2017 SEAT Leon CUPRA 300 review – road and track

What is it?

The new facelifted fire-breathing hot hatch from SEAT with more power and more torque.  Upgraded exterior styling and interior quality with a range of new options available.

Introduction

I’m in Barcelona for the International media launch of the new LEON CUPRA 300. The latest generation of SEAT’s fastest ever road car.

This car is evolution, rather than revolution. After all, how can you top an already exceptional car as found in the CUPRA 290 and its predecessor the 280 launch model.

The new CUPRA 300 is part of the Leon’s mid-life face-lift which sees improvements to the interior including new door cards, new ambient lighting options, electronic parking brake and a larger 8” (up from 6.5”) colour touch screen, with smartphone integration (MirrorLink, Android Auto and Apple CarPlay) fitted as standard. There is also a range of additional options for the CUPRA including bucket seats, Keyless Entry, a Connectivity Hub (wireless charger, enhanced screen and 10GB jukebox) and advanced driving assistance packs.

The interior cabin has got a bit darker as well with the seats losing the white trim, in favour of a carbon fibre effect. As a previous owner of a 280, this is welcome as the white seat bolsters would always catch the dye from my jeans, resulting in regular cleaning being required.

 

For the exterior, the CUPRA features a new wheel design with a two-tone alloy and gloss black finish (still at 19”), new bumper designs with a more aggressive look and a new lighting pattern for the daytime running lights that matches the Ateca. Also, there are front LED fog lights in the lower bumper and new air intakes as part of the redesign.

Under the hood, there are no real changes, with the exception of the increased horsepower by 10 (over the 290), and notably an increase in torque from 350Nm to 380Nm. Of course, the ST version is available with a 4Drive system providing power to all four wheels. This model is only available with the automatic DSG gearbox.

The CUPRA retains the 3 body style options in three-door SC, five-door and as mentioned the ST estate.

A performance pack is expected to be available to order in the UK soon which adds a new fin style side skirt design, rear window fins (not standard like they were on the 290 model) and Brembo Brakes with drilled discs. Michelin Pilot Sport Cup 2 tyres are an additional option on this pack as well.

In the market, the CUPRA 300 is up against the Ford Focus ST and RS, the Honda Civic Type-R, Skoda vRS and the VW Golf GTI and R.

With headline performance figures of 0-60 on 4.9 seconds (ST 4Drive DSG) and 5.6 (SC with DSG) and the same mechanical differential the CUPRA 300 promises to be just as good, if not better than the outgoing 290 model.

Join me as we find out on both road and track in a very wet Barcelona…

Road Test – Leon CUPRA 300 SC DSG

The first car I went out in was the SC DSG without the performance pack. SEAT had selected a 35-minute route that was a mixture of winding roads and motorway so it was a good opportunity to experience the car at the two extremes – in the bends and cruising at speed.

Despite being on the left-hand side of the car it felt like home again having been without my 280 for about 6 months. The cabin is very similar, but the improved quality on the door cards was most interesting to me. My 280 had developed the dreaded door creak after about 10K miles and it was annoying, but I had learnt to live with it. I used to push the door card to try and stop it from making the noise with little success. But when I did you could feel some play in the plastic insert. This has completely gone in the 300 (and the facelift Leon generally) the Cupra’s door card feels solid and is a nice Alcantara texture. The white strips have been replaced with a carbon fibre effect on the doors as well as the seats which looked nice.

The bigger screen is a welcome addition and the cabin generally is a great place to be. I like my dark CUPRA cabins and this one is even darker than the last one with the flashes of red from the CUPRA badging and the red glow from the doors setting it off nicely.

On the road, the car felt great, as to be expected. Despite the wet weather I basically floored it and lapped up the addictive sound of the engine and exhaust (and yes the controversial symposer).

The car pulled harder than I remember mine doing, but that could be down to the extra power, or simply my memory having faded over the last 6 months. It’s a shame I couldn’t do a back to back test.

Either way, I immediately had a grin on my face as the car rocketed up the hill and I turned into the twisty bits. The road was a bit crumbly at the edges with some big puddles, so I didn’t go mad, but the car handled the twists and turns easily. It gives you the feeling of being really connected with the road and as the car was in CUPRA mode the suspension was running on its firmest setting.

I couldn’t get up much speed on the bends as a) I didn’t want to kill myself and b) there was a speed limit. I had to save the silliness for the track later.

After stopping for a couple of shots and braving the rain I headed back down the motorway stretch. As expected the car settled into an effortless cruise and was very comfortable, even still in CUPRA mode. Had I wanted more comfort I could have changed the damper settings, but the motorway was nice and smooth so there was no need.  The dynamic chassis option does come in handy on the UK roads however.

Before dropping the car back I decided to mount the GoPro to the back bumper to capture the exhaust sound. Unfortunately, the wet surface noise is noticeable but you can still hear the exhaust well enough.

On the Track

I had a couple of track sessions. Jordi Gené was running the pace car which was a LEON CUP RACER.

