Luca de Meo is not necessarily a man many people in this part of the world have heard of or know anything about. But, as president of Seat since 2015, the Milan-born 53-year-old is one of the more interesting automotive bosses around and he is also a gentleman whose stock is rising considerably right now.
He’s been around the block, has de Meo, having worked for Renault, Toyota and Fiat before landing at Volkswagen as head of marketing for the brand before being co-opted as a member of the board of management at Audi.
Then came his ascension to the top gig at Seat.
One of his most dramatic acts as the boss of the Spanish-based, German-owned brand — apart from seeing the company post historic profit levels last year — was to create a whole sub-brand within Seat called Cupra which will purvey sporting cars solely.
The Cupra name, of course, has been with us for many years and basically referred to the sporty versions of standard Seat models like the Ibiza, Leon and so on. Henceforth you will not be able to buy a Seat Cupra model, but rather a Cupra own-brand machine.
Having form in this area as he was in charge of reinventing the Abarth badge while at Fiat, de Meo obviously likes his sporty cars and the establishment of Cupra as an independent entity under the Seat umbrella was probably not a surprise to industry watchers.
But, the arrival of Cupra machines is a little way off yet and so this week’s tester, the 300 bhp Seat Leon ST 4D Cupra is still being sold under the parent company’s name.
In that regard this car may well have historic value in times to come as being the last of its kind, but all that is for the future and we shall see how that pans out in due course. What is pertinent for the moment is the fact that this is one seriously good automobile.
We know that Seat has been something of the poor relation within the VW Group for many years, but all that has changed radically in the past three years and the brand now has a whole new level of importance within the bigger picture.
This is reflected in the sort of kit the company is now able to access, the stuff it was previously unable to get its hands on from the greater VW Group parts bin. This in turn means its products are now a lot more saleable and considerably less bargain basement.
And that sequence of events has, consequently, seen a sharp rise in the numbers of cars Seat is selling. Indeed just this year alone the company is setting record sales figures in every market right across Europe, including Ireland.
Aside from their new SUVs and standard models such as Ibiza, Leon and Alhambra, all of which are selling as quickly as Ed Sheeran tickets, the Cupra models too have a new found vitality and while many of them in the past were scintillating to drive, they were rarely allowed to usurp their VW relatives.
But this latest — and possibly final Leon Cupra ST (the ST bit indicating it is a sports tourer, or estate in ordinary terms) — is undoubtedly the best I have encountered down the years.
It might be that some will blanche at the thought of paying just over 45 grand for a mere Seat, but believe me, this thing is right up there with the top performers in the hot hatch segment, even if it is an estate rather than a hatch.
On top of that it is also a fly-under-the-radar car sans pareil and one which matches its performance brief with that of a real-world everyday family car.
Despite its sporty demeanour — and it is very sporty indeed — it does have estate-car levels of practicality and impressive levels of cargo carrying capacity.
But let’s get to the performance end of things. The bare facts of the Cupra ST show it to have a stonking 4.9 second 0-100 kph time from the 300 bhp two-litre, four-cylinder unit under the hood. Top speed is limited to 250 kph and there is an impressive 380 Nm of torque available between 1,800 and 5,500 rpm.
Standard on the car are a six speed, dual clutch automatic ’box with paddle shifters and four-wheel drive, which, combined with all that poke, make for a car which enjoys not only a very impressive level of engine performance, but also give it the tools to keep all of that on the road without appearing to break sweat.
And, what with its 19in alloys and a raft of body kit, while the car is certainly imbued with a degree of mechanical menace, it also has the looks to go with it, making it very much a wolf in wolf’s clothing.
It has a really good chassis too which allows you to fully explore the performance parameters without having any nightmares about keeping the thing on the road.
Handling is assured and grippy and while the ride might be a little on the firm side for some tastes, you still have a choice of settings depending on how serious you intend getting.
The steering is whip-sharp and full of feedback and the brakes (with “Cupra” branded red calipers as standard)
are sensational. Having said all that, however, this is a car that needs to be respected, particularly in wet/dry conditions as you might suddenly find that what you thought was the limit, is no longer so.
Generally, though, it is an exemplary all-round performer and one which can manage the daily chores without grumbling and then get all sweaty when you want it to as well.
In fact, this car is a really good illustration why Luca de Meo can feel really good about the company he’s in charge of. It is a clear and precise statement about the well-being of Seat and a fair indicator of why the company’s stock is so much on the rise at this time. It is also a signpost that when de Meo’s ambitious plans come to fruition, the Spanish brand will be in a commanding sales position with excellent product like this and plenty more of it too.
From €45,035 — €46,465 as tested
An absolute cracker The specification: So well loaded, there’s not much to add to the package
Not far shy