THE cultural impact of the legendary mock rockumentary This Is Spinal Tap has been exemplified by the phrase “these go to 11” which emerged in a scene where the unfailingly dim guitar player, Nigel Tufnel (played by Christopher Guest), gives a tour of his stage equipment to the director of the movie, Marti DiBergi (the wonderful Rob Reiner).

During the course of this, DiBergi notices that Tufnel’s Marshall amplifiers are all calibrated for volume from one to 11, instead of the usual 10. He quizzes the guitarist on this and what follows is piece of movie magic as Tufnel extrapolates the reasoning behind the adapted amps.

Asked if it makes the band’s music any louder, the guitarist responds thus: “Well, it’s one louder, isn’t it? It’s not 10. You see, most blokes, you know, will be playing at 10. You’re on 10 here, all the way up, all the way up, all the way up, you’re on 10 on your guitar. Where can you go from there? Where?”

When pressed as to why they had simply not made the ‘10’ setting louder, a mystified and slightly bewildered Nigel hesitates before blurting: “These go to 11.” Although unloved on its cinema release, the movie eventually achieved cult status as also did Spinal Tap, the band.

By taking the mick out of the musical pretentiousness of the heavy metal genre, not to mention the wild personal behaviour of the band members, the movie still resonates as one of the greatest film spoofs of all time. Nothing less is due for a film which created a band who recorded such classics as ‘Break Like The Wind’ and ‘Smell The Glove.’

But it is the “up to 11” bit which interests us this week as we test the Seat Leon Cupra ST, a car which truly has had its knobs turned up beyond 10.

Now we know the Leon Cupra to be a car of the highest merit in the hot hatch segment, but the Spanish arm of the VW Group has taken the Leon to new areas of endeavour with this new Sports Tourer estate.

This is an end of the market which is not exactly over-populated, with only the Focus ST Estate, the Skoda Octavia VRs Combi as realistic competition for the Spaniard. So, what makes it so good?

Well, there’s the 280 bhp on tap from the turbocharged two litre petrol engine; there’s the electronically controlled diff. lock; there’s a truly well balanced chassis; and, there is the added practicality of the extra cargo space.

Although relatively understated as a looker, the Cupra ST exudes just enough visual menace to stand it out from its’ lesser siblings without developing that athlete-on-steroids look which is too often a bug-bear with performance cars. The lines are subtle yet effective in getting across the message that this is not just any ordinary family load-lugger. In fact it is an excellent family load lugger, but it has an edge — a scalpel’s edge.

And, for normal ‘round town, school collecting, shopping and all the other day-to-day stuff that families need, the Cupra ST can be the most unassuming and docile companion, passively going about its’ business with nary a bother.

From a performance point of view, the car’s abilities are not in any way blunted by the additional metal necessary to expand it to estate-car size. Indeed, there is only an extra 27cm difference in length over a regular Leon Cupra and the added weight amounts only to 45kg. This means the extraction of the plentiful power on offer is painless and the 6.1 second 0-100km/h time demonstrates this clearly. As does the top speed limited to 250km/h.

Now as we know, high powered front-wheel drive cars are not always the delight they might be, overwhelmed as some tend to be by the amount of horses outputted and the volume of torque (350 Nm between 1,700m and 5,600 rpm) produced by the engine. Terminal understeer usually tends to be the outcome.

There have been some very clever- mainly electronic — solutions found to try and cure these ailments. Some of these are very clever and others completely worthless, but in this instance the electronically controlled differential can shuffle the torque between the wheels to attain maximum traction and the results are very impressive indeed.

In actual fact the point-to-point abilities of the car on country roads is pretty astonishing and the reasonable expectation that any overt hooliganism will lead to an inevitable car-in-tree conclusion, is actually quite distant from reality.

The grip levels, the precise steering and the brilliant handling will tend to mask a slightly crashy ride, but as ever with these things one is a trade-off for the other and in this case it is a price which is well worth paying.

You can also find varying shade of performance available to you via the choice of drive modes available to you and while “comfort” is obviously the best one for passengers’ wellbeing, when you’re on your own you can turn up the wick significantly and feel the car hunkering down for much more robust activities.

In “sport” mode the car will also trick with the engine acoustics and synthetically pipe in a much louder engine/exhaust note into the cabin, but that’s only window-dressing. The bottom line is that the Cupra ST doesn’t need such trickery to highlight its abilities.

The tester was fitted with the six speed DSG auto ‘box — completely with steering wheel-mounted paddle changers and I must say I found it to be a little to ponderous for my tastes and I expect the manual offering might be the wiser choice for those who like to extract everything the car has to offer.

A largely well-built and decorated cabin is something you’d expect from a car of this nature and that’s what you get here. All manner of bells and whistles come as standard and the airiness of the standard ST is not lost by the addition of all the performance. The boot does not initially appear to be wildly capacious, but it is quite vast.

This then is a very serious piece of kit from Seat; one which is not only a truly serious performer and a very worthy handler, but it is also decent value at the price — particularly so when you consider that most rivals come nowhere near it in absolute power terms.

So, like Spinal Tap, Seat has turned everything up to 11 here — and boy is it good, man.

COLLEY’S VERDICT

****

The Car: Seat Leon Cupra ST 

The Cost: €40,515 as tested.

The Engine: a humdinger.

The Specification: Doesn’t want for much on the bells and whistles front.

The Overall Verdict: Don’t let the badge put you off. This is a cracker.


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