Chatting with newly installed president Luca de Meo at Seat’s Martorell factory near Barcelona, one word kept cropping up: ‘flair’. It’s clear that standing out from the crowd is a crucial part of the Spanish brand’s message, but how to do that when you’ve got to justify not only your standing within the VW Group, but also a recently announced €3.3 billion R&D budget?
Well, it’ll probably come as no surprise to learn the answer is SUV-shaped. We’ve previously reported a pair of all-new models are in development for launch over the next 24 months, but as a pre-curser to that, the firm unveiled the Seat Leon Cross Sport concept at this year’s Frankfurt motor show as a hint about what’s currently possible using Wolfsburg’s extensive parts bin.
What is the Seat Leon Sport Cross concept?
The recipe is simple: from the Leon line-up, take one SC three-door shell. Add a squirt of Cupra performance, blend with thecrossover-cum-estate X-Perience’s all-wheel drive system, and garnish with a ladleful of orange – apparently inspired by the Barcelona sunshine, if you’ll believe such marketing guff.
Sounds like a real hodgepodge. How does the Leon Cross Sport drive?
There wasn’t a lot of time or space to truly wring the neck of the Cross Sport, but our test route covered a variety of surfaces, bumps and bends sufficient to draw a couple of early conclusions.
The steering is pin-sharp and admirably communicative for a car based on a predominantly front-driven hatchback. It’s at its best in boisterous Cupra mode, where it demostrates surprisingly agile handling, helped in part by the same fifth-generation Haldex four-wheel drive system fitted to the talentedGolf R, shuffling torque front and rear almost instantly.
Despite its lofty stance (41mm more ground clearance than the regular Leon Cupra), the Cross Sport’s body control is fabulous. It doesn’t pitch or roll mid-corner in the way you’d be forgiven for expecting from a ‘crossover’ vehicle, and thanks to the low-slung driving position you feel a part of the experience, rather than perching atop it.
Noisy on the inside, noisy on the outside
Brilliant front seats help here, too; these ones covered in black and orange leather to match the smart Alcantara door cards and of course that startlingly bright orange paint – the very same as that featured on the larger Seat 20v20 concept car shown at the Geneva motor show in March.
It isn’t as garish in the metal as you might fear, though, only coming truly alive when sunlight sparks off the Sport Cross’s chiselled lines. It’s a decent contrast with the rugged, off-road-style black bodycladding around the wheel arches, which house 19-inch alloys and strong, communicative Brembo brakes.
At the back you’ve got a distinctive silver diffuser flanked on either side by a pair of exhaust tailpipes, and this doesn’t sound like your everyday Seat. It growls, barks, pops and bangs its way up the road – far noisier even than any Cupra. The revised 2.0 turbo four-pot produces 296bhp in this application, also more than any Cupra.
Without an extended test it’s difficult to gauge the performance difference the extra horses really make, but the turbo spools incredibly quickly and we found the DSG transmission’s mapping perfectly judged too. We were impressed with how docile it was in Comfort mode in particular, offering a fine contrast between hooligan high-speed fun and accessible, everyday flexibility.
But the Leon Cross Sport is still a concept, right?
Right. We have to say it doesn’t feel like it, though. Despite a stern-looking Spanish chap begging us to be super-careful on our short drive around SEAT’s secret test facility, this car felt less prototype, more production-ready – even considering the VW Group’s usual build quality standards.
We wanted to drive this car off into the Catalan sunset. There’s something very cool – very Q-car – about the idea of a high-performance three-door crossover, and it helps that this one is a genuine hoot to drive. Now let’s see it in production, and chasing after another record-breaking Nurburgring lap time.