Cupra Leon review

Category: Hot hatch

Some rivals are more fun, but the estate version is particularly compelling

Cupra Leon front right tracking
  • Cupra Leon front right tracking
  • Cupra Leon rear cornering
  • Cupra Leon dashboard
  • Cupra Leon back seats
  • Cupra Leon infotainment
  • Cupra Leon right tracking
  • Cupra Leon rear right tracking
  • Cupra Leon front right tracking
  • Cupra Leon front right static
  • Cupra Leon rear left static
  • Cupra Leon alloy wheel detail
  • Cupra Leon headlights detail
  • Cupra Leon rear lights detail
  • Cupra Leon Estate right tracking
  • Cupra Leon Estate rear right tracking
  • Cupra Leon interior front seats
  • Cupra Leon interior driver display
  • Cupra Leon interior back seats
  • Cupra Leon boot open
  • Cupra Leon Estate boot open
  • Cupra Leon front right tracking
  • Cupra Leon rear cornering
  • Cupra Leon dashboard
  • Cupra Leon back seats
  • Cupra Leon infotainment
  • Cupra Leon right tracking
  • Cupra Leon rear right tracking
  • Cupra Leon front right tracking
  • Cupra Leon front right static
  • Cupra Leon rear left static
  • Cupra Leon alloy wheel detail
  • Cupra Leon headlights detail
  • Cupra Leon rear lights detail
  • Cupra Leon Estate right tracking
  • Cupra Leon Estate rear right tracking
  • Cupra Leon interior front seats
  • Cupra Leon interior driver display
  • Cupra Leon interior back seats
  • Cupra Leon boot open
  • Cupra Leon Estate boot open
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Introduction

What Car? says...

The Cupra Leon we're reviewing here is a fast car with a twist. And it’s a twist it has pinched from the Porsche Panamera.

What are we on about? Well, the Panamera is a traditional, turbo-boosted petrol performance car thumping out masses of power, which, of course, makes it very, very fast. Yet it also comes as a super-quick plug-in hybrid (PHEV) that emits nothing from its exhaust pipes when it’s running on battery power alone.

So, you still get the fun along with a cleaner conscience and a cleaner city. Like the Cupra Leon, the Panamera is available in both hatchback and estate car forms too. Marvellous. The plug-in hybrid version of the Leon is called the eHybrid and is powered by a 1.4-litre turbocharged petrol engine paired with an electric motor – a combination that delivers up to 242bhp

That's the same power as the VW Golf GTI and a bit less than the Hyundai i30 N, Ford Focus ST or Renault Megane RS – but can any of those run for more than 30 miles on battery power alone? No. The Cupra Leon can.

If a plug-in hybrid hot hatch sounds a bit nouveau for your taste, you might be interested in the more traditional alternatives. Actually, you’re spoilt for choice because there’s a bread and butter 148bhp 1.5-litre petrol, two regular 2.0-litre turbocharged petrols (with 242bhp or 296bhp), plus a 306bhp four-wheel-drive estate version.

There are no shortage of options, then, but which version is best for you? Or would you be better off with an alternative from outside the Cupra brand? This Leon review will help you decide, and also tell you more about the performance and handling, how much it will cost to run and plenty of other useful stuff.

Remember, whichever new car you plump for, you can find the cheapest prices currently available by using our free What Car? New Car Deals pages. They currently feature lots of the best new hot hatchback deals.

Overview

The Cupra Leon 310 estate is practical, surprisingly comfortable and quick, but we'd avoid the e-Hybrid 300, which is mediocre to drive by hot hatch standards, and the pure-petrol 300 hatchback.

  • Estate is very fast yet surprisingly comfortable
  • Plug-in hybrid offers cheap company car tax
  • 300 hatch is cheaper than an equivalent Golf GTI Clubsport
  • Not the last word in playful, engaging handling
  • Engines could sound more genuine
  • Fiddly infotainment system
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Performance & drive

What it’s like to drive, and how quiet it is

The driving experience in the Cupra Leon varies quite a lot depending on the version, but we'll start with the entry-level 1.5 150 TSI. If you treat it as a sporty family car, performance is fine, but a mere 148bhp isn’t exactly scintillating in the world of hot hatches.

For less money, both the Hyundai i20 N and Ford Fiesta ST are far more fun, and you can get a near identical Seat Leon with the same engine for much less.

The Cupra Leon is best sampled with an engine you can’t get in its Seat sibling, such as the 2.0-litre turbocharged engine under the bonnet of the 300 hatchback. The power (296bhp) is sent to the front wheels, which does limit how quickly the car can accelerate away from the mark, but its 0-62mph time of 5.7 seconds is hardly shabby.

Cupra LEON image
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You don’t have to work the engine at all hard to unlock its potential. It feels muscular when you're just trundling along, and is always ready to leapfrog slow traffic if you spot an overtaking opportunity. Only a momentary hesitation from the automatic gearbox breaks the pace. Make no mistake, this is a fast car.

