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Seat Leon Cupra review: AWD 296bhp estate driven

£32,605 when new

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A Seat Leon review. Which one’s this?

This is in the Seat Leon ST Cupra 300 4Drive, to give it its full and unnecessarily long name.

You’ll know that ‘Cupra’ means it’s the fast one, and possibly that ST means it’s the Estate. If we told you it was a replacement for the Cupra 290, which had a nice, round, 290 horsepower, you could probably guess what the 300 means, too.

Then you’ve got 4Drive, which, predictably, means there’s all-wheel drive on board. Pedants might tack DSG onto that for the double-clutch automatic gearbox. 

AWD? That’s new…

Indeed it is – the AWD wagon heads a range of refreshed Cupras that, broadly, looks the same as it did before.

So you can have a three-door ‘SC’ hatch, a five-door hatch or an ‘ST’ estate like this one – all with a choice of six-speed DSG or manual transmissions. Power is up from 286 to 296bhp (or 300PS in Europe-speak, hence the name) from the 2.0-litre turbo four, plus there’s more torque – taking you from 258 to 280lb ft.

All the changes Seat made for the ordinary Leon’s facelift are also present. These include sharper bumpers, more driver assistance tech, plus a smattering of interior alterations like new (very good) sat nav and an electronic handbrake instead of a conventional ratchet. 

Mechanical changes from 290 to 300 are limited to the extra power (and even that was an ECU mod), though we’re assured there have been some (imperceptible) tweaks to the chassis and damping setup. 

So, can I have an AWD hatch? 

Nope. Seat already had a Leon ST-friendly all-wheel-drive system lying around (the Haldex job from the Leon XPerience, among others) and besides: why should it wade into battle with the mechanically alike, already-AWD VW Golf R and Audi S3? Maybe somewhere down the line. But for now, the all-wheel drive Cupra comes only as an estate, and only with a DSG. 

Ah. Should that bother me? 

Depends. This is a different kind of Cupra to the hatches we know and admire. Grippier, yes, and thus no doubt much faster along a damp, winding B-road, but not quite as agile, involving or exciting.

Turning in on a trailing throttle or lifting mid-bend doesn’t really do anything to excite the rear-axle, at least not as speeds you might legally attain. And let’s face it, you’ll not be on track in this particular Cupra.

Once the system’s shuffled power around, you’re pulled free from the corner with little drama, and certainly none of the scrabbling of the FWD car. All very easy, predictable and fuss-free, if not especially exciting in a conventional sense. This is a Cupra whose edges have been chamfered – its movements aren’t quite as crisp and well-defined as the standard car’s (blame the extra 79kg over a standard FWD ST with equivalent spec) and yes, that’s a shame, but hardly the end of the world. 


See, in many ways the AWD ST reminds us of the Audi S4, because it delivers the same kind of thrills in much the same way. It’s that unyielding sense that all the power can be deployed anytime, whether the road surface is wet, dry, bumpy or smooth.

Sure it’s not the most involving car to drive quickly, but we suspect it would be an immensely satisfying thing to live with day-to-day. And with a 0-62mph time of 4.9secs (a full second faster than the next quickest ST), it’s exactly as quick as the S4 Avant off the line, too.

So it’s comfy? 

Yep – a thoroughly nice thing to bumble about in, in fact. Even with the standard-fit DCC adjustable dampers in their firmest mode there’s still enough play in the ride not to upset your passengers. And because in essence this is an ordinary Leon ST, it’s spacious and well-appointed inside. See our reviews of the Cupra 290 and Leon ST for more on that front.

Is there a ‘but’ coming? 

Yes, and that ‘but’ takes the form of the also recently-facelifted VW Golf R Estate.

Why? Because the Golf is only about £800 more than the Leon. Granted, the Seat gives more kit (the adaptive dampers, for example), is more interesting to look at, and despite a 10bhp deficit, is just as fast. But it’s not as fun (assuming the VW’s facelift hasn’t ruined it).

Unless Seat does you a good deal, we’d be tempted to somehow find the extra cash. But similarly, if you for some reason can’t have/don’t want the Golf - the Seat is a fine car, well worth considering.   

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