► Estate version of the Leon Cupra 280 hot hatch
► Very nearly as quick as the five-door Cupra hatch
► Priced around £995 above the regular Cupra 280
What is it about hotted-up estate cars that makes them so alluring? There’s something inherently appealing in a car that can mix hot-hatch performance with garden-shed practicality, and, on paper at least, the Seat Leon ST Cupra is about as tempting they come. Combining the pretty (for an estate) and moderately practical Leon ST body with the GTI-up-to-11 drivetrain from the Leon Cupra is surely a match made in performance car heaven.
This is the first time Seat’s had a go at the fast estate genre, and the ST Cupra arrives in the middle of a purple patch for rapid mid-size wagons; the Ford Focus ST Estate is better than ever post-facelift, the Skoda Octavia vRS serves up buckets of space and pace, and there’s the probably-going-to-be-brilliant VW Golf R Estate skulking in the wings.
How different is the Leon Cupra ST from the hatch?
Not very. It’s 27cm longer, but that’s all accounted for by extra bodywork behind the rear axle. The wheelbase is identical to the five-door hatch and there’s only an extra 45kg of mass to lug around.
The rear damper settings have had the tiniest of adjustments (or rather, the software that controls them has) in deference to the slight change in weight distribution and to cope with the heaviest loads of flatpack furniture, stuff being taken to the tip and various other estate car clichés. Just like the Cupra hatch, the ST sits 25mm lower than a regular Leon S or SE (or 10mm lower than the warm FR trim versions).
Although the hatchback Cupra gets a choice of two power outputs for its 1984cc turbo engine, 263bhp or 276bhp, the ST version’s offered with the full-fat amount only. Gearbox-wise, it’s a choice between a pleasingly precise six-speed manual or twin-clutch DSG auto – we’re testing the former here. That minor weight increase means compared with the hatch it’s two tenths tardier to 62mph (6.1 seconds with the manual ’box, DSG’s a tenth quicker) with top speed still pegged at 155mph. Not exactly slow, then.
Outwardly there aren’t many obvious clues as to the car’s potency, apart from 19-inch wheels and 235/35 tyres shading big red calipers, dual exhaust tips and a quintet of extra air intakes under the grille. It’s quite a sleeper, in fact. Extroverts can soon sort that out by speccing the Orange Line pack, which paints the wheels, grille border and mirrors in the brightest shade of tangerine known to man. Each to their own.
And does it feel very different to drive?
Unsurprisingly, no. A back-to-back comparison drive would doubtless throw up some detail differences but subjectively it feels very similar indeed. That’s a good thing, of course. On the road, this is a very, very fast but also supremely planted car. Apart from a fundamentally well-balanced chassis, the electronically controlled differential lock is the Cupra’s party piece, finding physics-defying traction out of slow corners.
Shuffling as much as 100% of torque to the outside wheel via a hydraulic clutch system, it’s far more effective than the brake vectoring system in the rival Ford Focus ST. Though the recently updated Ford’s system is less wayward than it used to be, the Cupra’s streets ahead. Still, with all that power and torque it doesn't take much provocation to light up its front wheels, even in the dry. And although it is more polished than the Ford, it’s not necessarily more fun. We drove the revised Focus ST Estate on similar roads only a couple of weeks ago and it made us grin just as broadly.
How good is it at being an estate car?
Not bad at all. Its 587 litres of luggage space (1470 if you flick the quick-release lever in the boot and drop the seats) is a bit pokier than the upcoming Golf R wagon (blame the Seat’s lower, sleeker roofline) and a lot less than the seriously capacious Octavia vRS, but it’s still a usable volume.
The boot floor’s flat to the load lip and can be repositioned in two heights, there’s an extra 12V socket back there, a through-hatch in the middle of the seats and a folding front passenger seat is an option if you’re likely to be carrying extra-long loads.
No surprises here. The Seat Leon ST Cupra is a very convincing bit of kit. Priced at £995 more than the five-door Cupra 280 hatch, Seat expects around 15% of forthcoming Cupra sales to be STs. It’s every bit as much fun as the hatch when you’re going for it, and when you’re not it excels at just being a normal car. Put the dampers in Comfort mode and it rides beautifully, tread the throttle lightly and the drivetrain’s whisper-quiet.
As for the rivals, it’s classier than the Focus ST but a fair bit pricier, more fun than the Octavia vRS but not as roomy, doesn’t get the Golf R’s four-wheel drive but won’t cost as much. As niche products go, this is a well-rounded one.