Overpowered hatchbacks are nothing new, with sensible but sporty models dating back decades. However, sporty compact estates are something of a new breed, offering practically all of the speed and handling prowess of the hatchbacks they’re based on with an extra dose of practicality.

The latest to arrive is the 276bhp Seat Leon ST Cupra 280, which shares the same ballistic acceleration of the standard Leon Cupra but with a supersized boot too.

Seat isn’t the only brand dipping its toes in the water of performance estate cars, however, with Volkswagen recently launching the Golf Estate R which offers an even more indecent horsepower tally of 296bhp along with four-wheel drive. Ford also sells petrol and diesel Focus ST models in estate form.

What is it?

This is the range-topping Leon ST, which comes with a potent 2.0-litre turbocharged motor under the bonnet and plenty of design and performance options to jazz up the exterior and give it even greater handling prowess, varying from gaudy orange-tinged alloy wheels to upgraded brakes and sticky high performance tyres.

Unsurprisingly, the ST Cupra shares the sporty additions of the Cupra hatchbacks, without compromising the load space of the normal estate, with a hefty 587-litre boot with the rear seats up, which expands to 1,470 litres with the rear seats dropped.

What is it like to drive?

Impressively, the Cupra ST retains all of the smaller, lighter hatchback’s on-road prowess. This means it boasts sharp, meaty steering, well weighted pedals and a slightly notchy gearchange when kitted out with the standard manual gearbox. The brakes are also suitably substantial to stop the ST quickly.

Even over bumpy and twisty roads the Cupra remains composed and relatively comfortable with a smooth ride, meaning that it manages to tick both the sports car box and the family car box. With no sense that the extra weight of the estate shell has dulled its responses this car offers good body control around corners making for a very satisfying driving experience.

Fiddle with the selectable driving modes and you can notice a big difference in the engine note, throttle response and ride comfort, adding to its all-purpose appeal. The first impression of the ST Cupra, however, is the immense power on tap, which catapults the car down the road with real enthusiasm. Despite this, the front tyres offer decent traction and don’t tug at the steering wheel in the way that the less powerful Focus ST does.

What is it like inside?

The Leon feels a rung below the related VW Golf on the inside, with a slightly less upmarket interior. Interior quality is good, however, with a solid dashboard and easy to use controls for the air conditioning and media system. The media screen could be bigger, though, being dwarfed by some rivals.

Extremely clear analogue dials for the speedometer and rev counter, a good view of the road ahead and narrow pillars front and back only add to the easy driving experience. The seats are also relatively comfortable, though they don’t offer the most side support around corners.

Is it practical?

Absolutely. There is no real sacrifice in the practicality stakes in having a ST Cupra rather than a regular petrol or diesel model. Bootspace is generous, while passengers front and rear should have no complaints about not having enough room to play with, though the transmission tunnel does make the middle rear seat slightly less comfortable.

The low profile tyres are likely to prove more expensive to replace than those fitted to lesser models, but overall this Seat should prove more than practical enough for most buyers, though the Golf Estate does offer a little extra space in the boot.

Should I buy one?

The Leon ST Cupra is an extremely appealing machine, managing to blend the thrills of the standard Cupra hatchback with the practicality of the estate. It compares favourably with rivals too, offering a more exciting driving experience than the Ford Focus ST, though the VW Golf R Estate provides similar attributes with even more power for a slight premium.

Buyers after a sporty estate car to cart friends and family around in and to blast down back roads from time to time, the Leon ST Cupra is an excellent option.

The facts

Seat Leon ST Cupra 280

List price: £29,205
Engine: 2.0-litre, turbocharged four-cylinde
Power: 276bhp
Top speed: 155mph
0-62mph: 6.1 seconds
Fuel economy: 31.7mpg (urban), 50.4mpg (extra-urban) 41.5mpg (combined)
Emissions: 158g/km CO2
Euro NCAP rating: Not yet tested

Chris Lloyd


July 17, 2015