From £25,4958
Space and practicality has never been an issue for the Seat Leon ST, and thanks to a Cupra 280 engine it's now fast, too - but does it gel as a package?

Our Verdict

Seat Leon Cupra

New hot hatch promises to outgun its rivals, including the Volkswagen Golf GTI

24 April 2015

What is it?

Speed and practicality. These yin and yang qualities of the car world are easy to achieve separately, but can be troublesome to bring together in one harmonious package.

This hasn’t prevented the adventurous from trying, though, and now Seat has thrown its hat into the ring. It’s decided to challenge those laws of the automotive universe by dropping an engine from its Cupra 280 into the 27mm longer (and 45kg heavier) estate body of a Leon ST.  

So, does 2.0 litres and 276bhp over the front wheels and 587 litres (of boot space) over the rears, make the Leon ST Curpa 280 the perfect blend, or a bit of a mismatch?

What's it like?

The focal point for any Cupra 280 is still that 276bhp motor. It’s the more powerful of the two Cupras (the other being the 265) and although the estate’s extra bulk means it’s not quite as quick as the 280 three and five-door hatches, it's still delightfully urgent and vocal.

It will tootle about town quite happily if that’s where you find yourself, but it’s best to sneak out of the suburbs and onto an open stretch of derestricted road.

Like a sleep-deprived teenager first thing in the morning, it’s a bit groggy below 1500rpm. Above that, and when the turbo spools up, the engine springs into action, making this Cupra feel genuinely quick. Even a Focus ST estate can’t live with its 0-62mph time of 6.1 seconds.

However, this creates the age-old problem associated with deploying all that power through two front wheels. Despite being equipped with an electronically controlled limited-slip differential as standard, even on dry roads the ST Cupra 280 struggles for traction.

The problem is most apparent when you’re in the first two ratios of the six-speed manual gearbox (a DSG-auto is optional) and floor the accelerator. The wheels start spinning, leading to some brutal-sounding axle-tramp, which has you wondering if you’ve snapped a driveshaft.

Perhaps this is the reason Seat won’t let you completely disable the traction control; an unusual degree of nannying on a car of this type.

There are a host of other switchable options though, which are controlled by the ‘drive profile’ switch. This gives you three preset maps to regulate things such as the steering weight, throttle response, damper stiffness and diff-locking. A fourth, Individual, setting allows you to mix and match each as you wish. 

Despite the lack of traction there’s still masses of grip and stability through the corners. The ST Cupra’s benign chassis means that, within reason, you can hurl it into bends, confident it won’t get out of shape. Considering the car’s sporting aspirations and how well tied down the body is, the ride is remarkably easy-going, too.

The steering, like most electric systems, isn’t full of feel but it complements the chassis well. It’s a variable system which means it’s not over-urgent on the motorway but gets super-quick a few degrees past the straight ahead. In Cupra mode it also weights up nicely as you increase the lock.

Inside it’s standard Leon ST, which means a decent driving position and plenty of space for a family of four in the cabin. In fact, even if your kids are fully grown scrum halves, they won’t be short of space in the rear.

As well as large, the boot is well shaped and versatile. There are convenient storage pockets either side of the main load deck, plus an adjustable floor that can be raised to give a separate storage compartment beneath and a flat load deck when the rear seats are down. The rear seat backs are spring-loaded, so they drop automatically when you pull the levers by the boot opening.

The cabin feels well bolted together and has soft-touch materials in all the key areas. The sports seats, trimmed in Alcantara, look good and feel comfortable. Elsewhere, there are aluminium pedals and sill kick plates, gloss black trim and a sports steering wheel to complete the Cupra look. With Seat being a sporting brand it’s a shame it didn’t go even further because despite the changes, the Cupra's cabin still feels a little sombre.

There’s nothing sombre about the exterior looks, though. The Leon ST’s a striking car whatever the spec, but the Cupra 280's 19in alloys, more aggressive front-end styling, red brake calipers, rear diffuser and nicely detailed LED headlights make it even more arresting.

The ST Cupra 280’s high equipment tally includes a sat-nav equipped infotainment system. However, it’s not one of Volkswagen Audi Group’s most recent efforts and does feel rather slow and clunky to use. The 5.8in touchscreen is also small by today’s standards and is of a fairly low resolution.

Should I buy one?

Whether you should buy a ST Cupra 280 depends to some extent on what you are looking for. If your main priority is a fun driver’s car that has some degree of practicality, then we would suggest the sweeter and livelier Ford Focus ST estate might have more of the qualities you desire.

However, if your interest lies in space and practicality, combined with some serious pace, then the Leon absolutely delivers, albeit in a slightly ham-fisted fashion. So the Seat Leon ST Cupra 280 isn’t a perfect blend after all, but it’s a very decent effort and certainly no folly. 

Seat Leon ST Cupra 280

Location Surrey; On sale now; Price £28,505; Engine 4 cyls, 1984cc, turbocharged, petrol; Power 276bhp at 5600-6500rpm; Torque 258lb ft at 1700-5600rpm; Gearbox 6-spd manual; Kerb weight 1440kg; Top speed 155mph; 0-62mph 6.1sec; Economy 42.2mpg (combined); CO2/tax band 157g/km, 26% 

Join the debate

Comments
6

25 April 2015
A well equipped Focus ST-3 is over a grand cheaper..

25 April 2015
Citytiger wrote:

A well equipped Focus ST-3 is over a grand cheaper..

We get that you don't like any VAG products... You fail to mention its 30 or so hp down. It doesn't look as good neither (subjective)

26 April 2015
robhardyuk wrote:
Citytiger wrote:

A well equipped Focus ST-3 is over a grand cheaper..

We get that you don't like any VAG products... You fail to mention its 30 or so hp down. It doesn't look as good neither (subjective)

You are correct, I am not exactly a fan of VAG products, but out of their products I would prefer a SEAT Leon, over the equivalent VW,Audi or Skoda, in lower spec levels IMO its virtually unbeatable, but as stated by other, this just looks a bit ordinary and bland considering its top of the range, and nearly £30k, the ST may well be 30bhp down, but according to the review, the ST is a better drivers car and more enjoyable, and I would gladly sacrifice a bit of outright punch for a better drive on a daily basis, the ST, especially in "3" trim is a very nice place to spend time, and the difference in price could get you the Mountune (271bhp) conversion, with a bit of change to spare..

25 April 2015
I find the current generation Leon's far too bland in their sporty trim. A focus ST, or even a golf GTi, look quite a bit different from the humdrum base models. It doesn't look special enough to me to justify the £28505 they're asking. I like SEAT, and I like the Leon, just wish their was a bit more flair in this design to match the performance, because as far as I can tell, the only difference is the two exhaust pipes and the larger wheels.

25 April 2015
May well be in the market for mid size fast estate soon and my money would go on the slightly faster , higher powered golf with 4wd purely because 280bhp going through front wheels is too much.Only problem with golf is that it's DSG only which doesn't tickle my fancy.

A34

27 April 2015
Sundym wrote:

May well be in the market for mid size fast estate soon and my money would go on the slightly faster , higher powered golf with 4wd purely because 280bhp going through front wheels is too much....

You must be talking Golf R estate vs the others. I think thats another price band up.

The nice thing about the Leon ST is that you can choose from 3 different badges (Octavia estate, Golf estate) for pretty much the same car. One will have the spec you want (e.g. 1.4 DSG? That will be the Golf, sir).

This Cupra ST makes a nice alternative to a Focus ST estate. Remember the main form of traction control is your right foot...

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