Here is another chance to see my column from the November editions of The Local Herald and The Clitheroe Local. It featured two reviews of some pretty fast cars, but at complete opposite ends of the spectrum. First, the Ford Mustang convertible, about as practical as an inflatable dart board. This one had the smaller 2.3-litre EcoBoost engine. Next up was the Leon Cupra ST 300 4DRIVE, a 5-door family estate car with 300PS and a Haldex AWD system. As always, you can read the full write ups on the Reviews page.
You may recall that around this time last year, I reviewed the Ford Mustang. This time around the car is different in two ways. Firstly, it was a convertible. Secondly, it had the 2.3-litre EcoBoost engine. But would it retain enough of its American charm?
In a word: no. there are two key issues with this car. Firstly, it’s a convertible. Secondly, and worst of all, it had a 2.3-litre EcoBoost engine… Let me explain. When you take the roof off a car, you are removing a key part of its structure. Without the solidity of the roof a phenomenon known as ‘scuttle shake’ presents itself: the car feels like its twisting.
This shouldn’t be an issue, because you can happily cruise along at low speeds accompanied by the V8 soundtrack. Except you can’t, because this has a four-cylinder EcoBoost. Make no mistake, this is still a fast car. But it’s not a Mustang. For the same money you could have a V8 coupe. Job done.
On becoming a father, I needed a practical car (our Fiesta ST isn’t the best for prams and car seats). So we bought a Seat Leon ST, and I absolutely love it. Mine’s a diesel, but for petrolheads there is the Cupra 300 4DRIVE. Essentially, it’s a Seat Golf R. But is it any good? Well, it has a 2.0-litre turbocharged petrol engine, producing 300PS and 380Nm of torque. 0-62mph takes 4.9 seconds and the top speed is limited to 155mph.
That’s a serious punch in the back, and with instant gear changes thanks to the 6-speed DSG gearbox, the speedo just keeps climbing. From a standing start, the launch control system ensures you get away quickly, and that all any unprepared passenger gets whiplash. The exhaust noise is inferior to the Golf R; the pops, burbles and overrun on gear changes just seemed to be missing. Having said that, there is some proper engine noise from behind the wheel. And that’s what matters most to the driver. This is not electrical symposer-type noise either, but actual engine noise.
The haldex-AWD system works brilliantly to ensure there’s plenty of traction whatever the road conditions, and that means the 300PS is useable in full. There are 3 pre-set drive modes – comfort, sport and Cupra – or you can set an individual profile, configuring the Dynamic Chassis Control, engine, differential and steering settings to suit your taste. And from comfort to Cupra you really can tell the difference, with the whole car feeling sharper, firmer and more eager to get going.
I love how my Leon looks in FR guise, but the Cupra takes it to a whole other level. Dual exhausts sit either side of a rear diffuser. Two-tone 19-inch alloy wheels fill the arches. Angular LED daytime running lights frame a more aggressive front bumper and grille. Black mirrors, roof rails and grille surround complete a wonderful exterior package. The Desire Red paint may be an extra £650, but I think it gives the Leon the same presence that the Lapiz Blue gives the Golf R.
Inside you get some sports seats that are big and bolstered yet wonderfully comfortable. Bucket seats are an option, but not one I’d say is essential. There are lashings of leather and alcantara, gloss black trim and LED mood lighting in the front door cards. The flat-bottomed steering wheel brandishes the Cupra logo, and a start button nestles nicely in the centre console.
So Golf R or Leon; which should you buy? Well, I’d pick the Seat every time. It looks better, is a couple of grand cheaper, and is more exclusive. ‘Nuff said.