Fast estate finds itself caught in the middle of the road
Handsome looks
Engine's impressive performance
Cheaper than a Golf R estate
Front tyres struggle for traction
Boot is smaller than a Golf or Octavia estate
More expensive than Focus ST and Octavia vRS estates

First Drive review: Seat Leon ST Cupra 280 (2015)

A fair way off the Golf's pace

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Seat Leon ST Cupra 280 review by Sunday Times Driving

2015 Seat Leon ST Cupra 280 at a glance

  • Handling: ★★★★☆
  • Performance: ★★★★☆
  • Design: ★★★★★
  • Interior: ★★★☆☆
  • Practicality: ★★★☆☆
  • Costs: ★★★☆☆

THERE WAS a time when an estate car marked out its driver as either an antiques dealer hauling a Victorian burr walnut credenza about the place, a parent with a rowdy brood to transport or a dog lover with a pampered pooch slobbering all over the back window.

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Times have changed. A new generation of high-performance estate cars are being peddled by mainstream car makers including Ford, Volkswagen and now Seat. They are for drivers who are at their happiest rising early on a Sunday morning to go driving as if their trousers were on fire. Yes, these are still practical cars with big boots, but a typical owner will spend more time attaching their prized carbon-fibre mountain bike to the roof rack than they will loading it with antiques, children or dogs.

The new Seat Leon ST Cupra 280 hopes to turn to its advantage good looks, a serious turn of speed and a competitive price when it is eyed up against the new estate versions of the Ford Focus ST and VW Golf R.

Forgetting that your labrador is in the back of an estate car that can accelerate from 0 to 62mph in just 6.1 seconds is likely to result in a visit from the RSPCA

The Leon has the same basic underpinnings as the Volkswagen Golf, but the ST moniker stands for “sports tourer”, which is brochure-speak for an estate car. The Cupra 280 part of its name signals that this machine has been fettled by Seat’s sports division and that its turbocharged 2-litre engine develops an eyebrow-raising 280PS (276bhp in old money).

All that comes at a cost – £28,505, to be precise. This means it’s cheaper than the VW Golf R estate and more expensive than the Ford Focus ST and Skoda Octavia vRS estates. It’s an appetising sandwich that the Seat fills, but is it the vital ingredient?

It has the same optional six-speed DSG gearbox as the Golf R and packs an identical 2-litre TFSI four-cylinder engine, albeit tuned down by about 30bhp.

Seat Leon ST Cupra 280 review by Sunday Times Driving

Still, it goes like stink. Forgetting that your labrador is in the back of an estate car that can accelerate from 0 to 62mph in just 6.1 seconds is likely to result in a visit from the RSPCA.

Unlike the Golf R, it doesn’t have Volkswagen’s excellent 4Motion four-wheel-drive system, but instead features the front-wheel-drive layout typical of modern hot hatches. The result is a palpable lack of traction, especially when the accelerator is pinned to the floor and you’re on a greasy surface. Where the tyres of the Golf R estate exploit the engine’s full power with minimal fuss, the Seat’s front tyres struggle for grip, despite the addition of an electronically controlled limited-slip differential.

Seat Leon ST Cupra 280 review by Sunday Times Driving

It’s not a complete no-hoper, though. On a winding B-road the chassis is excellent, over potholes it offers a fair degree of comfort and on longer journeys it provides a relaxing ride, but when judged against the Golf R’s 4Motion system – which can handle corners at eye-popping speeds in most conditions – the Leon’s setup simply can’t compete for composure.

Its engine note is noticeable from within the cabin but it’s mostly turbo whistle reinforced by artificially generated engine noise. By comparison, Volkswagen has spent a lot of time tweaking the exhaust soundtrack of its hot estate, giving it satisfying “parps” on the upshifts.

The interior of the Leon ST Cupra doesn’t live up to the VW’s either. You get Alcantara trim on the sports seats, piano-style black gloss on the dashboard and contrasting leather strips to the doors but the result isn’t particularly harmonious.

Infotainment system Seat Leon ST Cupra 280

Even the top-end satellite navigation system in the Seat is fairly old Volkswagen Group technology; it’s clunky to use and comes with a maximum screen size of 6.5in, whereas the Golf R estate can be specified with a much more responsive unit with an 8in touchscreen, albeit at an additional cost.

The Seat is a good-looking estate car, though. The slashes in the bodywork over the front and rear wheels look as if they were made with a razor, and its LED headlights, alloy wheels and paint colours are sharp and modern. This is one estate car that attracts admiring glances wherever it goes.

However, its rakish looks cost it some capacity in the boot. Although the Leon ST offers 587 litres of load-lugging room when the rear seats are left upright (just behind the Golf R’s 605 litres), when the rear seats are folded flat it’s 150 litres down on the slightly boxy-looking Golf R estate, which offers 1,620 litres. A Focus ST estate (476 litres) is substantially less capacious than either, while the Octavia estate (610 litres) is the roomiest of the lot.

Seat Leon ST Cupra 280 has a 587-litre boot capacity

If you want to save some money, both the Focus and Skoda are well worth a test drive and are several thousand pounds cheaper.

The Seat Leon ST Cupra 280 is a lovely car in which to while away the miles, but the price saving over a Golf R estate doesn’t make up for the lack of four-wheel drive, and it’s not so much better to drive than the Focus or Octavia that you’d be pleased you’d spent the extra. By sticking to the middle of the road, this fast estate car feels as though it could end up being passed by.

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The one to buy

2015 Seat Leon ST Cupra 280 specifications

  • Price: £28,505
  • Engine: 1984cc, 4 cylinders, turbocharged, petrol
  • Power: 276bhp @ 5600rpm
  • Torque: 258 lb ft @ 1700rpm
  • Transmission: 6-speed manual
  • Performance: 0-62mph in 6.1 seconds
  • Top speed: 155mph
  • Fuel: 42.2mpg (combined)
  • CO2: 157g/km
  • Road tax band: G (£180 a year)
  • Release date: On sale now

Seat Leon ST Cupra 280 rivals

Skoda Octavia vRS estate, £24,705 (view cars for sale)

  • For Cheaper to buy and run; huge boot; not too flashy
  • Against No way near as fun to drive

Ford Focus ST estate, £22,195 (view cars for sale)

  • For Entertaining to drive and more affordable
  • Against Engine isn’t as powerful; boot is a lot smaller