- SEAT LEON CUPTA – FIRST DRIVE
THERE’S more to blasting round a racetrack than just testing your skills – and frightening yourself.
When the car you’re driving is extras and options-free, exactly as it would come out of the showroom, those laps provide a unique insight into the model’s dynamics on the limit.
At least I thought that was the idea after stepping out of the new SEAT Leon Cupra 280 at Mallory Park in Leicestershire.
Physically drained, but beaming with inner satisfaction, I teamed up with professional racer Jordi Gene for a few more runs round the circuit.
The Spaniard, who spent five years competing in the World Touring Car Championship, knows the Cupra pretty well – he drove it to smash the lap record at the demanding Nürburgring Nordschleife earlier this year.
His time of 7:58.4 made the Leon the first front-wheel drive production model to dip below the eight-minute barrier.
And the way he handled the car at Mallory was humbling in the extreme – compared to Jordi my own limits were more suited to a sedate Sunday morning.
The Leon Cupra 280 is the most powerful series production car SEAT has ever made and headlines a five-strong family of 2.0-litre turbocharged models that starts with the 265PS Leon SC Cupra and tops out with the five-door Cupra 280 DSG.
And while there are some terrific sports hatchbacks around at present you won’t find one with the combined qualities, let alone sheer thrill factor, of the Cupra.
The figures are impressive. Every car is capable of accelerating from 0-62mph in less than six seconds and all manual versions have the potential to return 44 miles per gallon.
Sharp dynamics are assured courtesy of a new front axle differential lock that significantly improves the Leon’s traction and handling, eliminating torque steer.
There’s also a progressive steering system plus dynamic chassis control to alter the suspension settings between sportier or more comfort-oriented performance, and two-stage deactivation of the electronic stability control – including the scope to turn it off entirely.
And the Cupra Drive Profile, which Gene used for personalising the Leon on his record run, also optimises the car’s sportiest settings.
The sum total is a car that’s easy and comfortable for everyday driving yet can become a performance thoroughbred in an instant.
Topping the pile at £28,530, the Cupra 280 with DSG twin clutch transmission can scorch from 0-62mph in 5.7 seconds, or 5.8 with the six-speed manual gearbox, and along with its stablemates has a limited top speed of 155mph.
Average fuel consumption for both power variants is 44.1 mpg with a manual gearbox equipped and 42.2 mpg with DSG, equating to CO2 figures of 149 and 155g/km.
Like all Leon variants, the Cupra efficiency package also includes Start/Stop and energy recovery systems.
As for styling the SEAT looks the part too with its large air intakes, LED headlamps, pair of oval tailpipes and alloy wheels with red brake callipers.
Inside, the sports steering wheel has its own Cupra design, complete with shifting paddles for DSG transmission, while the sports seats come in dark grey Alcantara finished with white stitching.
Prices start at £25,690 for the SC Cupra three-door, though so far 90 per cent of advance orders have been for 280 models.