First Drive: SEAT Leon Cupra R ST ABT

When you need to get a labrador to the park really quickly…

What’s in a name? Well, in the case of this car, quite a lot. Three suffixes seems a little greedy, but it all makes sense. Sort of. Starting at the end and working backwards, ST means this is the estate model, or Sports Tourer in marketing parlance. The R means it goes bloody fast. The Cupra bit? That’s where it gets awkward. At the launch of Cupra as a standalone manufacturer, the top brass were adamant that a Cupra is absolutely not a SEAT (it is.) The argument from SEAT is that, since the Leon existed before Cupra was spun off, it’s fair game to use the name now but it definitely won’t be when the new Leon arrives in 2020. So that’s clear.

What matters is that sticking Cupra on the back of the car means it’s sharper and stronger than the normal R. Finally, there are three extra letters on the back of this particular car; ABT. That’s the name of a German tuning firm that’s been let loose on the car and cranked up the power output from 300hp to 350hp. Remember, this is a sensible family estate car.

How sensible? With the seats in place and the parcel shelf rolled out, there’s 587 litres of boot space. It’s certainly enough for a couple of golf bags, and maybe a trolley too, but it’s marginally smaller than you’ll find in a Volkswagen Golf. Fold the seats down and fill it to the roof and that extends to 1,470 litres, with a sensible shape allowing it to take a mountain bike or two without too much difficulty.

Human cargo is looked after well too, with a surprising amount of space in the rear seats for even unusually long-legged passengers, while those up front get to relax behind a modern, angular dashboard that houses all the equipment you could ever need. Alcantara wraps the steering wheel, and is stitched into various parts of the cabin, while coppoer-coloured trim lends a sophisticated ambience. There’s even a wireless charging pad for the latest smartphones, keeping the cabin cable free. Press the button that adjusts the suspension until the eight-inch infotainment touchscreen screen reads Comfort and it’s even a fine-riding vehicle.

You’re not going to be particularly enamoured by the economy when using the Leon as a family car, as that powerful engine is a tad thirsty. Still, cruising along gently should see it return somewhere just shy of 40mpg, although urban driving, sweeping country lanes and, in fact, any time you press the accelerator will see the average economy plummet alarmingly.

That will be forgotten once you find a B-road to responsibly blast around. The digital rev counter climbs and the ABT-tuned engine’s power is unleashed through a seven-speed automatic gearbox. Speed is gathered quickly, but that gearbox is a tad slow to change, especially off the line. Four-wheel drive ensures all the power is put through to the tarmac, with the combination propelling this practical estate car to 62mph in just 4.7 seconds.

The wide, sticky, tyres and some particularly impressive suspension combine to generate seemingly endless grip (at least in the hot, dry conditions the car was tested in) with a turn in that’s noticeably sharper than other models. That’s probably thanks to ABT fiddling slightly with the suspension and adding a couple of degrees of camber. Brembo brakes bring things to a halt sharply – slightly more sharply than the gearbox can keep up with. They’re dropping out of fashion, but I can’t help but think a manual gearbox would suit the character of the car well.

Others weren’t sure the copper and carbon fibre trim suited the car but, to my eyes, it looks fabulous. Spoilers, splitters, even the wheels, are covered in one or the other, which sounds a tad overwhelming but it works well. Perhaps it’s colour sensitive and wouldn’t be quite so appealing on a bright blue car.

If it all works for you, then you’d best be quick. SEAT is only bringing 150 of them to the UK although, with an asking price of close to £40,000, there might not be that many people queueing up. That would be a shame as there’s nothing this side of a Mercedes AMG C63 (a car that costs double this SEAT) that can offer the same combination of performance and practicality. Apart from the Volkswagen Golf R, that is, a car that shares the same engine and chassis, and costs about the same. I’d still take the SEAT.

Model Tested: SEAT Leon ST CUPRA R 4Drive ABT
Price: £38,975
Range: £19,260 – £38,975
Top speed: 162 mph
0-62 mph: 4.7 seconds
Power: 350 PS (345 bhp)
Torque: 440 Nm (325lb ft)
Monthly PCP*: £532
Official fuel economy: 33.6 mpg
Road test economy: N/A
CO2 Emissions: 164 g/km
Car Tax: £145
Insurance group: N/A
* Monthly PCP estimate based on 20% deposit, 36 month term, 5% APR, final payment of 40%.
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Phil is a motoring writer for print and web, failed racing driver, car hoarder and banger rally competitor. Nominated for the Headline Auto Rising Star award and a MGMW member, Phil freelances for outlets as diverse as Diesel Car magazine, and Cambridge Magazine, amongst many others. He also maintains a fleet of unloved motors, but spends most of his time driving an old Corvette.

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