2016 Seat Leon ST Cupra 290 review

The hot Seat Leon Cupra estate has been given more power and technology. We drive it for the first time on UK roads...

2016 Seat Leon ST Cupra 290 review

The Seat Leon ST Cupra 290 is the latest version of Seat’s flagship performance estate, with a power upgrade over the Cupra 280 it replaces.

Under the bonnet there's an extra 10bhp, taking the total output up to 286bhp. Meanwhile, standard equipment now includes Dynamic Chassis Control, a locking front differential and progressive steering - all of which are designed to enhance the driving experience.

We’re testing the Black edition with a six-speed DSG automatic gearbox. The Black gets special 19in multi-spoke alloy wheels, sports seats and black detailing.

What is the 2016 Seat Leon ST Cupra 290 like to drive?

In addition to extra power, Seat has tuned the engine to deliver its peak torque lower in the rev range, at just 1700rpm, meaning it responds more readily. However, in truth you'll still struggle to notice the difference between new and old without driving the two cars back-to-back.

2016 Seat Leon ST Cupra 290 review

That's not to say the ST Cupra 290 is anything other than rapid: it pulls strongly in any gear, blasts from 0-62mph in 5.9sec and makes overtaking or merging onto a motorway breathtakingly easy; although the 280 wasn't exactly short of performance, either.

As you might expect in a car with sporting credentials, the ST Cupra is firmly sprung. However, when the Dynamic Chassis Control is in Comfort mode, the ride stops short of being uncomfortable, coping well with smaller imperfections in the road surface. Switch to Sport or Cupra mode and the suspension becomes notably less forgiving.

Pleasingly, the ST Cupra corners with little body lean even in Comfort mode, while Sport and Cupra keep things even more composed.

Additionally, these sportier settings deepen the exhaust note and sharpen the accelerator and steering response. Still, the steering never offers as much feedback as a VW Golf R Estate's.

To make matters worse, the ST Cupra struggles to put its power down on greasy roads, spinning its front wheels when you accelerate hard out of corners. This is never a problem in the Golf, thanks to its four-wheel drive system.

The Leon and the Golf use the same DSG auto gearbox, and the bad news is that this tends to dither when you pull away from a standstill, something that's particularly frustrating when you're trying to get out of a busy junction. Generally speaking, though, the gearbox shifts smoothly on the move, and it allows manual shifts via steering wheel-mounted paddles.

2016 Seat Leon ST Cupra 290 review

Wind noise is kept to a minimum, and while you do have to put up with some tyre roar at speed, it isn't overly intrusive.

What is the 2016 Seat Leon ST Cupra 290 like inside?

As with all Seat Leons, the interior feels suitably robust. Even so, while the top of the dashboard is soft to the touch, the materials in a Golf R still feels significantly classier.

On the up side, some pizzazz is added by a flat-bottomed steering wheel, a smattering of Cupra badges and sports seats up front. Plus, the controls and instruments are well laid out, easy to read and simple to use.

2016 Seat Leon ST Cupra 290 review

The two-tone Alcantara-trimmed seats provide excellent support and offer plenty of adjustment. Pair that with a steering wheel that adjusts for height and reach, and most people should easily be able to get comfortable behind the wheel.

There’s also good head room in the front, plenty of storage and four cupholders. Forward visibility is good, thanks to thin windscreen pillars.

In the back, there’s plenty of room even for two adults, although a tall transmission tunnel will impact anyone sitting in the middle seat. Also, the front sports seats mean that rear knee room is slightly reduced over lesser Leon ST models.

2016 Seat Leon ST Cupra 290 review

A low boot lip makes loading and unloading easy. The boot floor is large, flat and height adjustable, so it can be lowered to add more depth, plus the rear seats fold forward at the tug of a lever. They don't lie completely flat, mind you.

Should I buy one?

The Seat Leon ST Cupra 290 is a rapid and practical estate, but the Ford Focus ST Estate and Volkswagen Golf R Estate are both better buys.

Like the Leon, the Cupra can stuggle to put its power down, but it's more than £7000 cheaper, while the Golf is classier, better to drive and is only £1670 more expensive.

Matthew Griffiths

What Car? says...

Rated 3 out of 5

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Ford Focus ST Estate

Volkswagen Golf R Estate


Engine size  2.0-litre turbo petrol

Price from £32,785

Power 286bhp

Torque 258lb ft

0-62mph 5.9sec

Top speed 155mph

Fuel economy (official combined) 42.8mpg

CO2/BIK band 154g/km/27%