SEAT Leon Cupra 300
roadtest you may have spotted a surprising number against the ST estate's 0-62 time. Yes, 4.9 seconds is a lot faster than the rest - nearly three quarters of a second quicker than the three-door, even when fitted with the launch control equipped DSG gearbox. How so? The clue is in the name, the DSG version of the Leon ST Cupra gaining SEAT's 4Drive all-wheel drive. Given this is an all-new addition to the Cupra range we reckoned it merited a more detailed look.
Despite the fixation with tenths here and there 0-62mph is probably the least important measure of comparative performance, especially when we're talking about estate cars. It does, however, hint at a different character for this new model.
Well, different from other Leons. But not the closely related Golf R. The Golf line-up has just received a wide-ranging update that includes a token 10hp bump for the R to 310hp over the SEAT's 300hp - torque is identical at 280lb ft in both. More significant is the R's new seven-speed DSG gearbox, the SEAT keeping the existing six-speeder.
Before addressing the elephant in the room let's see how the ST compares with the rest of the Cupra 300s. You can still get the estate as a manual and in that form it puts its power through the front wheels like the rest of the range. Which is to say helped by the
VAQ torque shuffling axle
but hindered by some rather unpleasant wheel hop when you attempt to get on it.
For all its apparent similarities the 4Drive is a very different car in its character, reflected in its £3,000 premium over the FWD manual. You'll have your own views as to whether the rough edges of the regular 300's power delivery are appealing rawness. Or just really annoying and evidence of VW carefully managing the brand hierarchy by denying the Spaniards the anti-tramp system it includes on equivalent FWD Golfs.
Suffice it to say the all-wheel drive estate doesn't do it, and feels a lot more grown-up and mature as a result. The irrelevance of that 0-62 time is played out on the road though, the additional 105kg blunting the standard car's more ballistic accelerative abilities.
The 4Drive ST is pleasingly fast rather than excitingly so but 300hp is still plenty to be making rapid progress. In the more subtle colours it works well with the Leon's understated lines too - as stealthy high-speed family transport there's considerable appeal. And on the road there seems little compromise over the front-driven version and rather more to enjoy, especially when the roads are greasy.
At the limit the 4Drive system does blunt the Cupra's edge somewhat. In addition to the extra weight, losing the VAQ front axle also sacrifices its clever torque vectoring abilities. Instead the 4Drive is limited to an open front diff and brake nibbling interventions and feels a little more inert on turn-in and more set in its ways once understeer has arrived. It can be teased back into line with a lift but the playfulness that makes the front-driven ST such an amusing combination of hot hatch hoonery and estate practicality has been thrown out with the bath water. Pays your money and all that. But we'd bag the four grand saving and stick with the front-driven one, axle tramp and all.
Especially when you return to the inescapable Golf R comparison. Now, the hope would be a SEAT badge and subsequent 'loss of face' could be offset against a healthy cost saving. That may yet play out once finance and lease numbers have been crunched. But on the bottom line price it's bad news for the Cupra, given the R costs just £815 more. Argue the toss about brand snobbery and what the neighbours will think. But at a purely practical level that gets you a brand new Golf R with the very latest Active Info Display (basically Audi's Virtual Cockpit by another name) as icing on an already tastier cake. Superficial? If there was a big premium for the privilege of a posher badge and squidgier interior plastics then yes. For £800 who's going to argue though?
SEAT LEON ST CUPRA 300/ST CUPRA 4DRIVE DSG
Engine: 1,984cc, 4-cyl turbocharged
Transmission: 6-speed manual, front-wheel drive (6-speed DSG/all-wheel drive optional)
Power (hp): 300@5,500-6,400rpm
Torque (lb ft): 280@1,800-5,500rpm
0-62mph: 6.0sec (4.9sec)
Top speed: 155mph
Weight: 1,440kg (1,545kg, both 'in running condition with driver')
MPG: 40.4 (39.2, NEDC combined)
CO2: 161g/km (164g/km)
Price: £31,135 (£34,170)
Figures in brackets for DSG version