New SEAT Leon ST Cupra 300 estate 2017 review
Muscular four-wheel-drive SEAT Leon ST Cupra 300 estate offers appealing blend of space and pace
This isn’t the best Leon estate available, but as a niche player the ST Cupra 300 does deliver the prodigious pace that some people will want from a family wagon. It’s on par with the Golf R Estate in those terms, although the SEAT’s price advantage over the Volkswagen is likely to be reduced once you get down to monthly rates. And while the Leon is more powerful than the Ford Focus ST estate, it’s not as enjoyable to drive.
Here at Auto Express we’re big fans of the SEAT Leon ST, which offers a good blend of practicality and efficiency mixed with reasonably generous equipment lists. But now there’s a new flagship version of the Spanish family estate, which has very different goals: the Leon ST Cupra 300.
You can buy a Cupra 300 version of the Leon wagon with front-wheel drive and a manual gearbox. However, the version we’re driving here gets 4Drive four-wheel drive, and is available only with a six-speed DSG dual-clutch transmission.
The rest of the Cupra 300’s powertrain is unchanged, though, which means 296bhp and a hefty 380Nm of torque from 1,800rpm to 5,500rpm. And while the ST 4Drive does weigh a few kilos more than its smaller stablemates, this is more than overcome with the extra traction provided by its Haldex-based four-wheel-drive system. This is the fastest-accelerating Cupra 300 of all, in fact, with a 0-62mph time of 4.9 seconds and electronically limited top speed of 155mph.
Car group tests
Cupra 300 spec brings a few styling modifications, with 19-inch alloy wheels, a different finish on the grille plus revised front and rear bumpers. While all this is not about to turn the ST into a track racer, there’s enough scope in the options list for you to create anything from a subtle performance estate to a lairy wagon that screams for attention.
The pinnacle of this is the Performance Pack, which comes in two guises (Black or Orange, depending on which shade of highlights you prefer) and includes high-performance Brembo brakes and lightweight alloy wheels. It adds more than £2,000 to what already looks a pretty hefty list price, mind you.
The interior is much more subtle – to the point where we wish there was a bit more Spanish flair. The Leon’s touchscreen increases in size from 6.5 inches to eight, but apart from the odd flourish of gloss black detailing, a Cupra logo on the flat-bottomed steering wheel and a ‘4Drive’ badge on the centre console, there’s not a lot to tell you that you’re driving SEAT’s flagship estate.
At least practicality doesn’t take a hit. The Haldex system’s packaging doesn’t affect the Leon ST’s load bay, which offers 587 litres of capacity when the rear seats are in place and 1,470 when they’re folded down. These figures aren’t quite the best in the class – if your top priority is space, then go to your Skoda dealer instead and ask about an Octavia Estate – but the boot itself is pretty well shaped and there’s no awkward lip to carry loads over.
On the road, the ST Cupra 300 succeeds in delivering a faster experience. The surge of power kicks in below 2,000rpm, and it’ll rev through to 6,000rpm if you want it to.
Find yourself on a twisty road, though, and you’re likely to be more than a little frustrated. It’s true that the ST has bags of grip, and feels sure-footed through fast, flowing corners. However, the extra mass located towards the rear end means it’s not quite as happy to change direction as quickly as, say, the Ford Focus ST estate. You can also feel the weight moving around if you get too ambitious.
The transmission offers pretty quick changes through the paddles that are mounted on the steering wheel, but it’s unfortunate that such a performance-focused machine forces you to push the gearstick forwards in order to shift up. It’s a movement you simply wouldn’t find on any competitor car.
Also, while you can switch into ‘manual mode’, the car will still shift up automatically when you get to the red line – so you end up trying to second-guess it if you’re really pushing along.