Seat Leon Cupra 280, Front view 24 Photos Zoom

Seat Leon Cupra 280 in the supertest: Nordschleife in under eight minutes?

To conquer the Nordschleife in under eight minutes no longer requires a Porsche or a Ferrari. If the Spanish Volkswagen subsidiary Seat are to be believed, this is also possible in the new Seat Leon Cupra 280 – provided it is equipped with the Performance Pack. We check this out in the supertest.

That's right - we have started the whole thing 18 years ago. Since then, we have shaken things up a lot, called some things into question and in so doing, always with a sense of rebellion: putting manufacturers under pressure, captivating readers, outdoing competitors, fascinating fans and making many from within the scene seriously frustrated.

And all this on account of a single metaphor – namely that of the ring. Why all of the upheaval? It's all about a short, three-figure number, like this one: 8:14. Regardless of how harmless the three meaningless figures initially appear to be – as soon as they represent a time and are mentioned in relation to the Nordschleife, alarm bells ring out everywhere. Competitors are cast into doubt, manufacturers insist: we have previously achieved better lap times. As for Seat, in the case in question the talk is of a time of less than eight minutes – to be precise: 7:58.44 minutes.

Seat Leon Cupra 280 beats its corporate brother the VW Golf R

And now we step forward with a result, that is: a lap time that presumably lies right in the middle between what critics or competitors concede to be possible for the test subject and what the manufacturer has formulated as a specification, based on its expertise and abilities to make things happen.

Without wanting to case the times published by the manufacturer into doubt, even if only to the tune of one second: the races to record best times that it undertook with a great deal of expense would only be meaningful if an independent authority were to certify the comparability of the conditions. But even Bernie Ecclestone would have difficulty bringing together the diverging range of interests to create a fair competition format.

Thus,we– with respect – can still pride ourself to have created the only relevant (on account of being verifiable) assessment criteria with regard to lap times: a timed Nordschleife lap, always driven by the same driver and under technically comparable weather and track conditions.

The question as to whether one solitary warm-up lap is sufficient does not come up: normal tyres react to significant increases in temperature immediately, with diminishing grip. Therefore, if possible, you must avoid putting them under stress in advance of the timed fast lap – every additional practice kilometre would push their temperature curve sharply upwards.

It is different with sports tyres: they rely on a warm-up lap in order to actually be able to build up directional control in the first place. Therefore, in the test it is almost exclusively the tyres that briefly open and then close the time window for an optimal lap.

Now – a lap time of 8:14 minutes. So what is there to grumble about? The Seat Leon Cupra 280, equipped with the driving dynamics Performance Pack therefore does more than simply beat its dashing corporate brother, the Golf R (8:15 min). In so doing it shows almost the same level of driving dynamics competence as a 355 HP Mercedes A 45 AMG (8:10 min). And it does so in such a way that it even puts Ring experts such as the Porsche Cayman S (Type 987) in their place. It is immortalised in the supertest annals with a time of 8:17 minutes.

In order to achieve the lap time stated by the plant, according to our popularrecipe, it would have to be of another calibre altogether. Such as that of the Ford Focus RS built by Raeder Motorsport (Supertest Issue 1/2011).

A relaxed drive from Stuttgart to the Nürburgring

In contrast to this rather extroverted, 395 HP front-wheeler, which is even visually more recognisable as a driving dynamics pro, the Seat Leon Cupra 280 steps into the Ring in comparatively civil smart-casual dress. Even in the Aldi car park it would barely be possible for it to create a bigger stir.

The Seat Leon Cupra is simply not recognisable as the holder of a racing licence. Accordingly, it seems fully equipped to meet the requirements of everyday driving. It is modestly quiet when out and about and charms with manners that do not go without saying among its sportily kitted out competition.

Seldom has the 330-kilometre stretch from Stuttgart to the Nürburgring been so exciting as in this compact sports car, complete with various driving programmes and therefore various damper characteristics and that – incidentally – is able to deal with its close relationship with the Golf in such a pleasingly relaxed and respectful manner.

