In-depth reviews

SEAT Leon ST Cupra review

Power meets practicality in the SEAT Leon ST Cupra, with a winning combination of space and pace

Overall Auto Express Rating

3.0 out of 5

  • Powerful, practical and plenty of kit
  • Quite pricey, not as good to drive as a Focus ST

The SEAT Leon is an exceedingly versatile car, which is part of the reason it won Auto Express Car of the Year in 2013. The latest addition to the stable comes in the shape of the ST Cupra, a load-lugging version of the popular estate model. It’s available only with the most powerful 276bhp 2.0-litre turbocharged engine, but six-speed manual and six-speed DSG gearbox options remain.

For only £995 over the five-door Cupra hatch, the ST boasts 55 per cent more boot space at 587 litres, rising to 1,470 litres with the seats folded flat. Kit is just as generous as you’ll find on the hatch, with 19-inch alloys, subtle bodykit, dual zone climate control and full LED headlamps all fitted as standard.

The ST Cupra joins a growing number of fast estate models being made available on the market. An all-new Ford Focus ST Estate has just been introduced, with a Skoda Octavia vRS Estate already on sale and a VW Golf R Estate due later this year.

Like the hatchback with which this ST Cupra shares all of its mechanical running gear, the estate rides on the MQB architecture. Best of all the estate also comes with the same front limited slip-differential and three stage adaptive dampers as standard.

Engines, performance and drive

Under the bonnet is the familiar 2.0-litre turbocharged petrol engine you’ll find in similar sized VW Group products such as the VW Golf, Skoda Octavia and Audi A3. Here power stands at 276bhp, the most powerful version of the engine on offer. All of that grunt is directed to the front wheels, which sounds like it should give the front axle a severe workout - but clever XDS differential helps manage that power, reducing torque steer and propelling you out of corners with real ferocity.

Despite the added 270mm and extra 45kg thanks to the longer tail, the ST loses none of its tenacity and appetite for fast corners. Dive into a corner with what you think might be too much speed and the diff will shuffle power across the front axle to help maximize traction.

The six-speed manual gearbox comes as standard which is slick and accurate to use but for a £1,355 premium the rapid-fire DSG gearbox is also available. The auto also comes with a launch control feature which propels the ST Cupra from 0-62mph in 6 seconds and onto a top speed of 155mph.

The adaptive dampers give the ST Cupra a wide breadth of abilities, with comfort mode allowing smoother progress and Cupra mode stiffening up the car when you start attacking corners. The steering is a little light - but it's accurate and artificial weight can be added to the rack via this Cupra driving mode. 

MPG, CO2 and Running Costs

Considering the performance economy isn’t too bad either. The six-speed DSG equipped model is fractionally more efficient returning 42.8mpg compared to the manual’s 42.2mpg. As a result CO2 figures fall in the auto’s favour at 154g/km versus 157g/km, but both models fall within the same tax band costing £180 per year. 

The SEAT’s closest rival, the Focus ST Estate, isn’t as good on fuel - it returns 41.5mpg, but Ford does offer a diesel alternative which is capable of 67.3mpg and only 110g/km. That model isn’t as powerful or as fun to drive, however.

Interior, design and technology

Being a top-spec Cupra model, the ST comes with all of the trimmings to help distinguish it from the rest of the Leon range. It sits 10mm lower to the ground than the already sporty FR model and 25mm lower than a basic SE spec Leon. Huge 19-inch alloy wheels come as standard, with a subtle bodyktit and gaping air intakes giving you some idea as to the performance on offer. 

At the rear dual oval exhausts are housed beneath the rear diffuser, while a faint roof-mounted spoiler has also been added. If you want to make the ST Cupra the ultimate family wagon you can also spec SEAT’s Sub8 Performance Pack which adds larger brakes, unique alloys wheels as well as exclusive exterior trim available in a range of colours. 

Inside, a flat-bottomed Cupra steering wheel and smattering of Cupra badges mark out the range topper, but elsewhere the cabin remains the same well-built and robust design you’ll find in the rest of the range. If we’re being critical, we would like a few more bespoke features considering it’s one of the most expensive models SEAT sells, but there’s plenty of standard kit which makes up for the lack of flair. 

Practicality, comfort and boot space

Unsurprisingly, the party piece of the new ST Cupra is its versatility. There’s a whopping 55 per cent more boot space in the ST version over the hatch at 587 litres. Fold the seats flat and that rises to 1,470 litres. That isn’t as spacious as the Skoda Octavia vRS estate but the SEAT does come with a handy split-level boot floor.

Although 270mm longer than the five-door hatch, the ST has the same wheelbase so it’s just as spacious inside. The slightly sloping roofline can make access for taller adults a little tricky but most will have no trouble at all. 

Reliability and Safety

Although you get a considerable amount of added performance with the Cupra, the same running gear and mechanical setup as other models in the range means a Euro NCAP five-star safety rating is carried over, too. To help you manage the performance upgrade, full LED headlamps, a front diff and uprated brakes are also standard features on the ST Cupra. 

While the Leon scores well for safety, SEAT dealerships don’t fare too well when it comes to customer service. In 2014 SEAT came bottom in the Auto Express Driver Power satisfaction survey for the second year in a row. Customers criticised the brand’s customer service above anything else.  

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