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CUPRA Leon Review

Introduction

If you are wondering why this is a Cupra Leon rather than a Seat Leon Cupra, then welcome to Seat's re-branding exercise.

With Seat being more family-friendly, it seemed a bit at odds to have a performance brand under the same badge. So, the marques been separated.

Yes, this is still a Leon, and, technically, it is still a Seat, too. But you won’t find a Seat badge anywhere near it, let alone on it. And the newly separated Cupra brand is only too happy to distance itself from its roots if it means shifting more cars off the production line.

Select's rating score* - 3.8 / 5

At a Glance

Nevertheless, unsurprisingly, it still retains the look of a Seat Leon. Still, there is copper-coloured styling everywhere, which is part of Cupra’s design signature. At the same time, the bodywork is beefed up, with a roof spoiler overhanging the rear windows, a diffuser underneath the car and quad-exhaust tailpipes at the back.

The model has also been lowered by a couple of centimetres over a standard Seat, with new suspension and stiffer springs. This is aimed at improving the handling.

So far, so Cupra.

Another thing to consider, is that Seat (and therefore Cupra) is part of the VW group – so that means the Leon shares an awful lot of its makeup with the king of the hot hatches, the Volkswagen Golf GTi. This includes the engines found on the latest Golf Clubsport model.

There are a couple of tiny annoyances. Firstly, there are no gas-filled struts to hold the bonnet up, leaving you to use the manual retractable stick. And, secondly, given this is a performance car, you would have thought Cupra would give us a nicely designed engine cover to admire instead of the blank, bland one that comes with the vehicle.

You might be surprised by these gripes. It is just a fancy Seat, after all. But any minor imperfections stick out like a sore thumb when you realise that Cupra is all about raising expectations, most of which it delivers on.


Key Features

The Leon is only available in a trio of trims – VZ1, VZ2 and VZ3. This is more significant than it sounds, as it means there is no basic V1 or V2 at entry-level like you’ll find elsewhere in the Cupra range. This means that, as only VZ trims are offered, even the entry-level Cupra is likely to pack a punch. Except for the hybrid version of the car, which we’ll come on to, all Leons are 2.0-litre four-cylinder petrol engines.

The VZ1 is only available with the 245PS engine, while the VZ2 and VZ3 have a choice of the same unit or a more powerful 300PS variant. All are seven-speed DSG automatic gearboxes.

The hybrid version contains a 1.4-litre petrol powerplant and an electric motor combining to produce 245PS, available in VZ2 and VZ3 trims, with a six-speed DSG automatic ‘box.

Cupra is already getting quite the reputation for its generosity with standard kit, and the Leon is no exception. It has got a considerable amount.

The VZ1 gives you 18-inch wheels in a choice of black or silver, electric windows, which are tinted in the back, electric-folding and heated door mirrors, and an electronic parking brake. You also get LED automatic headlights with dynamic range control, rain-sensing wipers, a digital instrument display, an infotainment system with a 10-inch screen including SatNav, and Apple CarPlay/Android Auto.


What is more, there are four USB-C ports, a DAB radio, a heated steering wheel, voice control, a dimming rear-view mirror, wraparound lighting, and chrome detailing in the interior. In addition, there is three-zone climate control, manually adjusted cloth seats, adjustable lumbar support, park assist (which includes front and rear parking sensors), a rear-view camera, a start-stop system with regenerative braking, keyless entry and start, and a driver alert system.

Lane-keep assist, forward collision warning, a tyre pressure monitoring system, cruise control and sports seats are included, too. You even get illuminated door sills at the front. Wow!

Perhaps predictably, there is not much else to add to the other trims, so the additional list for the VZ2 and VZ3 is more modest.

The VZ2 gets you 19-inch alloys (again, your choice of black or silver) as well as cramming in dynamic chassis control, while the VZ3 adds in heated front seats and a wireless phone charger.


Performance & Drive

Our test car is the VZ2 trim with the 300PS engine – and that is a good thing, as it's the best engine in our view.

The 240PS engine is perfectly acceptable, but it is not much more economical. So, with that in mind, if you are leasing a hot-hatch, you may as well have the top-spec engine to maximise the performance.

