Overall rating: 4/5
Despite a glut of performance models from the Volkswagen Group, the SEAT Leon ST Cupra manages to carve out a place all for itself.
In the Metal:
Few can really dispute the handsomeness of the SEAT Leon in its most practical estate form - it is, with the possible exception of the Peugeot 308 SW, the best-looking estate in the segment at present. So adding some Cupra-themed styling into that mix can do no harm. Some might consider that, when seen in a more discreet hue, it could look almost a little too discreet given the mechanical performance that lies beneath. Thankfully, SEAT also offers optional colour packs that include some highly contrasting orange accents on the front grille surround, door mirrors, rear name badges and doorsills, as well as orange-machined alloy wheels. No doubt, it will prove incredibly divisive, but we love it. At the rear, a black diffuser incorporates the two exhaust pipes, which gives the car a purposeful image from behind.
The interior is a more muted affair, which, aside from some small Cupra badges, remains the same as that found in the lesser-powered Leon models. All of the controls fall nicely to hand with the car's different driving modes, of which there are four, selectable via the 6.5-inch touchscreen. This also takes care of all the other infotainment allowing for a clean, well-laid out centre console. A flat-bottomed multifunction sports steering wheel, shod in perforated leather serves as a further reminder of the SEAT's sportier intentions.
On the practical side, throughout the cabin there are numerous storage spaces, all of which are reasonably generous. Towards the rear, boot space stands at 587 litres in its standard configuration, increasing to 1,470 litres of useable volume when the rear seats are folded down. The tailgate also opens to a generous angle making the loading of bulkier items that bit easier, a task further helped by the Leon's lower overall ride height.
SEAT has given the Leon ST Cupra a variety of drive modes that are selectable via the car's touchscreen or the Cupra button on the centre console. Selecting the 'Cupra drive profile' fully turns up the wick and pipes in additional engine noise via the car's sound composer to leave you unmistaken as to its intent.
Drive the Leon ST Cupra hard and you will at times cause the front axle to struggle to put down power, but for the majority of the time it copes quite ably given the amount of power being sent to the front wheels. Not only that, but the use of some clever engineering in the front axle means that despite the amount of energy going on it still steers well and will only begin to understeer really when greater liberties are being taken. There is, of course, the additional weight of an estate body to bear in mind in comparison to the three- and five-door models. That said the overall kerb weight of 1,446 kilograms is still at the lighter end of the scales when compared to its rivals.
The star of the show is the 2.0-litre engine that, at almost any stage, pulls hard when called upon. That engine revs freely and ably helped along by a large turbocharger designed to operate with exhaust gas temperatures of up to 1,000 degree Celsius. It creates a maximum charge pressure of 1.1 bar, compressing 900 kilograms or 750,000 litres of air per hour. Perhaps the only slight disappointment with the engine's performance is that it could do with having slightly more torque. Granted, 350Nm is nothing to be sniffed at, but it lacks the real sense of shove of some other real-world performance cars, like the Audi S3 and Volkswagen Golf R, although we do need to concede that those models are also both four-wheel drives.
What you get for your Money:
SEAT Ireland expects the Leon ST Cupra to be priced from €36,800. Pitted against the benchmark leader in the hot hatch segment, the Volkswagen Golf GTI (with Performance Pack), it still comes in €1,020 less than the three-door version of the Volkswagen 230hp hot hatch. A further €2,100 will get you the dual-clutch transmission, a worthwhile spend we think.
In addition to the already well equipped standard specification, buyers will be able to order a Performance Pack to add an extra degree of, well, performance to the Leon ST Cupra. Expected to cost around €1,800, the Performance Pack will consist of larger 19-inch alloy wheels that will come shod with stickier Michelin Pilot tyres and uprated 4-piston Brembo brakes with cross-drilled discs to improve cooling under more spirited driving. The exterior also benefits from different side skirts to enhance looks further, while there is an overall weight reduction of 19.4kg, which is bound to be worth at least an extra three-tenths of a second off your usual daily commute. Joking aside however, were you to add up the individual price of added better brakes, bigger wheels and the more expensive rubber to go with, the performance pack at €1,800 or so looks to be pretty good value.
The SEAT Leon ST Cupra has wound up having a small section of the practical-performance car market all to itself by way it its performance and estate-body credentials. Both the Ford Focus ST and the Peugeot 308 GT SW lag behind in the performance stakes with 250- and 207hp respectively. There is also, with the exception of the less-powerful Skoda Octavia RS Combi, nothing else from within the Volkswagen Group to rival it, as the new Golf R Estate is not to be offered for sale on the Irish market. Taking in all the various elements into account from all the various rivals, the Leon ST Cupra finds itself neatly, and virtually alone, at the intersection of a Venn diagram of performance and practicality.