SEAT Leon Cupra ST: PH Fleet


When you drive a lot of different fast cars every week for a few years, it's all too easy to reach saturation point on the cynicism scale. Before you know it, even the latest supercar might be 'crap' and a class-leading hatchback labelled 'boring'.

Fortunately, I'm not there yet. There were times when I thought it had happened. But this little grey estate car has saved me. Bear with, it's complicated...

Dale has gone up in the fast wagon world!
Dale has gone up in the fast wagon world!
High explosive
Because there are, for me, two different ways to be surprised by cars. The short-burn, high-explosive method and the slightly less exciting long-burn. The short-burn these days requires something really outrageous. I can count on one hand the cars and experiences that have really shocked me in the last few years; a Caterham R620 jumping all over the Nordschleife, the Ferrari 458 Italia GT3 I drove in Dubai, and a passenger lap in a well-driven McLaren P1 spring to mind first. Potent, high-octane cars in great locations that are practically guaranteed thrill No surprises there.

Slow burn
The slow burns, by comparison, are what keep you grounded in reality. The SEAT Leon ST Cupra 280 is most definitely one of those. Sure, it might be lacking the ultimate sharpness of a Megane Trophy or Civic Type R, but after a couple of months together, I wouldn't change a thing. Or maybe just a couple of things...

The first thing to be fiddled with was the wheels. Not because of their gaudy orange hue (I quite liked it), but because of their fashion-led and ridiculous 19-inch diameter. The switch to 18-inch wheels of the same design and similar offset didn't just allow me to fit cheaper sizes of Porsche-destroying track day rubber, but also improved the ride and autobahn noise by a factor of at least 10 per cent.

What else to use the boot for?
What else to use the boot for?
Of course, the 235/40R18 Pilot Sport Cup 2s I bought were also a massive improvement over the frankly woeful standard Bridgestone RE050s. Warm-up times are suitably epic with the track-focused Michelins, but they're still better in the wet as well. Incredible.

Then there's the engine, which as far as I can tell from my part-number sleuthing, is exactly the same as a 300hp Golf R right down to the injectors and turbo. Well, apart from 20 horses kept artificially locked up by the ECU. Now, to be clear, I have a lot of respect and good will towards my SEAT factory warranty; the fact that I live where I do, and that the car sees more regular track use in a week than many cars see in their whole lifetime means I'd be stupid not to.

So no way on Earth would I admit to fitting a DTUK FSR+ plug-in tuning box under the bonnet. Even if the little box of tricks doesn't trigger any engine lights at all, and does increase the power of the SEAT to an R-humbling 330hp.

Smaller size and less weight for the win!
Smaller size and less weight for the win!
In that hypothetical situation, I would also report that it took me less than 30 minutes to fit, and only required half a dozen or so fasteners to be undone for the lowest of the three connectors (the boost sensor on the intercooler behind the front bumper was trickiest, the cam angle and IAT sensors were easy).

Claims of increased fuel economy would be lost on me, though. The hilly Eifel region plus regular track sojourns mean my average mpg rests somewhere just above dreadful at only 22mpg over 4,000 miles. A trip to the UK was a highpoint at 37mpg calculated.

The speeds we could achieve together would best be described as "excessively reckless and irresponsible" by any crimewatch reporter. How about 163mph GPS into the dip at Tiergarten on a 7min 53sec lap of the 'ring?

Same discs but money spent on pads
Same discs but money spent on pads
Braking the bank
Since that video was shot I have also upgraded my non-Performance Pack brakes for 1,000 euros. Did I retrofit Brembo calipers and floating discs? Erm, no. I bought some brake pads. For the front axle alone. At an RRP of 995 euros inc VAT (Β£750-ish for 4 pads!) the Endless MA45Bs are among the priciest you could ever find. But years of experience here tell me that you don't need big brake kits to win four-hour races on the world's toughest track. And the Endless pads don't just provide ridiculous stopping power for hour after hour, they're also kind to the discs and last an easy 50-to-100 per longer longer than the next best option. Friends will tell you I'm notoriously tight, so I'm not joking. They're that good. Ask any endurance racing team at the top level.

