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Volkswagen Golf R Estate vs SEAT Leon ST Cupra 280

Which fast estate is the king of the load?

High-performance estate cars are all the rage these days. Not so long ago, go-faster load-carriers were the preserve of premium brands such as Audi, BMW and Mercedes. In recent years, though, mainstream makers have been getting in on the act and sending their workaday wagons to the gym for a muscular makeover.

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The latest addition to the fray is the Golf R Estate, which takes the potent turbo and all-wheel-drive transmission of the hatch and wraps it in a more practical body. Boasting a heady 296bhp and a 605-litre boot, it promises to perfectly blend performance and practicality. However, this tempting combination doesn’t come cheap, starting at £33,585. Plus, unlike the hatch version of the R, the Estate is available only with the brand’s six-speed DSG twin-clutch gearbox.

Squaring up to the Golf is a closely related rapid rival: the SEAT Leon ST Cupra. We’re already big fans of the five-door, which scooped Hot Hatch honours in our 2015 New Car Awards, so an estate should be even more appealing. With the same MQB underpinnings as the Golf, a 276bhp 2.0-litre turbo, uprated suspension and a trick diff, the Leon will represent a stern test for the VW. Even more so when you consider its eye-catching £29,205 price. So, which of our hard-hitting estate cars is going to carry off the winner’s trophy in this encounter?

Head to head

Space race

These cars are as much about practicality as performance, and the Golf takes first blood with its larger 605-litre boot. It extends its advantage with the seats folded.

Yet the Leon hits back with its thoughtfully laid-out load bay that features remote release handles and an underfloor area for storing the load cover when it’s not in use.

On track

Trip computers and built-in lap timers show that both models are designed to hit the track.

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However, the SEAT goes one stage further with its optional Sub8 pack, which adds bigger brakes, subtle aero tweaks, lighter alloy wheels and super-sticky Michelin tyres.

Gearbox

A six-speed DSG automatic is standard on the Golf R Estate, while the Leon gets a six-speed manual. Cupra buyers can add a twin-clutch set-up for £1,355 – and like the unit on the VW, it brings a launch control system for consistently fast starts.

Verdict

1st. Volkswagen Golf R Estate

It’s expensive to buy and trails the Leon on kit, but the Golf is one of the ultimate all-rounders. It has huge performance, engaging handling, great all-weather composure and is very practical. Whether you’re commuting to work, on the school run, taking a family holiday, blasting down a slippery back road or attacking a track, the VW has it covered. Strong residuals offset the price premium, too. 

2nd. SEAT Leon ST Cupra 280

The Leon misses out on victory by the narrowest margin. On paper, it really appeals. It’s cheaper to buy, better equipped, nearly as fast and just as practical. It also looks great and rivals the Golf’s premium feel. Yet this test is as much about pace and driving fun as boot space and the bottom line, and the SEAT doesn’t have the VW’s dynamic polish and all-weather security.

Other options for similar money

NEW: Ford Focus ST Mountune Estate

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Price: £24,790 Engine: 2.0-litre 4cyl, 271bhp

The tuned Focus ST closes on the SEAT for muscle, with the Mountune kit upping power by 24bhp, and it claims 0-62mph in six seconds. Handling isn’t as polished as Leon’s, but hairy-chested the Ford is full of character.

USED: Audi S4 Avant

Price: £29,900 Engine: 3.0-litre V6, 328bhp

Upmarket Audi has even more power than Golf, while quattro all-wheel drive inspires confidence. Interior quality is impeccable, and at this budget you can buy a lightly used 2013 car with the desirable Black Edition upgrade.

Figures

 Volkswagen Golf R EstateSEAT Leon ST Cupra 280
On the road price/total as tested£33,585/£36,675£29,205/£31,520
Residual value (after 3yrs/36,000)£17,196/51.2%£12,792/43.8%
Depreciation£16,389£16,413
Annual tax liability std/higher rate£1,801/£3,602£1,506/£3,013
Annual fuel cost (12k/20k miles)£2,076/£3,461£1,788/£2,980
Ins. group/quote/road tax band/cost34/£524/G/£18033/£535/G/£180
Cost of 1st/2nd/3rd service£15.99pm (3yrs/30k)£19.99pm (3yrs/30k)
   
Length/wheelbase4,596/2,630mm4,543/2,631mm
Height/width1,467/1,795mm1,431/1,816mm
Engine4cyl in-line/1,984cc4cyl in-line/1,984cc
Peak power/revs 296/5,500 bhp/rpm276/5,600 bhp/rpm
Peak torque/revs 380/1,800 Nm/rpm350/1,700 Nm/rpm
Transmission 6-spd DSG auto/4wd6-spd man/fwd
   
Fuel tank capacity/spare wheel50 litres/space saver50 litres/repair kit
Boot capacity (seats up/down)605/1,620 litres587/1,470 litres
Kerbweight/payload1,574/581kg1,440/540kg
Turning circle10.9 metres10.7 metres
Basic warranty (miles)/recovery3yrs (60,000)/1yr3yrs (60,000)/2yrs 
Service intervals/UK dealersVariable/22310,000 miles (1yr)/128
Driver Power manufacturer/dealer pos.22nd/30th15th/27th
Euro NCAP: Adult/child/ped./stars94/89/65/594/92/70/5
   
0-60/30-70mph4.5/4.1 secs6.4/5.1 secs
30-50mph in 3rd/4th2.4/3.3 secs2.6/3.9 secs
50-70mph in 5th/6th4.4/5.7 secs4.7/5.9 secs
Top speed/rpm at 70mph 155mph/2,600rpm155mph/2,600rpm
Braking 70-0/60-0/30-0mph 46.0/35.6/8.9m46.2/35.9/8.5m
Auto Express econ (mpg/mpl)/range31.0/6.8/341 miles36.0/7.9/396 miles
Govt urban/extra-urban/combined 32.8/47.1/40.4mpg31.7/50.4/41.5mpg
Govt urban/extra-urban/combined 7.2/10.4/8.9mpl6.9/11.0/9.1mpl
Actual/claimed CO2/tax bracket211/162g/km/27%181/158g/km/26%
   
Airbags/Isofix/park sensors/cameraSeven/yes/yes/£170Seven/yes/yes/£215
Auto gearbox/stability/cruise controlYes/yes/yes£1,355/yes/yes
Climate control/leather/heated seatsYes/yes/£355Yes/£695/£360
Met paint/xenon lights/keyless go£540/yes/£360£575/LED/no
Sat-nav/USB/DAB radio/Bluetooth£765/yes/yes/yesYes/yes/yes/yes
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