Seat Leon ST Cupra 280
Aggressive front-end styling is identical to other Leon Cupra models
- Impressive handling capabilities give room to explore its performance
- Ideal proportions perfectly balance five-door styling
- Strong, exciting engine pulls hard in all gears
- Generous luggage capacity easily permits family holidays
- Desirable options can be expensive to add
- Dashboard and interior trim looks a little too ordinary
- Fuel economy plummets with enthusiastic driving
- Too narrow a choice of exterior paint colours
This is the first time Seat has built an estate variant of one of its hot hatchbacks, making it the fastest estate car the company has ever built. It combines a large, practical boot with a powerful turbocharged engine and high-grade engineering for the chassis and suspension. It could contain the perfect combination of attributes for keen drivers with families.
The car industry is seeing something of a fashion for sporty estate cars, either solely in terms of looks or in performance, too. They tend to feature neater, more balanced designs that are immediately easier on the eye than the saloons or hatchbacks upon which they are based. There is also an inherently tempting quality about cars that are both practical and exciting.
The Volkswagen Group has seen this trend emerging, and across its mainstream brands a cluster of special models based on well-known hatchbacks is emerging. This simultaneously helps the Leon ST Cupra 280 establish itself and gives it stiff competition to try to fight off from day one of its production life.
It is barely any slower than the Leon Cupra hatchback despite an extra 27cm of length, plus the associated weight, behind the rear wheels. Ample compensation for any minor loss in performance comes with a very noticeable extra supply of luggage space, which in turn broadens its appeal to parents for whom a regular estate car just isn't interesting enough.
Its main rivals come in the shape of other fast estate models like the Volkswagen Golf R, and in the shape of appealingly frugal but stylish estates that appeal more to the head than the heart, but have enough visual character to override any desire for speed. It remains a niche corner of the market, but the fast estate has a premium image that Seat is wise to pursue.
Our verdict on the Seat Leon ST Cupra 280
The Leon is a fantastically capable and enjoyable car in hatchback guise, but still more so as an estate. It looks superb, carries greater loads and sacrifices so little of the driver enjoyment of its smaller siblings that it makes the ST version the pick of the range. Final purchase prices can rise thanks to desirable options, but the end product is deeply impressive.
A skilled eco-driver can achieve as much as 50mpg in the ST Cupra, but more typical driving behaviour will return figures in the high 30s. Around town, though, this will drop to the 20s, so potential buyers should consider where they are likely to spend most of their driving time.
Space and practicality
Every bit of the extra 27cm the Leon ST Cupra enjoys over its smaller brothers goes towards making the boot bigger. Legroom, therefore, is exactly the same; good enough for two adult rear passengers. Owners will find a good spread of storage options in the cabin, but it is odd that the compartment ahead of the gear stick is open-faced rather than lidded as it is in lesser Leons.
Controls and display
The new interior highlight bestowed upon the Leon ST Cupra is a sharper, higher-resolution main screen that represents a massive improvement on the ultimately disappointing standard unit. Unfortunately the upgrade is only offered as a very expensive option. Elsewhere the controls fall into a familiar layout and feel, for the most part, sturdy and built to last the test of time.
Comfort is not a priority for this car, but it does have adjustable driving modes to bias the suspension more towards aggression or compliance. At its softest the ST Cupra is surprisingly compliant, albeit with a slightly stiffer rear end than in the hatchback models. The spring rates have been increased to cope with the anticipated extra load weight that the boot will need to carry.
Darkened glass around the rear half of the car helps to keep prying eyes out when the car is left alone. Remote central locking can open the tailgate independently of the passenger doors, which in turn can be set to open in unison or in two stages: the driver's door only followed by the rest upon a second click of the 'unlock' button on the key fob.
As a member of the Cupra range the ST version has intrinsic extra safety benefits thanks to its wider, high-performance tyres that increase grip levels for cornering and braking. Braking is even better still thanks to larger discs versus ordinary models. The suite of active safety systems installed as standard should help to minimise many potential causes of accidents.
There are no other front-wheel drive estate cars on the market that drive quite like the ST Cupra, thanks to its clever differential assist technology between the front wheels. By reversing the way that the engine naturally wants to send more power mid-corner to the inside wheel, flipping it around to the outside wheel instead, the grippy Leon is capable of extreme cornering velocities that never fail to put a smile on the driver's face.
Family car appeal
This variant is the most family-friendly of the Leon Cupra body styles. There is enough room across the rear bench seat to mount two bulky child seats, using the standard Isofix mounting points if desired, and the expansive boot is big enough for pushchairs, small or part-dismantled bikes or a family of four's luggage for a week's holiday.
First car appeal
Anyone who grows up passionate about cars and driving might lust after a fast Seat Leon like this, although that sort of attention is more likely to be focused on the three-door hatchback or even older, second-hand generations of the Leon Cupra. In any case, the 276bhp turbocharged engine is almost certainly too much for a novice to safely handle and insurance would be pricey without a huge budget.
Quality and image
While the Leon doesn't quite match the quality of the materials in its Golf R cousin, it makes a solid first impression. However, partly because of the firm ride quality underpinning the experience, the cabin can begin to reveal the occasional creak or rattle at lower mileages than it might be expected. As a fast, practical estate car, though, there is an impermeable prestige attached to the car.
The passenger door layout mirrors that of the five-door Leon family, where the rear doors are slightly shorter than the fronts and the rear door handles are mounted lower than on most similar cars to avoid the sharp, stylish crease running over the top part of the doors. There are few problems with accessibility, but it should be mentioned that the ST Cupra sits lower than ordinary Leon ST models.
Stereo and ICE (In car entertainment)
As standard the ST Cupra feeds media and playback data through a modest touch-screen. It can be difficult to operate on the move as the stiffly-sprung car rides over bumps, but it does a good job of relaying the key information. There is a Volkswagen Group-specific USB adapter that is only compatible with relatively new devices, but there is also Bluetooth and a CD player - although the latter is awkwardly placed in the glovebox.
Colours and trim
Seat surprised many people with the obvious lack of bright or bold colours when the Leon Cupra hatchback was launched, and the firm has done nothing to address the calls for stronger paint hues. Instead there is an assortment of greys, blacks and subdued colours - plus the customary flat Seat red - and the darkest of the greys is the best pick. The interior trim looks a little too ordinary, and indeed little has changed between a standard Leon and this.
Parking sensors at both ends are an obvious help when placing the ST Cupra into a space, but even without that help the car is easy to park thanks to good visibility and the knowledge that the furthest extreme of the rear bumper is only a few inches beyond the glass screen that sits above it. The five-door layout contributes shorter doors than those on the three-door SC Cupra, so they open further for any given car-side space.
Emergency tyre repair kit supplied as standard.
Petrol engine options - 1.2-litre (104bhp); 1.4-litre (138bhp); 1.8-litre (177bhp); 2.0-litre (261bhp, 276bhp). Diesel engine options - 1.6-litre (104bhp); 2.0-litre (148bhp, 181bhp). Transmission options: five and six-speed manual gearbox depending on model, plus dual-clutch automatic. Trim levels: S, SE, FR, Cupra, Xperience.
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