Like a sleep-deprived teenager first thing in the morning, it’s a bit groggy below 1500rpm. Above that, and when the turbo spools up, the engine springs into action, making this Cupra feel genuinely quick. Even a Focus ST estate can’t live with its 0-62mph time of 6.1 seconds.
However, this creates the age-old problem associated with deploying all that power through two front wheels. Despite being equipped with an electronically controlled limited-slip differential as standard, even on dry roads the ST Cupra 280 struggles for traction.
The problem is most apparent when you’re in the first two ratios of the six-speed manual gearbox (a DSG-auto is optional) and floor the accelerator. The wheels start spinning, leading to some brutal-sounding axle-tramp, which has you wondering if you’ve snapped a driveshaft.
Perhaps this is the reason Seat won’t let you completely disable the traction control; an unusual degree of nannying on a car of this type.
There are a host of other switchable options though, which are controlled by the ‘drive profile’ switch. This gives you three preset maps to regulate things such as the steering weight, throttle response, damper stiffness and diff-locking. A fourth, Individual, setting allows you to mix and match each as you wish.
Despite the lack of traction there’s still masses of grip and stability through the corners. The ST Cupra’s benign chassis means that, within reason, you can hurl it into bends, confident it won’t get out of shape. Considering the car’s sporting aspirations and how well tied down the body is, the ride is remarkably easy-going, too.
The steering, like most electric systems, isn’t full of feel but it complements the chassis well. It’s a variable system which means it’s not over-urgent on the motorway but gets super-quick a few degrees past the straight ahead. In Cupra mode it also weights up nicely as you increase the lock.
Inside it’s standard Leon ST, which means a decent driving position and plenty of space for a family of four in the cabin. In fact, even if your kids are fully grown scrum halves, they won’t be short of space in the rear.
As well as large, the boot is well shaped and versatile. There are convenient storage pockets either side of the main load deck, plus an adjustable floor that can be raised to give a separate storage compartment beneath and a flat load deck when the rear seats are down. The rear seat backs are spring-loaded, so they drop automatically when you pull the levers by the boot opening.
The cabin feels well bolted together and has soft-touch materials in all the key areas. The sports seats, trimmed in Alcantara, look good and feel comfortable. Elsewhere, there are aluminium pedals and sill kick plates, gloss black trim and a sports steering wheel to complete the Cupra look. With Seat being a sporting brand it’s a shame it didn’t go even further because despite the changes, the Cupra's cabin still feels a little sombre.
There’s nothing sombre about the exterior looks, though. The Leon ST’s a striking car whatever the spec, but the Cupra 280's 19in alloys, more aggressive front-end styling, red brake calipers, rear diffuser and nicely detailed LED headlights make it even more arresting.
The ST Cupra 280’s high equipment tally includes a sat-nav equipped infotainment system. However, it’s not one of Volkswagen Audi Group’s most recent efforts and does feel rather slow and clunky to use. The 5.8in touchscreen is also small by today’s standards and is of a fairly low resolution.