In addition to the standalone Formentor SUV Seat’s performance brand Cupra has also been given licence to work its magic on existing models like the Leon hatchback, itself a re-clothed Volkswagen Golf. That’s no bad thing, though, and thanks to a choice of a plug-in hybrid power or potent petrol engines wrapped in understated but stylish bodywork the Cupra Leon arguably offers a more appealing package than the closely related Golf GTI or Audi S3. Indeed, it’s more than good enough to compete with hot-hatch heroes like the Ford Focus ST, Renault Megane R.S. and Honda Civic Type R, too. High praise, indeed. And if you like the sound of that but need more practicality Cupra does an estate version, too!
“If you like the Cupra’s style but need to keep a lid on running costs you can also have it as a plug-in hybrid”
Running costs for your Cupra Leon will very much depend on which one you go for. We tested the top of the range, 300 horsepower petrol and, while the performance will blow you away, there is no escaping it will be an expensive car to run. Hot hatch fans will likely accept that as a fair cost of ownership, and in value terms it compares well with the Golf GTI and Audi S3 it shares its foundations with. Good news? If you like the Cupra’s style but need to keep a lid on running costs you can also have it as a plug-in hybrid, this version more or less equivalent to the similar Golf GTE but a fraction cheaper to buy. From the outside it looks just as stylish as the 300 horsepower version but the 30g/km CO2 makes it a viable pick for company drivers looking to keep a lid on Benefit In Kind costs and it’s still quick enough to be entertaining.
Expert rating: 3/5
Reliability of a CUPRA Leon
“You may want to consider the option to upgrade the standard three-year warranty to the four- or five-year cover”
Volkswagen and the other brands within its family are able to pool resources by sharing platforms and engines, and the Cupra Leon is based on the same bits as the latest generation of Golf, Audi A3 and Skoda Octavia. Given how many of these cars are sold across the various brands you’d have to hope the parts are reliable but it’s still early days yet. Given that, you may want to consider the option to upgrade the standard three-year warranty to the four- or five-year cover, which you can do at the point of ordering for a fee that’s modest enough to make it a no-brainer, especially if you’re also signing up to a typical five-year finance package.
Expert rating: 4/5
Safety for a CUPRA Leon
“There are three levels of additional safety packs you can option in at extra cost”
Shared technology again make it easy for Cupra to offer the latest safety aids on the Leon, and it comes as standard with automated emergency braking with cyclist and pedestrian detection, tiredness warning system and lane-keeping assistance as standard. The latter is intrusive enough you’ll probably want to turn it off immediately, though annoyingly it resets and you have to do this every time you start the car through a complicated menu system rather than a simple on/off switch as many cars have. Beyond that there are three levels of additional safety packs you can option in at extra cost, which add things like intelligent cruise control with ‘follow to stop’ to take the stress out of busy motorway traffic, blind spot monitoring, ‘Exit assist’ to warn you if you’re about to open your door into an unseen cyclist or car and more besides. Given the relatively modest cost – and desirability for resale values – we’d expect most people to tick the box for the all-inclusive ‘XL’ package.
Expert rating: 4/5
How comfortable is the CUPRA Leon
“Drivers who appreciate a sportier position will appreciate the ability to set the seat nice and low”
Cupra is, of course, a premium performance brand and the Leon is certainly dressed to impressed inside. Fair to say, our test car was in the top VZ3 trim with standard leather upholstery and all the trimmings but all models get sports seats, ambient lighting and plenty of Cupra’s signature copper coloured embellishments for a classy ambience. Drivers who appreciate a sportier position will appreciate the ability to set the seat nice and low but, however you like to sit, there is plenty of adjustment to suit all shapes and sizes up front. Benefits of the new Leon’s longer wheelbase are felt in the back, too, with nice long doors for easy access and a low-slung but comfortable rear seat and decent legroom. As ever the central one is a bit lumpy for the fifth passenger but it’s spacious for four and boot space is average for a car of this size.
Given its sporty positioning Cupra has set its Leon up to ride lower and more firmly than the regular Seat version, the bigger wheels on higher trim levels looking cool but threatening a more brittle ride. Thankfully all but the entry trim level get adjustable suspension, which you can control via the driver modes or even configure from a 15-step slider in the menu for the Individual mode. Most drivers will accept the slightly firmer ride given the sporty positioning and here the Leon impresses with its balance between comfort and control, the handling precise without feeling as harsh as rivals like the Megane R.S. can. Even in its softer settings the Leon handles with real verve, though the stiffest Cupra mode is still compliant enough to be used on the road without rattling your teeth out.
Expert rating: 3/5
Features of the CUPRA Leon
“The configurable digital instruments and central touch-screen look pretty slick and have tons of functionality”
Most cars based on this new Golf platform feature the very on-trend combination of a central touch-screen through which you control everything from infotainment to heating and ventilation and, while it does a good job of decluttering the cabin by getting rid of physical buttons, the interface can be fiddly. Touch-sensitive surfaces are all very well but when basic functions like adjusting the heating or turning the volume up or down mean taking your eyes off the road it’s hard to argue technology has made things better. In fairness this will likely become second nature over time, and there are options to control many functions from the wheel or via voice control. But not everyone wants that.
Moaning aside the configurable digital instruments and central touch-screen look pretty slick and have tons of functionality, with all Cupra Leons getting built-in nav and various connected services as standard. Or you can just use CarPlay or Android Auto, be that wirelessly or plugged in as you prefer. While all models get the kit you need we’d argue for a car of this nature the top trim level with its leather upholstery and other upgrades is a worthwhile stretch for making your Leon feel a bit more special.
Expert rating: 4/5
Power for a CUPRA Leon
“We drove the top model and can only conclude those Spanish horses are very healthy indeed”
With even the entry-level version offering 245 horsepower there’s no such thing as a slow Cupra Leon, this and the 300 horsepower model using the same 2.0-litre turbocharged petrol engine. The hybrid pairs a smaller internal combustion engine with an electric motor for a combined 245 horsepower too, with the ability to travel for 34 miles on battery power alone.
We drove the top model and can only conclude those Spanish horses are very healthy indeed, based on the performance it puts down to the road through its standard seven-speed automatic gearbox. It’s a slick transmission – possibly too slick for enthusiasts who will likely prefer the more assertive shifts in a Megane R.S. or Hyundai i30 N – and even though it’s front- and not all-wheel drive like the Golf R or Audi S3 the Cupra Leon has no trouble putting its power down. In simple terms this is one seriously rapid car, the fact it conceals this performance under relatively subtle looks meaning you won’t attract unwanted attention as you would in the VW or Audi equivalents. It’s a great combination, and means whichever model you go for the Cupra Leon will have the potential to catch other hot hatch drivers napping. Sharp, precise steering and confidence inspiring feel from the upgraded Brembo brakes are the icing on the cake keen drivers will really appreciate.