Cupra Leon review
All-new hot hatch from Seat high-performance spin-off brand brings Spanish style and hybrid option
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The Cupra Leon is a performance version of the Seat Leon family hatchback. But it’s not called a Seat Leon Cupra, like it used to be.
Confused? You’re not the only one. You see, Cupra is still part of the Seat family, but like when Robbie Williams left Take That it’s struck out on its own to become edgier and cooler. That means it has its own fully bespoke models, like the Formentor, and also means this Leon doesn’t have a single Seat badge anywhere.
You can tell it apart from your bog-standard Seat Leon by its lower, meaner stance, bigger wheels with elaborate designs and lashings of copper detailing. There’s also enlarged front grilles for a more aggressive face, and sporty exhaust finishers. It certainly looks more special, but it doesn’t go all out like the mad Honda Civic Type R. You also get Cupra’s bizarre tribal logo, too, but it’s a shame there’s not three-door version any more.
The new Cupra Leon gets pretty much the same cabin as the SEAT Leon, bar a few tweaks. So it’s all very simple and very minimalist. There’s a big 10-inch infotainment screen, a digital driver’s display, and very few buttons. There is a new sports steering wheel, though, with a flat bottom, lots of copper stitching and (on certain versions) cool starter and drive mode buttons, like a supercar. Sports seats and unique screen displays also spice things up a bit. It’s not the poshest hot hatch cabin around, but that’s reflected in the price.
It’s certainly very roomy, too – like the Seat version. There’s loads of space for adults in the back, plus a good sized boot. Only the Skoda Octavia vRS really offers more in the way of practicality.
300hp through the front wheels should be chaos, but the Cupra Leon is both civilised when you want it to be and great fun when you don't.
The Cupra Leon offers something for everyone (well, except diesel fans) in its engine range. Three 2.0-litre four-cylinder petrol engines can be had in 245hp, 300hp or 310hp form, for starters.
It’s worth noting that the 310hp version is only available in the Cupra Leon ST estate, and with four-wheel drive. It’s more practical and is easily the quickest in terms of launching off the line, plus offers plenty of security in the wet.
The 245hp version is the same engine you get in a VW Golf GTI. It’s punchy and comparatively economical, but our pick of the range would be the 300hp model. It’s more entertaining than the 310hp four-wheel drive range-topper, packs some serious performance and makes an angry noise.
The Cupra Leon is one of the first hot hatches to come with hybrid power. This version is imaginatively called the eHybrid, and it gets a 150hp 1.4-litre petrol engine and a beefy 114hp electric motor. These work together to produce 245hp – the same as the entry-level 2.0-litre petrol car – but also the same torque (400Nm) as the range-topping car. It can also travel up to 37 miles on battery power alone, but it’s heavier and not as fun to drive as the other models.
Whichever engine combo you go for, you get an automatic gearbox as standard. It’s a dual-clutch unit – just like in the old Leon Cupra, Golf R or Audi S3.
The Cupra’s handling varies between being a bit underwhelming in the e-Hybrid, super grippy and secure in the 310 and a great blend of agility, fun and relative comfort in the 300. The latter feels a lot like the VW Golf GTI Clubsport – no surprise, it’s heavily related – but it’s just a bit more responsive thanks to Cupra’s tweaks. Sure, a Honda Civic Type R feels more sporting still, but it’s also less refined.
The other ace up the Cupra’s sleeve is its relative value. The 300hp Cupra Leon is barely any pricier than an entry-level 245hp Golf GTI, yet comes with more equipment as standard. What’s not to like?
However, if you’d like to see how much money you could really pay for a Cupra Leon, check out our deals page.
The standard Seat Leon is already one of the roomiest cars in its class, so – surprise surprise – the Cupra version is no different.
Just like the Seat Leon on which it’s based, the Cupra Leon is great for carrying children and adults alike in relative comfort.
The front seats have lots of adjustment – you can jack them up high if you’re short or right down low if you’re tall. There’s no issue with headroom and the sporty steering wheel has plenty of adjustment, too. The standard sports seats are figure hugging enough without being too tight for wider frames.
The latest version of the Leon is a fair bit bigger than the old model – particularly in terms of length. There’s loads of kneeroom in the back for adults, even if there’s a tall driver sitting up-front. There’s loads of headroom, too, and while there is a hump in the floor, there’s enough foot room as well. It’s worth remembering, though, that those integrated headrests make it harder for those in the back to see forwards.
You could carry three adults in the back, and two would be more than happy. It’s more than good enough for family life. The rear doors open nice and wide so fitting a child seat is easy enough, though the Isofix points could be better-placed.
The Cupra Leon has a cubby under the central armrest with a 12v socket, plus two cupholders behind the gear lever with spaces for different-sized drinks. There’s also a spot for your mobile phone ahead of the gear lever with USB C sockets just above, and this spot can wirelessly charge your smartphone, too.
The glovebox is a decent size and you can fit a large bottle of water in there, along with the door bins in the front and back. The centre-rear armrest has cupholders too, although they’re annoyingly placed where your elbows might rest.
