SEAT’s Leon ST super Cupra estate packs punch
06:37 12 February 2016
Performance cars often attract attention for all the wrong reasons but, if you don’t want to shout about it, you’ll love the SEAT Leon ST Cupra, says motoring editor Andy Russell.
Wolf in sheep’s clothing
Those of you of a certain age will remember the police TV drama Z Cars but what about Q cars? They’re models that combine ordinary looks with extraordinary power and performance. A wolf in sheep’s clothing – and I’ve been very partial to them.
Take a standard family car, give it a serious injection of power, performance and driving dynamics but keep it looking like a standard model.
If you’re after a family estate for express deliveries, you’ll love the latest addition to SEAT’s performance Cupra range. Already launched in SEAT’s biggest-selling Leon range as three and five-door hatchbacks, the Spanish car-maker has now turned the ST estate into a hot holdall.
From a distance, you need a keen eye to tell it apart from the bread-and-butter models. The biggest clue are the special 19in wheels unless you go for the garish orange line pack with orange highlighted alloys – I was so terrified of ‘kerbing’ the nearside ones that cyclists could pass up the inside when I parked – door mirrors, front grille surround and Cupra tailgate lettering.
Under the bonnet is the Volkswagen Group’s excellent 2.0-litre TSI turbo petrol engine, initially in 280PS state of tune and now 290PS. For all that power, this immensely flexible engine can be as docile as it is delightfully brisk and responsive.
With maximum torque from just 1,700rpm all the way to 5,600rpm, and maximum power from 5,600rpm to 6,500rpm, you can just put your foot down in any gear and the Leon takes off.
It will pull fifth gear at 30mph quite happily and from 2,000rpm picks up cleanly and quickly – even in sixth gear it’s enough to get past slower traffic safely on a clear road. At the top end, it’s fast and furious with the traction control system having its work cut out to put all that power through the front wheels in the lower gears.
Drive with restraint, not difficult given the broad spread of performance, and most drivers will see 35 to 40mpg and I got 45mpg on a steady main road run when the Cupra proved a quiet, refined cruiser.
How it drives
With sports suspension, big wheels and low-profile tyres, the firm low-speed ride highlights bumps and blemishes on poor surfaces but it’s never unpleasant and tyre noise is more noticeable. The ride improves with speed so its cruising capability is as supple as the standard styling is subtle.
The drive profile system has comfort, sport, Cupra and individual modes to tweak the responses of the throttle, dynamic chassis control, front axle differential lock and steering, while a sound actuator turns the engine note from pussy cat purr into big-cat snarl.
It’s one of the most entertaining estate cars I’ve driven with bags of grip, superb body control through corners and loads of feel and feedback from the precise steering.
Space and comfort
Whatever engine you go for, the Leon ST is a hugely-practical estate car with plenty of legroom for four large adults and a load-swallowing 587-litre boot, made all the more practical with a two-level floor panel which, at load sill height, creates a long, flat floor when the 60/40 rear seat backs are laid flat to free up 1,470 litres.
But a swathe of black plastic and trim give the cabin such a sombre feel. It’s all very well screwed together but crying out for some brightwork highlights, even more so on this dynamic Cupra model.
At the wheel
It’s easy to get comfortable behind the wheel and the big, simple dials and chunky controls are a model of clarity and efficiency but the overall look and feel is a bit bland given the exciting performance. The high-level touchscreen is small compared to some rivals but works well.
The SEAT Leon ST Cupra is an understated estate for drivers who want serious performance but don’t want to shout about it. Instead, when it comes to the dynamic driving experience, the car speaks for itself.