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Monday, February 6, 2023

Cupra Leon Estate 310 VZ3 4Drive 2021 UK review

What is it?

With two SUVs and a hatchback having already received the bronze badge and big power treatment, Cupra’s transformation into a go-faster offshoot of the Seat mothership continues unabated. Now it’s the turn of the Leon Estate.

With a lowered stance, bespoke exterior styling, quad exhaust pipes and liberal use of copper accents, the Cupra cuts a meaner figure than the equivalent Seat model, but one that can still claim some semblance of subtlety.

As with the hatch, it’s available with your choice of combustion or hybrid power – but all-wheel drive and a range-topping power output can be found in wagon form only, courtesy of a turbocharged 2.0-litre EA888 fout-pot shared with the recently revealed Volkswagen Golf R.

It produces 306bhp here, giving the VW a slight edge, and Cupra’s 4Drive all-wheel drive system does without the Golf R’s drift mode lairiness, although you do get an electronic locking rear differential and adaptive dampers as standard. And while UK prices for the VW have yet to be confirmed, you can expect the Cupra to be slightly cheaper.

Suspension is by MacPherson struts up front and multi-links at the rear, with power sent exclusively through a seven-speed automatic transmission.

All variants ride on 19in alloy wheels (black with copper accents, naturally), while top-spec VZ3 cars get added luxuries on top of the extensive standard kit list, including a powered tailgate, leather upholstery (with heated front seats) and wireless smartphone charging. Whichever model you go for, there’s 620 litres of seats-up boot space – 240 more than you’ll find in the hatchback. The firm expects that extra practicality to win over 35% of all Leon customers.

What’s it like?

The cockpit is largely unchanged from the hatchback, so there are supportive sports seats, a digital instrument cluster and a distinct lack of physical buttons, with most functions offloaded to a 10.0in touchscreen, which means you need to dive through multiple screens to find specific functions. It’s as frustrating as it sounds.

At least one of the two oversized buttons mounted to the steering wheel is permanently bound to the driving modes, so you don’t have to reach far once you get to an enjoyable stretch of Tarmac. The other starts the engine. The button in the centre console normally given that responsibility is instead dedicated to disabling the traction control – which, as statements of intent go, is a bold one.

As you might expect, Cupra mode turns everything up to full wick, including the augmented engine note, which takes on an almost V8-like woofle. That alone gives the estate a different character from the hatchback, but it’s the combined added heft of the wagon bodystyle and all-wheel drive system that makes the larger impact on the road.

There’s excellent traction, even in poor weather, and high grip levels provide lots of confidence through faster corners, but it doesn’t feel quite as responsive and manoeuvrable as the hatch when you’re pressing on. Steering is quick, and perhaps a little on the light side, even in the sportier driving modes, but it has point-and-shoot precision that you won’t find in the Ford Focus ST and its more elastic steering rack.

A 0-62mph sprint of 4.9sec is dispatched in eyebrow-raising fashion, putting the Leon on a par with the pricier Mercedes-AMG A35 Shooting Brake for straight-line pace. That power comes early in the rev range, and hard, although when left to its own devices, the gearbox will rattle rapidly through successive cogs in a businesslike manner. It will happily hold onto gears when foot meets floor, but the engine note isn’t particularly soul-stirring when you approach the upper end of the rev range. The steering-wheel-mounted paddles are frustratingly small, too, being barely in reach of your fingertips.

Comfort is the driving mode of choice for general cruising, but even then the suspension can thump over poor road surfaces. There’s only so much that adaptive dampers can do to offset the 19in alloy wheels and 1640kg kerb weight. Swap into Sport and things get noticeably more brittle, while Cupra mode goes even further, to the point where it’s worth avoiding once you leave smoother surfaces and head to the B-roads. An Individual driving mode does at least let you pick and choose between engine, steering and chassis settings for the best parts of each.

Once you’ve found the right blend, the Leon is at its most enjoyable, although even then it has something of a point-and-shoot vibe: it can certainly handle itself through the corners but left me without much sense of dynamic flourish.

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