HOTTER HATCH: SEAT LEON CUPRA GETS A POWER BOOST
Seat has given the Leon Cupra hot hatchback even more go for 2017. Darren Cassey went to see whether power really does corrupt
WHAT’S NEW? Say hello to the new and very mildly improved Seat Leon Cupra 300. There’s a small bump in power from 286bhp to 296bhp, but the more noticeable figure is the increase in torque, now 380Nm from 350Nm.
The other major talking point is the move from front-wheel drive to fourwheel drive for the estate variant – a Seat representative tells us the system isn’t on the hatchback models because of ‘development costs’ but is probably also partly because Vw-owned Seat doesn’t want to step on the Golf R’s toes.
(That’s a 296bhp four-wheel drive hot hatch too, after all.)
Elsewhere changes are few and far between, but that’s no bad thing because the Seat Leon Cupra has always been a stonking little hot hatch. Dynamically there are some small improvements to the chassis, while the full LED headlights are all-new, too. LOOKS AND IMAGE As the fun-loving, youth-orientated horse in the VW stable, Seat has long been known for having more interesting styling than its more conservative relatives, something that’s continued in the angular face-lifted Leon. The Cupra can be specced with bright or- ange wheels, orange wing mirrors and an orange badge on the boot – imagine a Golf coming with that lot from the factory!
As Matthias Rabe, Seat’s vice president for R&D, tells me, ‘if it wasn’t
for access to VW’S shared components, we wouldn’t be capable of making such good cars’, and that build quality is immediately evident. Admittedly, the interior could do with less boring styling to match the brand image, but the build quality is undeniably excellent.
Sporty touches to the Cupra model such as half-alcantara seats help make the Leon Cupra 300 an exciting prospect to drive the second you drop behind the wheel. And with the performance on offer, it more than delivers.
SPACE AND PRACTICALITY The estate variant offers much improved practicality over the hatchback models thanks to an impressively sized boot – 587 litres with the seats up, 1,470 litres with them down.
Driving down a fun road, there’s next-to-no difference between this and the three or five door models, which makes the estate a more logical choice. It’s only about £1,000 more than the hatchback if you stay away from four-wheel drive, which adds another couple of grand to the RRP.
For families looking for an all-in-one, fun family car, the ST Cupra makes fantastic sense. Loads of boot space and plenty of room for the kids makes it ideal for the school run, while the performance on offer means the drive home won’t be dull either.
BEHIND THE WHEEL To keep it simple, there’s only one engine with one power output. It’s a 2.0-litre TSI unit that makes 296bhp and 380Nm of torque. The only variations come in the form of the body styles –SC (three-door), 5 Door, and ST (estate) – and the choice of a six-speed manual or six-speed DSG automatic gearbox.
The engine’s an impressive unit, offering more than enough performance for road driving while still being exciting during a brief, sodden stint on track. Its only drawback is a slight lack of character, though in the sporty Cupra ‘driving mode’ this is made up for with a wicked soundtrack. In front-wheel drive guise, torque steer is even less apparent than before – despite the hike in power and torque – thanks to the clever mechanical differential used by the Leon to put its power into the road.
We spent the bulk of our time in the four-wheel drive variant, which offers extra security when accelerating out of corners, but is way less characterful than the front-wheel drive version. The system tends to err on the side of caution, resulting in occasionally unpredictable power delivery as torque is shifted between the wheels with the most grip – but this is only noticeable in more ‘spirited’ driving.
Its two-wheel drive sibling is much more fun, much more adjustable and should be the car of choice for keen drivers. Couple this to the mostly excellent DSG automatic – the manual gearbox’s clutch action taints the self-shift- ing experience, sadly – and you’ve got your perfect Leon Cupra.
The only complaint we could levy against the 300 is the fact that it just doesn’t feel as special as some rivals. For the money, it’s pitched against the likes of the Honda Civic Type R and Ford Focus RS, which feel infinitely more special. However, the Seat wins as a daily driver, so the decision comes down to needs and wants.
VALUE FOR MONEY As can be expected of a manufacturer’s performance halo model, the specification is impressive. Driver-focused aids include a launch control mode for automatic, four-wheel drive cars, while the electronic stability aids can be fully switched off if the driver desires.
On the inside, the Leon Cupra 300 gets a sporty flat-bottomed Cupra-specific steering wheel, sports seats clad in black Alcantara and an infotainment system with an eight-inch touchscreen, DAB radio and mobile phone connectivity.
Bucket seats are a £1,290 option, while black leather sports seats can be specced at a cost of £1,370. Other options include wireless charging (£165) and a high-resolution navigation system package that includes extra USB ports and a 10GB hard drive for £440. WHO WOULD BUY ONE? Seat is pitched as the youth-orientated brand in the VW Group’s vast line-up, and as such the Leon Cupra has a slightly younger target audience than some rivals. However, it sits in insurance group 33E, so expect premiums to be extortionate for under 25s.
That said, it’s still an utterly brilliant all-rounder. Those keen for driving thrills might be better looking to the Civic Type R, but as a fun family car the Seat Leon Cupra 300 is hard to beat.
The official UK price is still to be confirmed but shouldn’t differ much from the current Cupra 280 ST (£28,505).