SEAT has refreshed the whole Leon line-up for the 2017 model year, with new technology and more. At the top of the range sits the upgraded Leon Cupra, now with 300hp and 380Nm of torque. A few other tweaks here and there keep one of our favourite hot hatches at the top of its game and the ST estate version is now offered with four-wheel drive. Here we review the Leon Cupra 300 ST 4Drive with the DSG automatic transmission.
In the metal
SEAT offers the Leon Cupra in two body styles in Ireland (the distinctly sportier looking three-door Leon SC is available in other markets) and though most will go for the five-door hatchback, my favourite of the two is the ST estate tested here. The recent raft of changes to the Leon range has done nothing to take from the sharp lines, so it's still one of the best-looking family wagons on the market. Though the Cupra makeover is a relatively subtle one, it's not difficult to tell it apart from the Leon FR if you know what to look out for. Up front there are technical looking all-LED headlights, a gloss black radiator surround and a more aggressive bumper with a large central air intake. A new design of 19-inch alloy wheel is standard (behind which nestle red, Cupra-branded brake callipers) and a 10mm lower ride height (in comparison with that of the FR model) helps enhance the stance. Sculpted side sills, black door mirrors and tinted glass are visible from the side and the rear features a specific bumper and dual oval exhaust outlets. The ST model gets chrome roof rails and 'CUPRA' lettering on the rear hatch, too, while the other body styles gain a modest roof spoiler.
Buyers that want to really stand out can apply the Orange Pack, which features a bright orange finish for the wheels, radiator grille, door mirrors and badging. There are also a couple of new paint colour options, including the classy Desire Red and Mystery Blue.
Inside, the Leon Cupra receives all the new technology of the rest of the updated Leon line-up, such as the electronic parking brake and a larger touchscreen. The basics are as before though, including a chunky contrast-stitched sports steering wheel and plenty of Alcantara - the suede-like material is found on the door cards and on the excellent sports seats. It's possible to add lots more technology, including keyless entry and start, a wireless phone charger and high-definition satnav, but there's nothing at all wrong with the cabin in its standard guise.
We're already big fans of the SEAT Leon Cupra and hadn't many bad things to say about the Cupra 290 version that was launched last year. We certainly didn't think it needed more performance. SEAT, however, didn't agree, so its engineering team came up with a modest suite of updates for this 2017MY version. The 10hp increase in peak power to 300hp is the headline figure, but it's supported by an arguably more important increase in maximum torque - up from 350Nm to 380Nm, available from 1,800rpm to 5,500rpm or in less technical terms, 'nearly all the time'... No mechanical changes have been made to the engine, just software, though fine-tuning means the exhaust sound is subtly different to before.
Minute alterations have been made to the chassis, which features electronically controlled dampers as standard (DCC - very well-judged to give great body control without a particularly uncomfortable ride, regardless of mode) and a variable ratio steering rack ('Progressive Steering') with electro-mechanical power assistance. The front-wheel drive versions get a sophisticated Haldex 'VAQ' electronically controlled differential (shared with the Volkswagen Golf GTI) that alters its characteristics through standard, Sport and Cupra modes depending on which driving setting is chosen. It's simply brilliant in the dry, helping the car through a turn when you apply the power rather than pushing the nose out to the outside of the corner. In the wet it's less impressive, especially in the more aggressive Cupra mode, and it needs to be treated with respect. Thankfully the ESC stability control system is quick-acting. It can be turned off completely and there's also a useful mid-level ESC Sport option.
New to the Leon Cupra (though only on the ST estate for now) is the option of 4Drive four-wheel drive, which is paired exclusively with the DSG dual-clutch automatic transmission. The latter has been tweaked to provide snappier upshifts and it certainly seems more responsive to manual intervention than before, though, as we've said many a time, it's such a shame the Volkswagen Group sticks with small plastic gearchange paddles when others fit far more tactile alloy items.
Regardless, the four-wheel drive system transforms the Leon Cupra. We were lucky enough to have the opportunity to try the ST estate in front- and four-wheel drive formats in both dry and really wet conditions so have a really good feel for the differences. It must be said that the front-drive car is more exciting and just as capable in the dry, with a 'pointier' front end that never washes wide and is highly entertaining to drive quickly down an interesting road. The steering is quick, throttle response is fantastic and it makes a rousing sound (admittedly augmented when in Cupra mode). As mentioned above, it's less impressive when the road surface is slippery. The 4Drive version, meanwhile, is perfectly good fun in the dry, just less engaging for the keener driver, as it feels like anyone could drive it quickly and smoothly. The most impressive thing about it, though, is that it barely needs to slow down when the road is wet; it just divides up the engine's power between the front and rear wheels as it sees fit and progress remains incredibly fast and smooth. Indeed, even with ESC switched off completely it takes extreme provocation to unstick either end of the car. Our more enthusiastic readers may prefer a little more power sent to the rear axle to bring it alive, but most will love its surefootedness.
What you get for your money
SEAT Ireland offers the Leon Cupra in five-door hatch and ST estate guises only. Prices start at €36,085 for the manual hatchback, the DSG version costs €3,760 more. ST pricing starts at €37,200 for the manual, rises to €41,020 for the DSG and then to €45,020 for the four-wheel drive model featured here. SEAT has a zero per cent PCP finance offer on the Leon Cupra until the end of March.
A little more power, some new technology and a nip and tuck here and there; what's not to like about the refreshed SEAT Leon Cupra 300? We love the fact the range is so wide, with three body styles, two gearboxes and, in the ST estate, front- or four-wheel drive. If you regularly drive for the sake of driving then we'd suggest that the 4Drive version is not for you, as the front-drive car is more exciting, but if you need a car that does it all day-in, day-out, in all weathers, has space for the family and can still entertain the driver on the right road, the new Leon ST Cupra 300 4Drive is your only man.