The high level of driving performance is actually reminiscent of its Wolfsburg-born counterpart: the Seat Leon Cupra doesn't allow annoying wing noise or other road influences to have any effect – on the steering for example. The perfect sitting position behind the multi-function steering wheel and the exceptional visibility constitute another asset with which the Iberian Wolfsburg-spin-off is able to run riot.

On the laid-back trip on the A 61, which is dotted with construction sites, its immensely powerful engine provides the best kind of support: aside from one or two exceptions, the sixth gear remains engaged, which testifies to the fantastic performance characteristics of the four-cylinder turbo engine, with which we are already familiar from the Golf R. The manner in which this four-valve engine kicks off its slippers and surges from the lower revs - to experience the imaginary turbo lag anew - is a thrill every time.

1:14.7 minutes on the short circuit at Hockenheim

With the ignition switched off, you get to know a completely different side of it. In comparison to its counterpart in the Golf R, in the upper third on the rev counter the turbo in the Seat Leon Cupra gets to business with a touch more energy – and the slightly differing course of the performance curves confirms this.

Whether or not you actually miss the dual clutch transmission as is available in the Golf R? Yes and no. Yes, because the engagement mechanism of the clutch causes rather inelegant gear shift procedures in the event of careless operation. No, because the manually executed gear shifts include an extremely entertaining program in their deliberately derived sequence, and are as a result anything but cumbersome.

As the vehicle weighbridge shows, the Seat Leon Cupra falls into a much lower weight category than its corporate brother with the R type plate, no least on account of the lighter transmission and the lack of all-wheel drive (1,366 compared to 1,483 kg).

With the electronically controlled locking differential on-board, the traction is entirely sufficient for a start. Noticeable drive weaknesses naturally only become evident when the friction coefficient between the tyres and the road drops.

On a dry road surface, the front-wheeler pushes so briskly and willingly through the corners, thanks to its variable locking effect, that it is a pure joy to powerfully and unrepentantly spur the easy-to-handle Seat Leon Cupra at every opportunity that arises. The metaphors for driving dynamics competence, that is the lap times, speak a clear language: regardless of how practical it may be, we have a genuine sporting talent on our hands here. The time on the short circuit in Hockenheim – 1:14.7 minutes – should be noted as a new benchmark for this vehicle category. And the Nürburgring time isn't half bad either.

The ESP in the Seat Leon Cupra cannot be completely disabled

Unfortunately this enthusiasm is not completely untainted, as it doesn't last. In spite of the ESP being disabled, it always remains in action, in particular in the sharpest of all of the driving modes, Cupra mode. It intervenes as soon as it no longer agrees with the changing friction values and/or when the driver intentionally leaves the clean ideal line in favour of a more aggressive, attacking line – i.e. the flat curbs are only included to extend the radius. Almost every irregularity at the limit is taken by the electronic safety programme as reason to presume the threat of damage to the vehicle.

The fact that with the heating of the Michelin Pilot Sport Cup2 tyres, the sensitivity also notably increases, leads to the conclusion that either the system is, generally speaking, at loggerheads with dynamic friction, or that the detailed configuration of the sports tyres with the system has not been fully completed.

The brakes of the Seat Leon Cupra with Performance Pack also make reference to the latter point. With just a gentle touch on the pedal, the passenger nods her head - not entirely voluntarily. What can at first sight be praised as the quick reaction of the on-board braking assistant and as a fixed, precise pressure point, can sometimes be counter-productive in practice.

Aside from the approving nod of the passenger: in view of the abrupt access to the brakes in combination with the presumably accidental pairing of friction coefficients, the ABS and, as a result, all safety features feel hurriedly called upon to intervene. The intervention is indeed beneficial, but is not so desirable on the track.

It would therefore be quite possible that the Seat Leon Cupra 280 actually has the lap time stated by the plant in it – but certainly not when such means of intervention are involved.

Horst von Saurma



Rossen Gargolov


23 September 2015
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