Seat enhances its three-door Leon Cupra 280 with Nürburgring-inspired add-ons, but the effect is mostly limited to visuals

What is it?

Nürburgring lap records, rightly or wrongly, dictate opinions in the car world. The success of a brand or model can rise or fall depending on whether you can clinch one lap record or another - and competition is fierce. Just look at the media frenzy surrounding the lap times of the LaFerrari, the Porsche 918 Spyder and the McLaren P1.

The record that's most relevant to this test is the title for front-wheel-drive production cars. Seat broke it in March last year with the three-door Leon SC Cupra 280, but the title was short-lived. Only a few months later, Renault slashed a full four seconds from Seat's lap time of 7min 58.4sec with the 271bhp Megane Renaultsport 275 Trophy-R.

Still, Seat chose to honour its achievement with a new performance pack, dubbed the Sub8. It's available in three stages, but each builds on the standard three-door SC Cupra 280, which is powered by a 2.0-litre turbocharged petrol engine developing 276bhp.

Stage one of the pack, as tested here, adds orange paintwork, side skirts, lightweight 19-inch alloy wheels and 30mm larger ventilated brake discs with Brembo calipers at a cost of £2150. Stage two adds Michelin Pilot Sport Cup 2 rubber, taking the total cost to £2510.

Stage three is the serious option, and involves removing the Leon's centre armrest, rear air vents and front storage units, reducing the speaker count from eight to four, and replacing the standard climate control system with a smaller heater - for this radical diet, you'll pay £4200.

What's it like?

As the only mechanical change made to our Stage one Sub8 car is larger brakes and lighter alloys, the answer 'very much like a standard Seat Leon SC Cupra 280' shouldn't come as much surprise. That's no bad thing, however, because we know from experience that Seat's hot Leon is a fun yet practical car.

The 2.0-litre turbocharged petrol motor is as enjoyable as ever, being a flexible and powerful engine all in one. Right through the rev range, it feels quick. The DSG transmission in our car works very well, too, with quick changes, even when switching to the steering wheel-mounted paddles. Sport mode adds extra enjoyment, too, initially dropping down a gear when selected, for an even quicker burst of acceleration.

Seat's driver profile select system is also here unchanged, meaning you can choose from four different modes depending on driving style. This being the Sub8 model, we'd suggest selecting 'Cupra' mode and then leaving it well alone. Here, with a sharpened throttle response, and a wonderfully sporting exhaust note, is where the Cupra truly shines. 

The larger brakes certainly make a difference when scrubbing off speed, but their benefit is only really felt when pushing hard. For the rest of the time, especially in town driving, they tend to feel a little over-engineered. 

Inside it's business as usual. There's decent space for four adults, the Leon's infotainment system remains one of the better touchscreens on the market, and while you aren't treated to the sort of fit and finish Audi or VW include, the Leon's dash and switchgear certainly don't disappoint for perceived quality. 

Should I buy one?

The question remains of what effect this Stage one pack has had on the Leon Cupra. The answer is very little, because although the stopping force is certainly greater, and the orange paint garners attention, this isn't the big leap we'd expect of a Nürburgring challenger. To experience that, we suspect you'd have to skip right to stage three of the Sub8 ladder.

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The Sub8's looks are also up for debate. Orange paintwork will certainly get you noticed, but whether or not you think that's a good thing is a matter for personal preference. To this driver's eyes, it's a little too garish.

All in, and combining the cost of the Stage one Sub8 performance pack with an enhanced sound system (£260) and metallic grey paint (£575), the cost of our test car came to £32,250. Considering that Volkswagen's Golf R - which arguably feels a more premium product - costs £32,235 in three-door DSG form, that's a big price tag to justify.

Alternatively, if you want the current record holder, try the £32,195 Honda Civic Type R, which snatched the record from Renault at the start of this year.

Seat Leon SC Cupra 280 Sub8

Location Surrey; On sale Now; Price £31,415; Engine 4 cyls, 1984cc, turbocharged, petrol; Power 276bhp at 5600-6500rpm; Torque 258b ft at 1700-5600rpm; Gearbox 6-spd DSG; Kerb weight 1395kg; 0-62mph 5.7sec; Top speed 155mph; Economy 42.8mpg (combined); CO2/tax band 149g/km/24%

If you are interested in seeing how the Leon broke the Nürburgring record, here's the full lap.

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Add a comment…
bomb 29 July 2015

The game has moved on, pub

The game has moved on, pub bragging rights these days are about mpg and how far you can go on a tank of fuel. These are cars built for journalists.
Adrian987 28 July 2015

Media frenzy...

And pub bragging rights! To my eyes, this is so much more discreet than the Civic Type R. The last time orange detailing appeared, it was on a Rover BRM wasn't it? But then the Focus ST was all orange with black detailing. Hmmm.
Citytiger 28 July 2015

£4200 for the privilege of

£4200 for the privilege of having a slightly lighter car, without a centre armrest, rear air vents and front storage units, 4 speakers instead of 8 and no climate control, are there really people in this world that stupid?