Are you a family man who doesn’t want to transport luggage with an SUV or people carrier? You’ll still need space and power to avoid running out of time every morning when you take your kids to school. Well, SEAT has a solution for you and it's called the Leon ST Cupra.
What’s that, you ask? A five-door station wagon with a powerful drivetrain under the bonnet. However, today power alone does not buy happiness. So is this compact class loadmaster fun on anything else than straight roads? To find out, we traveled to the island of Mallorca and its twisty and narrow roads part of the Tramuntana mountains.
Station wagons. This type of car body is an European phenomenon and has taken generations of families on vacation, to the grandparents’ or just out for the weekend. Mercedes-Benz added a noble dimension to the wagon with its T-Modell while Audi made them pretty with their Avants.
How about everywhere else in the world? Well, Americans think that cars with almost vertical tailgates and an interior with a flat loading area are the best, while the shopping-mad Chinese prefer a sedan with a lot of legroom for the back seats, instead of cargo space in the rear.
Nowadays, the only thing all nations have in common is their love for Sport Utility Vehicles or SUVs for short. Therefore you really have to appreciate the fact that the Spanish manufacturer has not only brought a really attractive station wagon to the market in 2013 with the Leon ST, but has also expanded its range with the hot ST Cupra in early 2015.
ST makes the Leon spacious, Cupra fast
Compared to the five-door hatch, the ST is 27 cm (10.6 in.) longer and comes with 587 liters (20.7 cu. ft.) of luggage space. Flick the quick-release lever in the boot to drop the seats and you can easily extend that to 1,470 liters (51.9 cu in.). It all happens behind the rear axle because the wheelbase is identical to its shorter brother. Summarizing, you have to lug around an extra 45 kg (100 lbs) for a lot of more loading capacity and a sexier back.
But if you want to be really fast in the ST Cupra, you have to take a closer look at the SEAT price list, because between just-being-quick-in-a-straight-line and I-am-a-sleeper-with-a-huge-luggage-compartment there are a few crucial technical details and a minimum of 5,000 extra Euros, which must be approved by the CFO of your family. First things first: fun starts with the SEAT Leon Cupra ST 265 at €32,950. As the name suggests (mostly) men and (rarely) women can play with 265 horsepower.
We won’t go over the details of this version because its sales quota is below 10%
, as everyone else goes for the hotter 280 HP
version. However, you should be careful because right here is where the first mistake can be made to spoil the driving pleasure. If you want a true driver's experience, our tip is to save €1,700 and skip on the twin-clutch gearbox.
Instead you should go with the six-speed manual in the longtail Spaniard for €34,250. Yes, the DSG saves up to four-tenths of a liter of fuel, emits less CO2 and accelerates 0.1 seconds faster to 100 km/h (62 mph), but it has a couple of downsides. For example, it shifts early at times, before reaching the red line.
And that's exactly what racing mums and dads want to avoid when they are in a hurry. For one of the fastest cars of the brand - its name "Cupra" derives from "Cup Racer" – this is really a regrettable programming of the transmission's electronic control unit. The only solution is the manual to be master of the shifting situation. The gear lever is running precisely through the six shifting gates in even the wildest driving scenarios and you feel much more integrated in the driving process.
It is a pity that the ESP
, despite the promise of the public relations department, cannot be completely turned off and still steps in a bit rigidly if it thinks the situation is getting out of hand. Perhaps the Electronic Stability Control intervention is explained by the arising axle-tramp when you floor the accelerator in the first two ratios not sensibly enough.
Must have: manual gearbox and the Performance Pack
How did we find that out? Believe it or not, there’s a race track on the Balearic Island. Less than 15 minutes away from Palma's beach party-mile you'll find the 3.2 km long (2 miles) Circuito Mallorca. Of course, this is not a track for big international motorsport events, but it was just right for grilling the hot Leon. Therefore, after a few laps we found out the next tip for the enthusiast parent: spend the money saved on the gearbox selection on the Performance Pack.
For €2,530 you not only get more muscular side skirts, some color accents and a different wheel design, but also a powerful biting Brembo 4-piston brake system with 370 x 32 mm perforated front discs. Equipped with this package you will always find the best braking point, even after many hot laps at 30°C outside temperature and 70°C for the tires. Standard on all engine-gearbox combinations is the surprisingly good limited slip differential lock. It significantly improves the traction and handling of this front-wheel-drive car.
The system uses a multi-plate package that is hydraulically actuated and electronically controlled. Therefore, it does not use the brakes to imitate a classic limited slip differential. This version of LSD
eliminates most of the torque steer and has - compared to a mechanical solution - no negative impact on the straight-ahead behavior. The whole thing is supported by the onboard DCC (Dynamic Chassis Control), a damper system adapting the chassis characteristics to the prevailing conditions in a matter of milliseconds. You can choose between the Comfort, Sport, Individual and Cupra profile on the touchscreen in the center console. But even with the firmest Cupra-mode, the 4,54-meter (178.4 inches) long “sports truck” is riding brilliantly and not too harsh. Too sad the progressive steering is always a bit callous and should provide a little more precision and feedback.
And another thing seems disruptive: the engine noise. Yes, we know a four-cylinder turbo petrol engine will never sound like a natural aspirated V8. Even so, the powerful hard-hitting 350 Nm (258 lb-ft) the 2-liter engine always sounds a bit dull and with the Cupra button pressed, the Spanish compact wagon feels somehow weird thanks to the so called “sound actuator” tha trying to modulate an angry noise.
The optional bucket seats are yet another must have not only because they look cool but also because the car is so potent on and off the track, you'll need all the support and bolstering you can get. That is also our last fun tip, because for €1,350 you can get a pair of front seats which significantly increase lateral support without restricting the suitability for everyday use.
Michelin semi-slicks: the heart says yes, the mind says no.
There’s only one option on which we’re still undecided: the Michelin Pilot Sport Cup 2 semi-slicks. The delightfully sticky 235/35-19 tires for an extra €530 get quickly up to operating temperature on the sunny and warm Spanish island but in the gray everyday life in central Europe this tire choice may not always satisfy urgent parents.
Not going with the sticky Michelins brings a small advantage: your luggage does not get mixed up so easily due to the slower cornering speeds. Instead you can load larger items through the wide, square shape of the backdoor with no lip and the seats lying almost flat when folded. The rear bench is also spring-loaded, so you can fold the rear seats down by pulling a lever in the load bay. Sometimes life can be so easy.
Unfortunately the interior does not rise to the high quality standard like its German Volkswagen Golf Variant sibling. The Cupra is unable to set itself apart from its less powerful Leon brothers even with its bespoke touches like alloy pedals, gloss black inserts and two-tone seats. But to be honest that’s complaining on a high comfort level because the Seat Leon Cupra has a spot-on driving position and a long list of standard equipment including Climatronic, a multimedia system with a 5.8-inch color touchscreen and cruise control to name only a few.
SEAT has found a brilliant niche for its Leon Cupra ST 280. It's more fun than the little spacier Skoda Octavia Combi RS (220 hp, €31,150), it's more powerful and classier than the Ford Focus ST (250 hp, €30,050) but not as expensive as the four-wheel drive VW Golf Variant R (300 PS, €42,925). So they made a cool calculation in hot Spain for a hot hatch station wagon that works. Meanwhile in Germany 50% of all sold Leon Cupra (three-door, five-door, station wagon) models are ST.