1 Aug 2014

Seat Leon Cupra 280 - Track Test Review

Chris Bayliss drives a Seat Leon Cupra 280 at Silverstone

An invite to Silverstone to check out the SEAT Leon Euro Cup would be more than enough of an excuse for a trip down the A5, so the offer of paddock passes and a chance to get behind the scenes meant we didn't need asking twice. However, on arriving at the SEAT rig a last minute drop-out landed us not only with some laps of the track in the Leon Cupra 280, but a master class in how it is really done with the rather brilliant Jordi Gene. Jordi is best known lately for being the wheel-man behind SEAT’s 7min 58.44sec lap of the Nürburgring, as well as doing rather well in a little series called the World Touring Car Championship. As such, a lap of the full Silverstone GP circuit in the 330PS Leon Cup Racer was not to be missed.

The Cup Racer is the latest in a line of seriously rapid SEAT racers that have populated the grids of various championships the world over. Chiefly amongst which was the Supercopa, which this year has evolved into the EuroCup. The previous Supercopa car helped many an aspiring driver into the higher formulas and the Cup Racer looks set to continue the trend and up close looks like a far more serious piece of kit than it’s forebear. Clambering into the thing leaves you under no illusions that you are entering a serious working environment, with the seat pushed right back into the centre of the car and low down onto the floor pan. There is an inherent rightness to the way all of the controls fall to hand and therefore the sight of a completely standard DSG lever sprouting from the naked transmission looks somewhat incongruous, but hopefully bodes well for the road car, more of which later.

This brief familiarisation of the Cup Racer makes the prospect of the lap to come even more tantalising, so when we are shepherded into the National pits to get ready, I am into the SEAT Sport race suit and into Jordi’s car before you can say - can someone help me with this stupid HANS device! The lap itself disappears in a flash, but the intensity of the experience leaves a lasting impression. The power is clearly not in short supply, but as with most race cars it is the brakes that really impress. The feeling of hanging in the harnesses like you are on some sort of zero gravity fairground ride as we pile into Stowe at the end of the hanger straight has to be experienced to be believed. The rest of the lap is a succession of perfect lines and 'he has seen the corner, hasn't he?' Braking points, the car seemingly always dancing on the limits of adhesion, with Jordi promising he is as close to qualifying pace as he can get whilst hauling me around. The amount of throttle adjustability in the chassis was impressive but not as much as the man who’s right foot was dictating the attitude of what is a truly awe inspiring front wheel drive machine.

It is therefore with a resounding sense of my own lack of ability compared to the master of SEAT’s that I get onboard a rather lovely looking Monsoon Grey, DSG equipped, 5 door Cupra 280 for some laps. Riding on 19inch alloys the Cupra has a purposeful stance and looks well suited to the environs of Silverstone. Coming out of the pit lane the first thing that grabs you is the proper kick in the back you get from the 2 litre 4 pot, with power building right to the red line. Be under no illusions this is sports car fast. The run into Maggots reveals some rather tasty pops on the overrun and a keen and planted front end. Getting back on the power during the direction change to Becketts brings the diff into play and the front end responds cleanly handling the slug of turbo charged torque with aplomb. The braking point at Stowe highlights the difference between road car and race car with the anti-gravity effect of the Cup Racer making way for a slightly squirmy demeanour, but never-the-less the nose heads for the apex on cue and the slug of turbocharged power bridging the gap to Club is no less impressive than it was half a lap ago.

Several more laps unfold in a similar fashion with the dual clutch box consistently putting in fast down shifts on demand, brakes holding up well to significant abuse with only the road biased Bridgestone Potenza’s crying enough before the end. For committed trackday goers the Cupra will soon be available with racier Michelin Pilot Sport Cup 2’s to complement the much talked about Sport Pack, that will consist of larger brakes, enclosed by lighter 19inch wheels and some go-faster side skirts to complete the look.

Only some proper time in the car on our favourite B-roads will tell quite where the Cupra 280 sits in the great pantheon of hot hatches, but our betting is it will give some well thought of rivals an unexpected bloody nose.

Chris is the owner of Petrolhedonism. You can follow him on Twitter here.