The boot on the Cupra Leon is exactly the same as its Seat-badged cousin. 380-litres is sufficient for about six aircraft carry-on suitcases – about average for this type of car but by no means big.
To put that into perspective, the above-average boot of the Honda Civic Type R swallows 420 litres. The Cupra’s boot is a nice square shape and the opening is decent, but because no Leon hatchback comes with a variable boot floor there’s a huge load lip to lug items over when removing stuff. The seats split 60/40 to allow longer items to be stowed yet somebody to sit in the back, but that’s par for the course these days.
The e-Hybrid version of the Cupra Leon has a slightly shallower boot because the battery pack lives under the floor.
The Cupra estate, however has a much more useful 620-litre load bay – that’s bigger than a Ford Focus ST estate, although the related Skoda Octavia vRS estate is even roomier still. It also gets a variable boot floor as standard to make loading items in and out a doddle.
The Cupra Leon offers a great blend of daily driving comfort with a sharp handling and strong performance, but the hybrid lacks fun factor.
The Cupra Leon stands out among many hot hatchback alternatives by offering more than one engine choice. Interestingly, one of these is also a plug-in hybrid.
The e-Hybrid model is the least powerful in the range, using the same 245hp engine and electric motor combo as the Volkswagen Golf GTE. It uses a 1.4-litre turbo petrol engine mated to a 116hp electric motor, enabling a 0-62mph time of 6.7 seconds and a 140mph top speed.
Five or ten years ago those figures would be considered plenty, but as it is it’s one of the slower hot hatchbacks of this size you can buy. And despite Cupra’s efforts to inject some amusing fake V8 engine noise through the speakers when you accelerate, it won’t really set your pulse racing. But it has a big ace up its sleeve: impressive fuel economy. While you’d only manage the 200mpg or so Cupra quotes if you charged the 13kW battery regularly, even with it depleted 50mpg is within easy reach.
The hybrid also has big company car tax benefits, but if you’re a private buyer the pure petrols are a better bet. There’s another 245hp model, using the same 2.0-litre turbo petrol engine as the Golf GTI, and it’s a strong all-rounder. But if you really want thrills, skip that and go all out with the Cupra Leon 300:
It uses the same engine, just beefed up to a much healthier 300hp and 400Nm of torque. It’s rapid from low revs right up to the redline, smooth and refined when you want it to be, and sounds like Satan breathing heavily when you don’t (in the sportiest drive mode).
There’s also a more powerful 310hp version of the same engine with four-wheel drive, but you can only have it as an estate. It may seem odd, but if Cupra sold the Leon hatchback with that motor, less people would buy its identically powered VW Golf R sibling. Company politics, eh…
The four-wheel drive grip means it fires off the line and feels more secure than the front-driven 300 in adverse weather. Given we know the Golf R hatchback is so much quicker than VW says it is, you should find the Cupra 310 can easily better its quoted 0-60mph time of 4.9sec.
One black mark for the Cupra Leon? No version is offered with a manual gearbox at all. The seven-speed dual-clutch gearbox is generally excellent, firing through gears rapidly and smoothing out at a cruise, but keen drivers may crave the extra involvement of a manual.
Given the Cupra Leon shares most of its oily bits with the VW Golf GTI, you’d expect it to feel identical on the road. But while both do feel similar, Cupra’s boffins have been fiddling and fettling the recipe.
Tweaks to the calibration of the car mean it just feels a little more eager and responsive than a GTI, without a really noticeable decline in comfort – and unlike the GTI, adaptive dampers are standard on all but the very cheapest VZ1 trim level. These allow you to move through a massive 16 different settings to find your ideal balance of bump-smothering comfort and sharpness.
The 300 and 310 models don’t get any significant suspension changes, although they do get larger Brembo brakes for extra stopping power. All models get a electronic limited-slip differential, which isn’t as effective a pulling you out of a bend as the proper mechanical one on something like a Honda Civic Type R, but does manage to kill wheelspin and torque steer pretty well.
Overall, the Cupra Leon offers a very good balance between everyday useability and driving fun when you’re in the mood. The ride has a firm edge to it, but it’s just enough to tell you you’re driving a sporty car yet not too much that you wince over every bump.
It mooches about town nicely, is decently refined on a motorway cruise (other than some noise from the wide tyres), and when you stiffen up the dampers and switch to sportier drive modes it comes alive and puts a smile on your face. It’s also basically a Seat Leon underneath, meaning it’s got good visibility, light controls and a sensible turning circle.
The four-wheel drive 310 estate trades a little bit of handling fun for four-wheel drive, which makes it feel a touch less agile but allows you to access more of its power in cold or wet conditions. It’s an extremely competent car that offers very accessible performance.
The one fly in the ointment is the hybrid. It weighs quite a bit more than the pure petrol cars, which harms agility and makes it feel less planted in bends. It doesn’t ride more comfortably to compensate, either. It’s a fine hybrid, but not a great hot hatch.
The Cupra Leon has some smart detailing to mark it out over the less sporting Leon, but it’s a minimalist look
Cupra Leon colours
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