Given the considerable effort that has gone into driving the
around you know where, SEAT probably won't appreciate this opening gambit. However, it's a more likeable car as an estate. Sorry, ST. No, not
Leon Cupra wagon.
Quite a looker as estates go
First off, the fairly subdued aesthetic of the hatchback works well on the estate. SEAT itself describes the Cupra wagon as 'the ideal Q-car' and where hot hatches are typically more overt (so the three-door SC looks a bit plain), fast estates are all about going under the radar. Therefore the discreet badges, exhausts and bumpers set just the right tone where perhaps they seem a bit tame on the regular Cupra. It's a good looking estate, certainly more visually appealing than the Focus ST. It's off to a good start. Leave the orange wheels though, please.
Furthermore, the hatch has that pesky Renault and the Civic Type R to now concern itself with amongst many other excellent cars for FWD hatch supremacy. The fast estate market is considerably smaller, the Ford being the Leon's main rival as well as the inevitable, apparently omnipresent Golf R. More on that in due course...
Therefore the very fact it probably offers 95 per cent of the Cupra experience is something to celebrate rather than criticise. The fast estate is still something of a niche market and therefore to have something so dynamically close to the hatch with more practicality is something of a win-win. The seats fold down easily and everything.
This is the Performance Pack car. Yes, really
On the road much that impresses about the three- and five-door Leon Cupras remains. The ride is composed regardless of the DCC damper setting, the engine is punchy and the manual gearbox slick, if perhaps a little light. As for the VAQ diff, it still delivers incredible traction out of bends even with really early throttle applications. For whatever reason though the ST didn't seem quite as efficient as the hatch at getting power down. There was just a touch of extra wheelspin and a mite more understeer detectable. Obviously it's hard to be conclusive without a back-to-back hatch and estate drive but there did appear very slight differences. There certainly won't be an awful lot quicker down a B-road however.
And then there's the Performance Pack car. SEAT was very sneaky and didn't actually tell anyone that the track Cupras were any different. It was only spotting the Brembo calipers while waiting in the queue that the penny dropped. The Pilot Sport Cup 2s are present too. And yes, it works. A lot.
The first three-lap stint is revealing to say the least. Turn-in and traction are just mighty, freakishly so. Drive it like the any other Cupra and the PP seems a little overtyred, just darting everywhere and not feeling that natural. The key is to actually be quite brutal with it, hurling it at corners because you know the Michelins will take it. The sidewalls feel quite stiff, giving absolute confidence that it will cling to the chosen line. Almost as soon as it's pitched in, you're back on the throttle because the diff has so much more to work with. The Leon is fairly wrenched out of the corner, tarmac vanishing underneath the wheels towards the next bend.
VAQ still works its magic very well
The brakes are an improvement too, with a more progressive feel through the pedal than standard. Outright stopping power feels better as well, though the rear can feel a little light when braking really hard. It's not wayward, merely a reminder that there's quite a bit of car and not a lot of weight behind you.
Oversteer? It's there with some provocation. Those tyres relinquish and regain grip fairly abruptly but the longish wheelbase means it doesn't feel snappy. Again, doing this in something so ostensibly practical only adds to the amusement. The Performance Pack may be fairly simple in its methods but there is no doubting its effectiveness.
Pick and mix
With a straight choice between the Cupra Leons, your correspondent's money would go on the estate. It's only £995 more, the dynamic differences are very, very slight and there's the fast estate cool factor. The issue that may well face it, as with the hatchback equivalent, is the VW Group alternatives. Want to go nearly as fast with even more subtlety for less cash? Skoda Octavia vRS. Then there's that damn Golf, wading in with the 4WD kudos and range-topping power. That's before the Ford Focus ST is mentioned...
Little in it compared to hatch on road
The SEAT is more capable and arguably better looking but the Ford more enjoyable. Its slightly more relaxed gait and refreshing lack of configurability are quite endearing, even if it probably lacks the SEAT's outright pace. It's a very talented car, the Leon Cupra ST, but it faces some very good rivals as well. In the middle ground between the Octavia and Golf it may struggle for attention. It shouldn't but the possibility is there.
Essentially buyers of fast estates are currently spoilt for choice, with the Leon another fine addition to the segment. If its combination of talents appeals then you will not be disappointed. And with the Performance Pack there's the potential for endless track day fun. In an estate!
SEAT's choice of music and edit. Stupid faces reporter's own.
SEAT LEON ST CUPRA 280
Engine: 1,984cc four-cyl turbocharged
Transmission: 6-speed manual, front-wheel drive (6-speed DSG optional)
Power (hp): 280@5,700-6,200rpm
Torque (lb ft): 258@1,750-5,600rpm
0-62mph: 6.1sec (6.0)
Top speed: 155mph
Weight: 1,440kg (1,466kg)
MPG: 42.2mpg (NEDC claimed combined) (42.8)
CO2: 157g/km (154g/km)
Price: £28,505 (£29,860)
[Figures in brackets for DSG]