What is it?
Fast, fun and family-friendly – not three criteria which naturally go together. And yet, if the 4.5-star rating currently applied to the Volkswagen Golf R Estate – plus our glowing first drive of the Focus ST Estate – shows us anything, it’s that the best hot hatchbacks can indeed become practical estates without losing their gonads in the process.
Enter this, then. The recently facelifted Seat Leon ST 300 Cupra. Like the regular Leon 300 Cupra, this version’s got 10bhp more than the old model, alongside a small increase in torque. Inside, you’ll find the same interior updates as the rest of the Leon range which means a brand new touchscreen infotainment system borrowed from the latest Golf and various blink-and-you’ll-miss-them tweaks to the exterior styling, too. Plus, for this car, there’s four-wheel drive and a DSG gearbox.
That four-wheel drive element is important because this is the only such Cupra you can get in this country. There aren’t any plans to offer the regular Leon Cupra hatchback with four-wheel drive, and even Seat says the Leon ST 4Drive Cupra is aimed more towards the snow-capped mountains of Northern Europe than the soggy B-roads of Britain. It’s a toe-in-the-water moment, then, and while we were impressed when we tried the new Leon 300 Cupra abroad recently, this is our first time to try that car in estate form and with four-wheel drive in the UK. Should the Golf R Estate be quaking in its wheel arches?
What’s it like?
Bleedin’ quick, sunshine. Even on damp country roads, the Leon ST Cupra puts its power down with gusto, and even a light touch of the throttle will have you hurtling towards the horizon. And because it pulls from around 2500rpm right up to the redline, the delivery is wonderfully spread out. Certainly, overtaking becomes a breeze, and with the 0-62mph sprint dispatched in 4.9sec, the process is intoxicating, too.
The six-speed DSG transmission makes best use of the engine’s reserves, although it can be jerky at lower speeds – the same problem we’ve found in the Golf R, in fact. Take control using the wheel-mounted paddles and you can manage things yourself, but the paddles themselves feel a little too small to be used all the time. Best to leave the DSG to its own devices for most journeys, where its smooth-shifting nature helps the Leon ST Cupra to feel relaxing on the motorway.
One big improvement with this car is cornering. Where the old Leon ST Cupra felt fidgety through bends and would easily be left spinning its wheels at the exit, the new four-wheel drive system reigns things in nicely. Get to the end of the corner and apply your right foot, and there’s instant shove rather than a blinking traction control light. Of course, under most circumstances, the four-wheel drive system will hardly be used, but it does add to the excitement of driving the Leon ST Cupra over short bursts – and helps to give drivers the confidence to push the car harder.
The steering is much the same as before – and that’s no bad thing. It’s nicely weighted, light at lower speeds to aid manoeuvring but firmer once you’re on the move. It’s wonderfully accurate, too, allowing you to place the car exactly where you want.
This updated Leon ST Cupra is even better to drive, then, but what of the interior? Well, the big change is a new touchscreen infotainment system. There’s only one rotary dial now, for controlling the volume, and just two buttons – one to return to the system’s home screen and the other to connect your phone using Seat’s Full Link service. Sadly, while the graphics are pretty good by class standards and the menus intuitive, the system is just too dim-witted to be used much on the move. On paper, the ability to pinch and swipe like you would on a smartphone sounds excellent, but in practice, you’re left jabbing at icons and menus, which quickly becomes frustrating. Just as we’ve found on the latest Golf, the system is counter-intuitive, and a second rotary dial controller would be welcome.
At least there’s plenty of space inside. With 587 litres on offer with all seats in place, the Leon ST soundly trumps the Focus ST Estate for outright carrying capacity, but falls slightly short of the Golf R Estate. Still, in real-world terms, you’ll be able to fit a full complement of holiday luggage inside, plus passengers, with room to spare. The sports seats continue to do a good job of holding you in place through fast corners, too, and despite some rough plastics around the lower edges of the cabin, there’s a quality feel to most things you touch.
Should I buy one?
You certainly won’t regret doing so. With its new four-wheel drive system and even more power, the Leon ST Cupra is a hoot to drive quickly, but what impresses most is its duality of purpose. For 90% of the time, this is a sensible, practical estate car (albeit with higher CO2 emissions and lower fuel economy than you’ll find lower down in the range). But for those rare moments where the road is long and the sun is shining, it’s also fun – more fun even than the Focus ST Estate.
And yet, there’s no getting around the fact that the Golf R Estate is better still, and it will cost you just £170 more if you’re buying outright. Plus, if you’re buying on finance, then thanks to the plethora of PCP deals around on Golf R’s at the moment, the Leon ST Cupra actually works out to be considerably more expensive than its VW stablemate. For those reasons, the Golf R is the one we’d ultimately spend our money on, but there’s no denying the charm of this ST Cupra.
Seat Leon ST Cupra 2.0 TSI 4Drive 300PS DSG
Location Cotswolds; On sale Now; Price £34,485; Engine 1984cc, four-cylinder, petrol; Power 296bhp at 5500-6200rpm; Torque 280lb ft at 1800-5500rpm; Gearbox 6-speed automatic; Kerb weight 1545kg; 0-62mph 4.9sec; Top speed 155mph; Economy 39.2mpg; CO2/tax band 164g/km, 31% Rivals Ford Focus ST Estate, Volkswagen Golf R Estate