£28,380 - £33,280 Price range
42 - 43 MPG
The SEAT Leon Cupra is the performance model of the Leon range and packs more power and equipment than the car on which it’s based on – the VW Golf GTI. It can be ordered as a practical five-door or a shorter three-door that looks sportier. Its main rivals are the Renault Megane Renaultsport, Ford Focus ST and the Honda Civic Type R. The Skoda Octavia vRS hatchback is a bit larger, but offers similar performance and even better value for money.
Inside, the Leon Cupra feels truly premium when compared to the rivals in this price bracket. The dials are reminiscent of what Audi would put in it’s hatchbacks and the controls are logically laid out and easy to navigate. The three-door SC model is understandably a bit cramped in the back, but the five-door is decently spacious and packs a big boot as well.
Under the Spanish skin, the Leon Cupra is essentially a Golf GTI so it gets the same 2.0-litre engine but it has been given more power – 290hp compared to the 230hp in a Golf GTI equipped with the performance pack. It’s a great engine that is responsive and pulls strong from low speeds and the DSG gearbox is one of the best in the business.
Similarly to the Golf GTI, the Cupra is confident and capable when driven fast, but can also settle down and cruise quietly and comfortably on the motorway when needed. The lowered suspension and variable-ratio steering are best appreciated on a twisty road, but the Cupra never feels too nervous or firm like some of the rivals.
The Cupra costs a bit more than a like-for-like Golf GTI, but it comes with more equipment as standard as well as a performance enhancing front differential and adaptive dampers that increase ride comfort.
Using the same philosophy of ergonomics with a hint of style that makes the Leon interior widely praised, the Cupra expands on that by adding some flair to the brilliantly laid-out but ultimately a bit bland cabin.
Stitched leather and sporty dial faces lift up the cabin, but apart from that and some clever LED mood lighting in the doors that changes colour depending on driving mode, the Cupra’s interior is quite restrained especially if you compare it to the one in the Honda Civic Type R.
Seat Leon Cupra passenger space
Unsurprisingly the better-looking three-door SC model is less spacious inside than the five-door one. It still has decent levels of room for four adults, but access to the rear seats is somewhat limited.
The sport seats in the front are supportive and reviewers had nothing bad to say about them. They are four-way adjustable and comfortable enough for long journeys.
Seat Leon Cupra boot space
Boot space is unchanged from the regular Leon and is also the same 380-litres you get in the VW Golf GTI and also the same . It beats the Focus ST (316 litres) on boot capacity, but falls behind the Civic Type R (498 litres) and the Octavia vRS (590 litres). The only criticism of the otherwise usable boot is a high loading lip.
Thanks to a standard limited-slip front differential and a clever traction control system, the Leon Cupra makes the most of its 290hp despite only having the front wheels to put the power down. Most performance front-wheel drive cars tent to push the front end wide when cornering fast (called understeer), but there is no sign of that in the Cupra – you simply point the front end the way you need to go and the whole car follows.
Another standard feature that is optional on the Golf GTI is the adaptive dampers. They can change the suspension set-up depending on the mood of the driver. There are Comfort, Normal, Cupra and Individual modes. In the most aggressive Cupra mode the ride firms up, the steering gets heavier and the throttle response becomes more immediate. Despite the added firmness, the Cupra is never too firm to be uncomfortable and in Comfort mode it settles down on the motorway nicely.
Powering the Leon Cupra is a version of the 2.0-litre turbocharged petrol that can be found in the VW Golf GTI, Skoda Octavia vRS and the Audi S3 among quite a few others. It’s a tried and tested powertrain that produces up to 305hp in the VW Golf R. In the Cupra it comes with 290hp and that makes the Leon one of the most powerful cars in its class. That amount of power and the clever traction control result in a very impressive 5.8 seconds from 0-62mph. Very few performance hatchbacks can out-accelerate the Leon Cupra.
There is a choice between a very good six-speed manual that has direct shifts and is generally a pleasure to use or the even better DSG automatic gearbox that is also six-speed. The auto can never match the level of engagement and control that the cheaper manual offers, but it makes the Leon Cupra faster and more fuel efficient – with the manual it averages a fuel consumption of 42.2mpg and with the DSG it can do 43.5mpg. The manual also emits more CO2 and as a result will cost £180 in annual road tax. The DSG will be £145. These are quite slim differences so it will be up to personal preference which gearbox you’ll go for.
When crash tested by Euro NCAP in 2012, the regular Leon was awarded some of the highest scores out of all cars tested that year. It was said to be safer than the VW Golf on which it’s based on.
Testing criteria is much more stringent nowadays but rest assured the Leon Cupra should be very safe – seven airbags, stability and traction control, emergency brake assist and brake force distribution come standard. The Cupra also benefits from grippier tyres and bigger brakes which also improve safety.
Being the most expensive Leon means the Cupra gets plenty of standard equipment – front and rear parking sensors, sat-nav, climate control with separate temperature dials for the driver and passenger, tinted rear glass, Bluetooth phone connection and a six-speaker multimedia system with DAB digital radio. For a small premium you can opt for the Seat Sound System that adds four more speakers and a subwoofer in the boot.
Seat Leon Cupra Sub8
For extra personalisation and a bit more performance you can opt for the Sub8 performance pack that comes in three stages of severity. Stage one gets you more aggressive side skirts, bigger Brembo brakes and orange bodywork. Stage two adds grippier Michelin tyres and stage three of the pack takes away most of the interior along with half of the speakers and replaces the climate control with a smaller heater – all in the name of reducing weight and improving performance.
The Sub8 pack was created to commemorate the Leon Cupra SC braking the world lap record for a front-wheel drive car on the famous Nurburgring test track in Germany. The Cupra was the first car to lap the 22 km track in less than eight minutes, but since then the Renault Megane RS Trophy and the Honda Civic Type R have given faster times.
The Seat Leon Cupra is a car that gets really close to the “perfect package” – it’s practical, has a very capable engine, accelerates faster than most of its rivals, it’s hugely capable on a race track and wouldn’t look out of place in front of a supermarket. It’s a car that encompasses many talents and very few drawbacks. It’s only problem is the Skoda Octavia vRS that for less money is more practical and nearly as fast.