Add a Milltek sports exhaust to that extensive list of things I didn't think I was going to change. It's only been on a couple of weeks, but the bigger downpipe and free-flowing sports-cats are only slightly noisier than stock. At start-up and low speeds, the car has a little more presence than before, but only just. And at speed there's no difference inside the car except maybe a few extra horses. That's because the synthetic noise generator (which I'd like to kill with fire, please) does a great job of masking it in any mode other than 'comfort'. But you can't put the engine into sharp-as-hell Cupra mode without it. Annoying.

Here's what a tuning box would look like...
Here's what a tuning box would look like...
Wish list
Having slow-burned it's way deep into my heart, the daily-driving, mile-munching, M3-slaying estate car is rapidly turning into something even more potent than SEAT ever put on the forecourt. But I'd still like more. Control over the sound generator, of course, but also more control over the VAQ active front diff please. The race car gets three modes, the street car just gets a normal mode and the more aggressive 'Cupra' setting. I'm not sure that's fair and - like the horsepower - it's only a matter of software. Plus I want that three-map selector somewhere in my car, if only for trickness.

To sum up, the Cupra has made it very hard to be negative at all really. The technology of the age has given me an everyday driver loaded with more gadgets than my own front room, and that's capable of lapping a track better and faster than many track day specials. My two young boys leap into the rear Recaros like it's the first driver change at Le Mans, and the grin on their faces matches my own when we overtake a slow-moving Porsche is just ridiculous.

And ridiculous grins in little a grey estate car is why I'm 100 per cent sure I'm not a cynic. Yet.

See that 7:53 lap in full here.


FACT SHEET
Car:
2015 SEAT Leon ST Cupra 280
Run by: Dale Lomas
On fleet since: July 2015
Mileage: 4,437
List price new: 35,995 euros as specified (Β£26,690 but discounted to Β£21,500 thanks to the impending 290)
Last month at a glance: Many laps, many kilometres, two very happy kids and a very happy dad.

Previous reports:
The answer to everything might not be an MX-5 after all...







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Comments (31) Join the discussion on the forum

  • CupMeister 06 Oct 2015

    I had the same issue with the soundaktor in my Golf R Dale, I couldn't stand the noise so I just got a mate of mine to go into VAG-Com and turn the volume to zero, it really is that simple, all I get now is the sonic boom (mines DSG) from the exhausts on upshifts which I'm quite a fan of. I'm assuming it's a similar process with the SEAT since they share the same engine...

  • Dale Lomas 06 Oct 2015

    CupMeister said:
    I had the same issue with the soundaktor in my Golf R Dale, I couldn't stand the noise so I just got a mate of mine to go into VAG-Com and turn the volume to zero, it really is that simple, all I get now is the sonic boom (mines DSG) from the exhausts on upshifts which I'm quite a fan of. I'm assuming it's a similar process with the SEAT since they share the same engine...
    That simple? I need a VAG-Com guy! I also noticed that there's a different audio file for the SEAT, a more '4-cylinder' noise.

  • Atomsforpeace 06 Oct 2015

    Those wheels look much better than standard affairs. Seems big vulgar wheels are standard on everything these days. Worst offender imo those horrible ones they but on the gt86.
    Time to be had on that lap also as m3 held you up a bit. Impressive commitment all the same.

  • unsprung 06 Oct 2015

    "...on a 7min 53sec lap of the 'ring"

    Impressive! Beats many other, more celebrated cars.

    +1 on the switch to smaller, lighter wheels. Unsprung weight is a thing.

  • Oz83 06 Oct 2015

    unsprung said:
    "...on a 7min 53sec lap of the 'ring"

    Impressive! Beats many other, more celebrated cars.

    +1 on the switch to smaller, lighter wheels. Unsprung weight is a thing.
    To avoid any confusion the lap times in the Wiki article you referenced are full lap times, not BTG.

    Really enjoyed watching Dale's lap. Impressive stuff!

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