Thursday, 23 November 2017

REVIEW – Seat Leon ST Cupra 300 4DRIVE

In more recent times the ‘flanks’ of the VW/Audi Group, if I can call them that, have been doing rather well. Seat and Skoda are now well respected in their own right, no longer seen as cheap alternatives to VW. In fact, I would argue that some models are more appealing than their counterparts. I should know, because I own a Seat Leon ST. Mine is a 2.0-litre 184PS diesel with a DSG box, and I absolutely love it. But, the petrolhead in me wanted to try out the hottest one: the new Cupra 300 4DRIVE. Having heard comparisons to the Golf R, I was extremely excited to get behind the wheel, and give it a bit of stick.

Looks – 10/10

I really like the styling of the Leon. Personally, I think it’s nicer looking than a Golf. Add to that the sporty touches of the Cupra, and you have yourself a fantastic looking car. At the front, the bumper is aggressive, with extra air intakes, a gloss black grille surround and honeycomb grille. Distinctly-shaped daytime running lights and cluster LED headlights create a distinct image in the rear view mirrors of fellow motorists. The mirrors are sharp and angular. To the side, black mirror covers, window surround and roof rails compliment the 19-inch two-tone black/machined alloy wheels. At the back, two large exhausts sit either side of the rear diffuser. The word ‘Cupra’ is spelt out in large letters across the boot, along with the chequered flag badge. A subtle roof spoiler completes the exterior package. A few colours are available, but for me none create the sense of theatre quite like Desire Red. An optional extra it may be, but it is without doubt the best looking colour available.

The sporty theme continues when you open the door and step inside. The standard seats are half leather and alcantara, with ‘Cupra’ embossed onto the backrest. Some of the leather has a carbon fibre effect, which is a lovely detail, and the seats are a harmonious blend of bolstered, to hold you in place, and comfortable, for the longer commutes. Bucketed sports seats are available as an extra, but I think they would only be for show: the standard seats are more than supportive enough. The flat-bottomed steering wheel is chunky, with perforated sides. The whole interior features contrasting white stitching, and the finisher is a nice, shiny gloss black. With a black headlining, the interior is, on the whole, a little dark, but it does work against the bold red exterior. The plastics are the quality you’d expect of a Golf, and the simple dials are crisp and clean, again having the black/white contrast of the rest of the interior. You also customisable mood lighting in the front door cards, allowing you to bring a spot of individuality to what is a great place to be.

Handling/Performance – 10/10

The engine in the Cupra 300 is a 2.0-litre, turbocharged petrol unit. It’s the same EA888 unit from many of the hot VW-Audi Group models, including the Golf R, and it’s an absolute gem. Power is 300PS and 380Nm of torque. This is sent to the tarmac via a 6-speed DSG dual-clutch gearbox, and can be specified with either front-wheel drive, or with 4DRIVE: a Haldex all-wheel drive setup similar to that in the Golf R. My test car had the latter and, thanks to launch control, could sprint from 0-62mph in just 4.9 seconds, and go on to an electronically-limited top speed of 155mph. But what really impresses about the Cupra is the ferocity with which the power is delivered. With the DSG changes being so seamless, the speedo just climbs and climbs, and there is no feeling of let up. You can switch to manual mode on the paddles, and if you’re in the right gear the punch is both hard and instant.

With the 4DRIVE, the Cupra has a level of sure-footedness that is worth every penny. 300PS is a lot, and to put this through the front wheels only would definitely compromise the handling. Whilst I haven’t actually driven the 2WD version, I would expect that when you put the front under heavy load from both cornering and accelerating it will either cut most of the power or start to understeer. But with the 4DRIVE is hugs the apex, sending the perfect amount of power to the rear wheels to push the car round the corner with ease. I tried to catch the 4DRIVE out, by using the launch control in rather sodden conditions. And all that happened was a slight spin of the front wheels that lasted but a fraction of a second, before it caught up with what was going on and took off like a scalded cat. The Cupra comes as standard with Dynamic Chassis Control (DCC) which is in essence, adjustable damping. The beauty is that in Comfort mode it is just that: comfortable. Then stick it in Cupra mode and it noticeably firms up, cornering flat and keeping composed even as you push hard. The electro-mechanical progressive steering has a direct feel to it, and becomes weightier in the sporty drive modes. With paddles just behind a blast down a country lane is most definitely engaging.

Economy – 9/10

Despite its large, estate form and monumental power, the Cupra is very kind on your wallet. With its DSG gearbox, that is as efficient as a manual, start-stop technology, and an Eco drive profile, the combined fuel consumption and CO2 emissions are 39.2mpg and 164g/km respectively. If you drive this car like your hair’s on fire, then you can expect to achieve something in the high 20’s to the gallon, but on a long motorway drive you can achieve a decent return. Road tax will be the flat rate £140, as the Cupra stays under £40,000 and avoids the ‘expensive car’ supplement. First year VED is £500, but since this is absorbed into the purchase price you will most likely neither notice nor care.

Practicality – 10/10

The appeal of a hot hatch has always been that they are far less compromised than a sports car, but with performance to equal them. The Cupra has oodles of power, and makes the average hot hatch look as practical as a glass hammer. Being as estate, the boot is plenty big enough for the pram, the weekly big shop and, with the dog guard accessory fitted, for the family pooch too. Being a 5-door, adults can easily get in the back, and the cabin is as roomy as it looks from the outside. I am a huge fan of the DSG gearboxes; they are just so effortless to drive, and make day to day life a doddle. Being the flagship model, the Cupra is loaded with technology. Standard equipment includes satellite navigation, multimedia including Apple Car Play, cruise control, Dynamic Chassis Control (DCC), dual-zone climate control, auto lights, auto wipers, front and rear parking sensors and LED lights. Optional extras include keyless entry and go (KESSY), adaptive cruise control and a winter pack for our lovely British weather. This is a great car for all the family, all the time.

Fun – 9/10

The most important aspect of any hot hatch, is the fun factor. It must put a smile on your face. Finished in Desire Red my test car was bold, standing out in a car park like dog business on a snooker table. It turned heads in the village, and catching a flash of red as you drove past shop windows was a treat. Only the ST version has the option of the 4DRIVE system, and that makes it the only choice for me. Having 300PS through the front wheels is simply too much, and to really get the most enjoyment out of the drive you need the 4DRIVE. The exhaust note in the Cupra did seem a little subdued, especially considering the pops and bangs that come out of the back of a Golf R, however there is some true induction noise to be heard, especially as you reach the highest heights of the rev range. Any car with launch control is cool, and the reactions from passengers as the Cupra squats and takes off will never cease to be entertaining. The connectivity in the car is wonderful, and Apple Car Play makes the most out of your iPhone. You just want to drive this car: anywhere, and everywhere.

Concluding Remarks

I had a fantastic week with the Cupra. It looks fantastic: Desire Red is a gorgeous colour. The Haldex AWD system is brilliant, and handles the 300PS with ease. I wish there was more involvement from the exhaust, but it’s in no way a deal-breaker. Prices for the 300 ST start at £31,450. The 4DRIVE DSG starts at £34,485, but is definitely worth the extra for driveability and performance. Fully loaded, you’re looking at £38k, which means it’s still a few grand cheaper than the equivalent Golf R. For more information visit the Seat website or see a local dealer. Fortunately, my Leon needs to tow a trailer. If it didn’t, I think I’d be swapping it for a Cupra: it’s still the same practical car, but with a small dose of lunacy for when you want a bit of fun.

Total Score – 48/50


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