All the track cars were performance pack vehicles, but no 4Drives. They were reserved for the skid track which I’ll cover later.

Jordi briefed us before going round that the cars were running the optional sports tyres which were not gripping as well in the wet. Due to the conditions, he advised to take it steady and watch for the standing water on the track.

 

One of SEAT’s photographers snapped me going round the track which was nice of him.

 

 

I am by no means a track veteran and usually end up falling behind the pace car and the other journalists, and today was no exception. I had great fun, though, which is what counts!

The car was great on the track, despite the conditions and I only had a few hairy moments but I just took my foot off the accelerator and it straightened itself up again. It would have been nice to have driven the 4Drive on the racetrack but SEAT had plans for us to experience the four wheel drive on the smaller much twistier track next door.

4Drive ST

I then moved onto the test track where SEAT had lined up a couple of ST 4Drive CUPRAs with the Orange Line Performance Pack.  The track had been coned off and due to the weather, it was only partially in use.

I had a short briefing and then went out onto the track with one of the SEAT team.

We did an initial lap to learn the layout then the SEAT chap encouraged me to push the car harder into the corners. Upon reflection I probably held off too much he kept insisting I drive faster!  I did feel the four wheel drive a couple of times, though, although only briefly.  Again, it would have been nice to have been able to drive the 4Drive back to back with the front wheel drive cars on the main track.

This was still a fun little circuit however and whilst the orange line is not to my taste, the ST’s still don’t feel like estates when you are driving them.

Historical cars

SEAT had brought along some previous generation Leon CUPRA models. Specifically the MK1 V6 4WD, the MK1 LCR 225 and the MK2 CUPRA R.

It was nice to see these cars and I drove the V6 around the track.  The cars are cherished by SEAT so anyone driving them was accompanied by one of the men who works in the SEAT Museum where the cars normally live.

It was fun being behind the wheel of a MK1 again and the V6 engine had a lovely sound.  It’s a shame the car never made it to the UK.  I do still think how great it would be to have a MK1 again as a second car.  I know they still have a strong following on our forums, especially the MK1 Leon CUPRA R, which amongst members has become a bit of a cult classic.

Dinner with Dr Matthias Rabe, SEAT Executive Vice-President for Research and Development – Even Hotter Cupra on the way?

At dinner members of SEAT’s Executive committee were there and Dr Rabe spent some time talking to us at our table.

He talked about the importance of CUPRA for the brand and how his focus is on a fast and nimble car that is also just as capable as an everyday driver. SEAT have certainly achieved that with the Leon CUPRA.

Dr Rabe is known for testing different powerplants and setups on cars, for example, he is currently driving an ATECA with CUPRA brakes and a more powerful engine in 4WD which made an appearance as he left.

When asked, he hinted we can expect to see more “good things” from CUPRA in the next few years, with something additional towards the end of this year on the Leon front. He did not say the letter “R” and we could be looking at just some more styling pack options. He did ask us how we would feel about some kind of limited edition model if they were to consider it.

Also, he is clearly keen to see an Ateca CUPRA come to market at some point.

Car Pricing (UK)

The CUPRA 300 is available as follows:

  • LEON SC CUPRA 300 2.0 TSI – £29,840
  • LEON SC CUPRA 300 2.0 TSI DSG – £31,230
  • LEON 5DR CUPRA 300 2.0 TSI – £30,140
  • LEON 5DR CUPRA 300 2.0 TSI DSG – £31,490
  • LEON ST CUPRA 300 2.0 TSI – £31,135
  • LEON ST CUPRA 300 2.0 TSI DSG 4Drive – £34,170

 

Conclusion

As I said in the introduction, this car is an evolution, not a revolution and that’s a good thing.  As they say, if it’s not broken don’t fix it.

There have been some slight tweaks to the chassis settings but they are very minor. Underneath the hood, with the exception of the power increase and 280 and 290 owners need not feel they are missing out.  I do like the new styling, in particular, I have my eyes on the rear fins and side skirts for mine, but they’ll have to be fitted after delivery.  We are not sure yet if the fins are going to come as standard on the UK cars.  The non performance pack cars had them fitted at the launch, but we have seen cars arriving in dealiers outside of the UK without the fins fitted.  This would be a shame as they came as standard on the 290 and in my opinion is a nice little touch that sets the car off nicely.

As this is a mid-life facelift, changes were not going to be substantial. SEAT still have a great car here and one that continued to put a smile on my face all day.  I’m still grinning as I write this at 1:15 am.  I probably should go to bed.

Thanks as ever to SEAT for hosting a great event and for looking after me.  By extending these invites to us as well as journalists it demonstrates how important they see our community and readership. Thank you.

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You can discuss the car in our dedicated forum thread.

At the time of writing the review, I am waiting for the track footage that SEAT kindly filmed in-car.  I will upload this (if it’s not too embarrassing!) when I get it as well as more photographs when I have time to process them.

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