Unsurprisingly, with such clout, its performance is as copious as you would expect, with zero to 62mph dealt with in just 5.7-seconds. There is power available across the rev-range, while the car always feels like it’s got something in reserve, which it delivers with much aplomb.

A limited-slip differential sends the power to whichever wheel has the most grip, which improves the car’s cornering ability and, overall, it handles very well. When you take a turn fast, you can feel the diff gripping at the front end to pull itself round the bend.

The Leon also has excellent steering, which automatically adjusts its weight depending on the driving situation, feeling very responsive as a result.

The downside is that if the weather is a bit iffy (hello, this is the UK, when is it not?), or you're driving on a dodgy road surface without much grip, then you will be wishing you had power at the back wheels. 245PS, never mind 300, is a considerable amount to be sent just to the front tyres. And, although the Leon does an excellent job of it on a dry road – in poorer weather or on rougher terrain, it simply can't cope with all the muscle if your demands on the accelerator are excessive. You also get a lot of wheelspin, followed by the traction systems fighting one another to keep the car in a straight line.


The firmer ride resulting from the sports suspension is fine. This is thanks to the bucket sports seats, which do a great job of supporting your back over bumps and creases in the road, despite the very low-profile tyres on our 19-inch rims. It rides as flat as possible through the corners with minimal body roll, and it is a contender, rather than a pretender, for the king of the hot hatches.

The Honda Civic Type-R and the Volkswagen Golf GTi are arguably still ahead, but Cupra has done a top job. Not only that, this is a car you could easily live with day-to-day.

We are a bit disappointed there is no manual gearbox available. The automatic is good, but possibly not as responsive as keener drivers may want and, for reasons already explained, we would rather have rear-wheel drive, too.

Nevertheless, none of this is a deal-breaker. The eHybrid version is, though. The performance just isn't there, considering this is supposed to be a hot-hatch. And the added weight of all those batteries takes away from the handling. If you have run out of charge, it just feels like a big, heavy and slow Seat with sports styling on it.

The main reason to lease a hybrid is for the fuel economy and for environmental reasons. But, if that’s your focus, then the hot-hatch market is the wrong place to be looking. Of course, this may change as technology improves and electric motors require less battery capacity, so we’ll be interested to see how this evolves. But it seems it is some years away yet.

The eHybrid might be justified as a company car, given the low tax band it’s in. But then you will always know you are driving around in a hot-hatch that just doesn’t cut the mustard.


Running Costs & Emissions

Our test car with the 300PS engine claims 37.2mpg and CO2 emissions of 171g/km.

That is pretty normal for a car with so much power – competitive, but nothing special.

You will get a tiny change in fuel consumption with the 245PS engine to around 39mpg, while CO2 emissions drop to 162g/km.

The eHybrid, of course, fairs much better, producing just 32g/km of CO2 and it claims over 200mpg. But that’s assuming there is some charge in the battery, which can do only 30-ish miles on electric power alone. So if you use it all, don’t expect to get anywhere near 200mpg afterwards.

Interior & Technology

The Cupra Leon’s interior looks classy – it's not up to the premium standards you will find in an Audi, for example, but it is nicer than anything Ford has managed to come up with.

A sports steering wheel gives you something pleasant to hold, the bucket sports seats – which are very comfortable – provide you with something nice to sit in, and the aluminium pedals give you something attractive to put your feet on.

The driving position is good and, on the steering wheel, there is a start button to turn on the engine and another to select which driving mode you want. Stability control can also be turned off from a switch if you’re feeling brave.


Voice control is supposed to add a bit of smart technology to the car, along the lines of Amazon Alexa, Apple’s Siri or Android's Google Assistant. For example, tell the vehicle you are cold, and it will turn up the heater. It is a bit gimmicky and it doesn't always seem to work, but it adds an extra dimension to the driving experience all the same.

The 10-inch touchscreen included with the infotainment system is sharp, and the interface is clear. You can adjust settings, such as the temperature, with touch-sensitive sliders. While these seem cool, they aren't particularly convenient to operate while on the move, as it's challenging to get a feel for where they are without taking your eyes off the road.

Meanwhile, the digital instrument display gives you plenty of information and has several different styles to choose from.

