Seat has given the Leon Cupra hot hatch­back even more go for 2017. Dar­ren Cassey went to see whether power re­ally does cor­rupt

Belfast Telegraph - NI Carfinder - - Front Page - BY DAR­REN CASSEY

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).

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