The Leon is the centerpiece of SEAT's new era and therefore needs an image vector car: the Cupra. As you know, the Leon CUPRA is one of our favourite compacts, offering sportiness and the ability to be an all-rounder, like the VW Golf, but with more sportiness and a better feel than the Golf GTI.
The SEAT Léon Cupra ST's presentation card is very simple, but tremendously efficient: 280 hp, a 587-litre boot and a lap record in its category - that of station wagons - on the Nordschleife (7'58"1). Sportiness and versatility in a single package. And while the Leon Cupra has no shortage of rivals in the 3-door and 5-door category, in the breakaway version it faces the Ford Focus ST SW and, to a lesser extent, the VW Golf R Variant.
Aesthetically, the car is like its siblings in the Cupra range, discreet. The front is identical, with its full LED headlights and large air intakes, while the rear recovers the two exhaust tails separated by a central diffuser of the Cupra hacthback. The boot lid also inherits a small upper spoiler. The 19-inch wheels are also common to the rest of the Leon Cupra. Anyone who doesn't understand cars won't know that this is a very special sports break.
The Cupra ST is 27 cm longer than the 5-door version. These extra cm are exclusively in the rear overhang. Even so, its design is relatively balanced and manages to hide the 587-litre boot, which can reach a load volume of 1.5 m3 once you fold down the back of the rear seats.
On board, we find the familiar Leon's dashboard, with its taut, sober shapes and careful ergonomics. Of course, the finishes are of the same quality as in the rest of the range. The seats, sportier in this unit, offer an excellent compromise between comfort and lateral support. Given the choice, I prefer the optional semi bucket seats (1,268 euros, but they are also heated and include leather upholstery) that hold better and without losing comfort.
The Leon Cupra ST can be fitted with almost all the latest safety systems, such as the adaptive cruise control with proximity radar that includes emergency braking assistant (395 euros) or the unintentional lane change assistant (associated with the short/long high beam assistant in a pack for 312 euros). Although SEAT offers them at an affordable price, we would have liked these elements, as well as the rear thorax airbag (353 euros), to be part of the standard equipment, especially in the flagship model of the range.
The Leon Cupra ST is characterised by its versatility and ease of use to satisfy the break type user. With its 27 cm more overhang, the boot of the Leon ST is in the average of the segment. It offers 587 litres, more than a Mégane Estate (524 litres), but slightly less than the Golf Variant (605 litres) and the Skoda Octavia Combi (610 litres), but above all considerably less than the Honda Civic Tourer (624 litres).
The cargo area has a double floor, the seat backs (with a ski hatch in the centre) can be easily folded down asymmetrically from the boot, freeing up a really... flat cargo area. Provided the headrests are in their up position (otherwise they raise the backrest slightly). At 1,470 litres, the maximum volume of the Leon ST is enormous. On board, you can load objects up to 2.67 m long if you fold down the front seat backrest (passenger side, obviously).
Behind the wheel
The Leon Cupra ST is only available with the 280 hp 2.0 TSI, there is no 265 hp engine available as in the other two Leon Cupras. The character of this engine is clearly VAG: with a linear delivery (despite its turbo) and a sound that is not particularly suggestive. At that point, you can always override the sound emulator and install a pair of stainless steel exhaust outlets. It's just an idea... On the other hand, it's something common to all Leon Cupras. Just as it doesn't sound particularly interesting, the Leon Cupra ST behaves just as well as its siblings in the range.
The Cupra ST takes corners with great precision, retains trajectory and exits the bend with an ease that only its efficiency matches.
The Cupra ST takes corners with great precision, maintains the trajectory and exits the corner with an ease that only its efficiency can match. The suspensions filter out irregularities very well in Comfort mode, while in Cupra mode they are perhaps excessively hard with trepidations on very deteriorated road surfaces. Personally, I prefer a conventional suspension with good tuning to this type of piloted damping, but SEAT's DCC (Dynamic Chassis Control) does its job perfectly and is one of the best in the segment.
The steering is electrically assisted and variable-ratio (it's the same as on the Golf GTI). It's slower at low speeds and becomes increasingly direct as the pace increases. I still find the Leon's steering really communicative. It's still a very VAG-style steering, i.e. quite filtered, but it's still one of the most communicative of the group.
It is also very reactive. Changes of trajectory are made without blinking and with millimetric precision. And while the overall character of the car is dominated by the front end, the rear end knows how to be reactive, even in this ST version with a longer wheelbase than the Cupra SC and more rear overhang than the Cupra 5-door (+27 cm). In fact, you can position the car with the brakes on corner entry and it pulls to the line with alacrity.
Its slightly understeering character is eliminated by easing off the throttle a bit; the differential will then allow us to go out like a bullet.
Like any other Leon in the Cupra range, its natural tendency is to pull a bit forward if you overdo it on corner entry. However, you just have to ease your foot off the accelerator a little and the rear end will finally follow the car and make it pivot into the corner. On exit, the differential guarantees us the drive we need to go out like a bullet into the next corner. To note that in Cupra mode, the system lets us slide quite a lot, but does not completely disconnect the ESP, although it is possible to do so if you want (ideal in circuit, for example). Whatever the situation, I didn't notice a hint of torque phenomenon in the steering, despite the 280 hp and 350 Nm that have to pass the front wheels.
But I can't say the same in terms of driveability, although there are differences depending on the gearbox fitted. With the DSG gearbox the driveability is good, as the DSG changes gear just when the wheels start to slip, but with a manual gearbox version, it is possible that the traction control will come into action, as on more than one occasion we will make the wheels slip. In other words, with the DSG it will be very easy to achieve a good 0-60 mph time, while with the manual gearbox, the Cupra will put our expertise to the test.
In short, the Leon Cupra ST is tremendously efficient and communicative with the driver. You feel where the front wheels are and what they do, you feel clearly when the rear or the nose is going to go; it's progressive, you know that by cupping your arse it will go away so that you can take the corner well, but never abruptly and in a way that might scare you. Inertia due to the greater weight of the rear? Hardly at all, you have to go to the limit -on the track- to notice it. On a daily basis or attacking a stretch of curves, it's almost imperceptible. Like the Cupra hatchback, its engine has a somewhat linear delivery for a turbocharged car, but you forget about that as soon as you do a few corners, because you feel like you're part of the car and how it reacts to your commands. That's what you expect from a sports car and that's what this Leon Cupra ST delivers. And it offers the same comfort and capability as any other ST in the Leon range.