine up front. Transmitting power to the road through a well-spaced and slick-shifting DSG gearbox, the Cupra 4Drive never lacks for a thumping turn of speed.

It's still entertaining to drive, too, but there's the niggling suspicion that the chassis dynamics on this have been turned down with a screwdriver to just a few notches below the sublime Golf R Estate. The damping, for instance, doesn't have the hottest Golf's exquisite blend of fluidity and taut control, the Leon feeling ever so slightly more crashy across uneven road surfaces at speed. The steering is well-weighted and accurate, but not massively feelsome. The brakes are strong enough but not as awe-inspiring as those on the Golf. It also, when you throttle it back, doesn't ride as nicely as the VW can, the Leon ST Cupra never quite settling down into the most comfortable of gaits on its 19-inch wheels.

And what you've still got to deal with, as on all Mk3 Leons, is the sedate interior design and one-generation-out-of-date Volkswagen Group switchgear within. Sure, it's spacious, well-appointed in terms of technology and perfectly solidly built, but the Leon's cabin doesn't feel flashy. It's a good job that the edgy, angular exterior of the car still gives it plenty of presence and kerb appeal.

So there's no doubting the Leon ST Cupra 300 4Drive DSG is a very good performance car, but it's not a great one. The problem is that the SEAT starts to make less good sense with every 10hp and extra few thousand on the list price it gains. When it was a 280hp, front-wheel drive estate for about 28 grand, it looked like a complete bargain, a slice of dynamic brilliance that cocked a snook at its German overlords; as a £34,500 four-wheel drive motor, it simply appears overpriced when compared to the all-round majesty of the car with which it shares so much, the aforementioned Golf R Estate.

What counts for the Leon is that this sort of circa-300hp wagon is a lot thinner on the ground than a 300hp hot hatch, so customers in the market for this type of pacey load-lugger need to give the excellent Cupra ST serious consideration, but now it's so expensive as standard that the rapid SEAT Leon feels like it is a victim of the law of diminishing returns. Buy one, and you'll no doubt love it. But you'd be better off in the equivalent VW estate, if we were being perfectly honest...

Alternatives:

Audi S3 Sportback: Audi doesn't do an estate of the ilk of the Cupra ST, so the Sportback S3 is about as close as you can get. S3 isn't massive fun to drive and it's expensive, so the Leon is a better bet.

Mercedes-AMG CLA 45 Shooting Brake: Criminally expensive and wildly impractical for a wagon, the CLA 45 Shooting Brake is nevertheless 381hp of madness; Shooting Star, they ought to have called it.

Volkswagen Golf R Estate: The Wolfsburg analogue. Good as the Leon ST Cupra is, it simply isn't good enough or value enough in comparison to usurp the magnificent Golf R Estate from its throne.


Matt Robinson - 21 Nov 2017









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2017 SEAT Leon ST Cupra 300 drive. Image by SEAT.2017 SEAT Leon ST Cupra 300 drive. Image by SEAT.2017 SEAT Leon ST Cupra 300 drive. Image by SEAT.2017 SEAT Leon ST Cupra 300 drive. Image by SEAT.2017 SEAT Leon ST Cupra 300 drive. Image by SEAT.

2017 SEAT Leon ST Cupra 300 drive. Image by SEAT.2017 SEAT Leon ST Cupra 300 drive. Image by SEAT.2017 SEAT Leon ST Cupra 300 drive. Image by SEAT.2017 SEAT Leon ST Cupra 300 drive. Image by SEAT.2017 SEAT Leon ST Cupra 300 drive. Image by SEAT.








 

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