SEAT Leon Cupra: Driving on track

  • We drive an identical Cupra at Mallory Park
  • And speak to the racing driver who developed it
  • Very fast on the track but more fun on the road

Our Cupra was treated to a fun day out recently. The UK launch for the SEAT Leon Cupra model range was held at the small but perfectly formed Mallory Park race circuit in Leicestershire and we took our long-term car along to join in the fun.

Driving the Leon on track

As well as the opportunity to enjoy the Cupra on the brilliant roads on the journey from Peterborough to Leicestershire it also gave us the chance to see how the car behaved on track.

We drove several laps of Mallory in an identical Leon Cupra 280 DSG and it was an interesting experience.

On the road, the Cupra is blessed with an eye-opening amount of grip out of slow corners thanks to its clever mechanical differential. You can get on the power surprisingly early and the Leon will drag itself out of bends rapidly and without fuss.

Unless you’re being very silly, it’s difficult to get near the Cupra’s limits on the road. It takes the freedom of a race circuit to discover them and the Leon acquits itself pretty well on track.

Like most road cars, it doesn’t feel entirely comfortable on a circuit; braking hard for Mallory’s tight hairpin makes the brake pedal buzz as the ABS cuts in and accelerating out of corners the front tyres scrabble for grip more than you’d notice on the road. There’s a disconcerting sensation as the front washes wide under power before finding grip again and driving forward.

You don’t feel that on the road, though – you need the space of a track to make the Cupra break a sweat. It’s a testament to the Cupra’s on-road abilities that it takes a race track to find its limits.

For a front-wheel drive car with nearly 280bhp the Cupra does an incredible job of putting its power down and at all times it’s very safe and stable.

Cupra mode

How the Nurburgring shaped the Cupra’s behaviour

At Mallory we also met Jordi Gené, the Spanish racing driver who helped develop the Cupra at the famous Nurburgring Nordschleife circuit in Germany and in the process claimed the lap record for front-wheel drive production cars (until Renault nicked it back recently with a special version of the Megane RS).

The ‘Cupra’ setting in the car’s Drive Profile menu, which alters the car’s power steering, throttle map and gearbox parameters, are essentially his settings from his record-breaking lap. ‘Comfort’ and ‘Sport’ modes were set by SEAT’s road car engineers but ‘Cupra’ was down to Gené. All, that is, apart from the fact that switching the car to this mode also makes the exhaust noisier.

“I left that to them,” Gené told us. “I told them they could do what they like with that bit.” He explains this while hurling us around Mallory Park in an identical Cupra 280 DSG to our long-termer, and it’s a great demonstration of what the car can do.

He also took us for a spin in the racing version of the Cupra, the Leon Cup Racer – more on that another time.

We have a suspicion the scalpel-sharp Renaultsport Megane would be the slightly more fun car around a track but the SEAT is easier to live with day-to-day and just like the Megane there’s little that can touch it on the road. It really is a bit of a golden age for hot hatches at the moment.

Mileage: 885

Fuel economy: 19.4mpg