First Drive: Seat’s Leon Cupra R ST ABT is a punchy mid-sized estate car option

What is it?

We’re big fans of the Seat Leon Cupra R. Back when we first tested it in July last year, it made an instant and lasting impression as a sharper, meaner and all-around more focused version of Seat’s quick hatchback, and we were sad that there weren’t more than the 24 allocated examples headed to the UK.

Quad exhaust pipes are visible at the rear of the car
(Seat)

And at the time, it didn’t feel like it needed much more punch. But tuning company ABT thinks otherwise, which is why it now offers a £500 upgrade which adds more power and torque without voiding the manufacturer warranty or increasing fuel consumption either. Does it improve the Cupra R’s appeal? We find out…

What’s new?

As we’ve already mentioned the ABT upgrade is the biggest change here, with the rest of the additions largely the same as the Cupra R we’ve tested before. However, this is an ‘ST’ model – estate car, for the rest of us – and that means it boasts more space and better practicality levels than the hatch.

(Seat)

The brakes have been beefed-up (now Brembo units), while the suspension has been retuned over the regular ST for better cornering. And, of course, there’s an all-wheel-drive system in place to ensure that the R stays on the straight and narrow no matter what the conditions.

What’s under the bonnet?

Pop the R’s bonnet and, at first, there’s not a lot out of the ordinary. There’s VW Group’s tried-and-tested EA888 turbocharged 2.0-litre four-cylinder engine – the same as you’ll find in the Volkswagen Golf R or the larger Cupra Ateca – linked to all four wheels via a seven-speed DSG automatic gearbox.

The chrome accents feature on the wheels too
(Seat)

But that ABT tune-up ensures things don’t stay normal for long. Power is boosted up to 354bhp from a regular 296bhp, while torque goes up to 440Nm from 400 – sizeable increases on both fronts. It means that the R will charge from 0-60mph in 4.5 seconds and carry on to a 155mph top speed, yet still be able to return a claimed 31.2mpg. Oh, and this upgrade doesn’t break the bank either – ABT will ask for just £500 for it and, as mentioned, it won’t affect the car’s manufacturer warranty either.

What’s it like to drive?

Start up, move off and drive away, and initially you’d be hard-pressed to notice any difference over the regular R in the ABT upgraded Leon. That’s no bad starting block, mind you; even when travelling slowly you notice the excellent grip levels and crisp turn-in. The auto ‘box also isn’t too bad when moving along at moderate speeds either, lazily sifting through the gears but never feeling too dim-witted at slower paces.

The Cupra R remains compliant even on UK roads
(Seat)

But build some tempo and the Cupra changes dramatically. There’s genuine muscle to the power delivery here, and it feels notably punchier than the regular R. The in-gear pull is enough to scare of most sports cars, and it feels far elevated over the realms of standard hot hatch. It’s a bit of a shame that the shift paddles don’t feel too nice to use, though the shift itself is decent enough.

How does it look?

Understated, menacing and just with the right amount of presence, the Cupra R ST ticks all our boxes when it comes to well-judged performance car styling. The copper elements on our test machine helped to gives it a bit more character but contrast the blacked-out badges which only helped to downplay the car’s performance.

ABT's upgrade boosts power and torque significantly
(Seat)

Around the back, it’s hard to miss the quad exhaust tips, but in truth, most passers-by won’t distinguish the R from a regular Leon ST – and that’s either a good thing or bad thing, depending on your own preference.

What’s it like inside?

The Cupra R’s cabin has been lavished with Alcantara here, there and everywhere – the trimmed steering wheel is a particular highlight. The sports seats provide plenty of support, but they’re not overly bolstered either – just right for a road car, then.

Alcantara has been lavished throughout the interior
(Seat)

In the back, there’s a decent amount of space for two or three at a squeeze. At 587 litres there’s more than enough boot space for most occasions, and this can be extended by folding down the rear seats too.

Lowering the rear seats increases boot space impressively
(Seat)

Overall, it’s a practical, well-finished cabin – though we’ll admit it doesn’t feel overly special. That said, it’s an interior which matches the overall ideal of the car; purposeful, solid – but not overly flash.

What’s the spec like?

The Cupra R ST comes in at £38,475 – and that’s after the £500 ABT upgrade. For that, you do get a reasonable amount of standard equipment. It gets Seat’s standard infotainment offering, accessed via a central touchscreen. It’s responsive, clear and simple to use – though there’s nothing to particularly blow your mind when it comes to functionality.

Even the Seat badge gets the bronze treatment
(Seat)

Elsewhere it’s pretty much standard-fit Seat. That means good ergonomics, reasonable materials and logically-located controls. As we’ve already said, it’s all spot-on but not exactly exceptional.

Verdict

The ABT upgrade for the Cupra R feels like an absolute no-brainer. The power and torque hikes, for just £500, are well worth optioning and given that there’s no warranty drawback either only serves to bolster the overall appeal.

Then there’s the driving experience that sits behind the outright flat-out speed; the steering and brakes combine to make a car which feels sharp to begin with, even without 345bhp under your right foot. It’s a punchy car, this one, and a vehicle we’d highly recommend.

  • Model as tested: Seat Leon Cupra R ST ABT
  • Price: £38,475
  • Engine: 2.0-litre turbocharged four-cylinder petrol
  • Power: 345bhp
  • Torque: 440Nm
  • Max speed: 155mph
  • 0-60mph: 4.5 seconds
  • MPG: 32.1-33.6
  • Emissions: 164g/km CO2
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