There is a surprising amount of headroom in the front, and even taller drivers will be impressed with the space on offer.

The back is similarly well-designed, with headroom and legroom both remarkably plentiful when you consider this is a relatively small car.


Practicality & Boot Space

The Cupra Leon has a boot capacity of 380-litres, expanding to 1210-litres with the rear seats folded away. That is on a par with the Volkswagen Golf GTi, which has 374-litres, increasing to 1230-litres.

The Honda Civic Type-R boasts slightly more at 420-litres, but this only expands to 786 with the seats folded flat.

You can fold the back seats down in a 60:40 configuration.


Safety

The Cupra Leon was put through its paces by Euro NCAP last year and earned a five-star safety rating.

It scored 91% for adult occupants, 88% for children and 80% for safety assists. That is very similar to a VW Golf, actually achieving slightly more on the safety assists.

There is plenty of kit on board aimed at protecting you in an accident or even preventing one in the first place.

Automatic emergency braking will detect objects ahead and bring you to a stop, while lane-keep assist will ensure you don’t stray out of your lane on motorways.

There is also a Safety and Driving Pack available as an optional extra and, much like a fast-food meal, it is available in three sizes – Medium, Large and Extra Large.

Medium gets you high beam assist, automatically turning off parts of the main beam to avoid dazzling oncoming traffic. It also sorts you out with predictive adaptive cruise control. This ensures you remain a constant distance from the vehicle in front and brings you to a stop should the lead car slam on its brakes. You also get traffic sign recognition.

Large adds in exit assist – which helps in situations where visibility might be restricted, such as when reversing – and lane change assist, which monitors blind spots when changing lanes on a motorway.

Extra Large adds in the lane-keep assist to stop you veering into the next lane, plus semi-automatic vehicle control, which can help should you suffer a medical episode at the wheel. Then there is traffic jam assist, which automatically accelerates and brakes for you when in stop-start traffic.


Options

Having covered an extensive list of standard parts for the Leon, you probably know what’s coming on the options list.

Erm, it's a bit bare.

But that is a good thing because Cupra has already given you all the would-be optional extras as standard. So the automaker should be congratulated for that.

You can get a panoramic sunroof, while you can add in one of three ‘fast food’ safety packs we mentioned earlier.

In the VZ3 trim, you can change the Nappa leather to blue if that’s your preference, too.

One thing that is a bit annoying is the Leon comes in white as standard and, if you want any other colour, it is going to cost more.

Optional shades include metallic paint in dark blue, dark grey, black, white or silver, or you can have premium metallic paint in red or dark grey. Grey and dark blue are also available in matte paint.


Rival Cars

If you are thinking about a Cupra Leon, then you are going to want to look at other hot hatches, too.

As previously mentioned, Volkswagen’s Golf GTi is the obvious alternative, while the Honda Civic Type-R is always worthy of being mentioned in dispatches.

The Renault Megane RS is worth shortlisting, as well.

But, if you are blown away by how much Cupra has included as standard and want to mix the sportiness with something a bit bigger and more practical, there is also an estate version of the Leon. It is more powerful and has four-wheel drive, but it isn't as fun as the hatchback.

SUV fans might like to check out the Leon’s larger siblings, the Cupra Formentor or Ateca, too.

The Ford Focus ST is another one to consider, while the Fiesta ST is a step down in size and price if the bank balance is insufficient for the Leon.

Verdict & Next Steps

Overall, the Cupra Leon is great.

It is superb fun to drive, it handles very well, and it is a serious rival for the Golf GTi – which is a big claim. Plus, it is also practical for a car of its size.

The VZ2 trim might save you a bit of money, as it is the lowest trim available with the dynamic chassis control, plus you can also have the 300PS engine.

Regardless of the trim you choose, the Leon packs in a heck of a lot as standard. And when you see the kit you get compared with the GTi, it looks excellent value for money.

Where to next?

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**Score based on Select’s unique meta score analysis, taking into account the UK’s top five leading independent car website reviews of the Cupra Leon

**Correct as of 19/10/2021. Based on 9 months initial payment, 5,000 miles over a 48 month lease. Initial payment equivalent to 9 monthly payments or £2545.02 Ts and Cs apply. Credit is subject to status.



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