Faster still is the 306bhp 2.0 TSI 310 estate car version, which has the same engine as the Cupra Formentor coupé SUV. Like the Formentor, the 310 has 4Drive four-wheel drive as standard, and its extra traction helps make it one of the quickest-accelerating load-luggers for the money (0-62mph in 4.9sec). 

The 1.4 TSI e-Hybrid 300 plug-in hybrid (PHEV) is an entirely different proposition. For a start, it can officially take you 36 miles using battery power alone, and that’s something its rivals can’t emulate.

Having an electric motor to add low-end thrust to the petrol engine is also good news for flexibility, although it’s nowhere near as punchy as the 300 and 310. The 0-62mph time is 6.7sec – only about a second faster than a Seat Leon 1.5 TSI 150 and miles off the pace of the key hot hatches at this price. The battery also adds weight, and that rather dampens any thrills in the bends.

The issue of weight taints the driving experience offered by the 310 estate a bit, too. It weighs 160kg more than the 300 hatch, so never feels as eager to make quick changes of direction. The margins here are smaller, though, and the extra traction the estate has courtesy of four-wheel drive does help it feel more composed and planted on greasy roads.

Every Cupra Leon has plenty of grip, and you can make rapid progress in all of them, but it’s the 310 estate that gets our vote as the best to drive relative to its peers, including the Ford Focus ST Estate and Mini Clubman JCW. It also has the best steering, because there's less 'torque steer' (when the steering wheel pulls left then right in your hands as you accelerate hard).

All the Leon Cupras we’ve driven have had adaptive suspension, which has three main settings (Comfort, Sport and Cupra) plus a number of settings beyond and between those three, so you can really finetune things. The trouble is that, while you can make the Cupra very compliant over softer folds in the road, anything sharp creates more of a thwack than it would in a VW Golf GTI with a similar adaptive suspension set-up.

Road and wind noise aren’t frightful for a fast car with big tyres, and the PHEVs petrol engine stays silent when running in electric mode – although that's not necessary what hot hatch buyers want.

We’re not sure about the noise the petrol engine makes when it's running, either. It’s a bit bland in the standard driving mode, but instantly erupts into an imitation Seventies V6 Maserati if you select Cupra mode. That sounds exciting, but because it’s so obviously fake, it ultimately comes across as silly.

The e-Hybrid version's brakes aren’t hugely confidence inspiring because the regenerative braking system means the brake pedal’s feel changes depending on whether it's recouping energy. They’re good for an ordinary PHEV, but not by the standards of hot hatches.

Happily, the brakes fitted to the 300 and 310 estate are much more confidence-inspiring, and with optional larger alloy wheels and Brembo brakes, you’ll get an appreciable improvement in bite in the pedal’s initial travel.

Cupra Leon rear cornering

Interior

The interior layout, fit and finish

The Cupra Leon’s driving position is excellent, with pedals that line up neatly with the steering wheel and driver’s seat, which is comfy on long journeys and supportive through corners.

The digital instruments behind the steering wheel are great and can be set up in a number of styles. However, the Leon doesn’t have proper buttons and switches on its dashboard – instead it has touch-sensitive pads like the latest VW Golf GTI. You can’t find these by feel, so you have to look away from the road to check you’re not just pressing a random bit of the dashboard – and that’s distracting at 30mph, let alone 70mph.

The Leon has reasonably narrow windscreen pillars, so forward visibility is fine, but its chunky rear pillars can make reversing trickier than in some rivals. Front and rear parking sensors are standard, though, as is a rear-view camera. LED headlights are standard too, with an automatic main beam facility to avoid dazzling other road users.

The infotainment system includes a 10.0in touchscreen, a DAB radio, and Android Auto and Apple CarPlay smartphone mirroring. The screen is bright and clear, and the operating system it runs is far more responsive than the Golf GTI’s, although it takes a good 20 minutes of playing with the menus to grasp their slightly odd arrangement.

You also get a natural voice control function. You wake it up by saying “Hola, Hola”, and then things like “I’m cold” (to ask it to turn up the heater). It doesn’t always work perfectly, though.

The Leon has a plusher-looking interior than the Ford Focus ST. You’ll find squidgy, dense-feeling plastic on the top of the dashboard and lots of Cupra flourishes dotted about inside the Leon. It doesn’t look or feel as posh inside as a BMW M135i but it’s pretty much as good as the Golf GTI.

Cupra Leon dashboard

Passenger & boot space

How it copes with people and clutter

There’s absolutely loads of head room in the front of the Cupra Leon and its seats slide back a long way too. In fact, we can confidently say that, no matter how tall you are (within reason), you’ll fit just fine. And you’ll find an array of storage spots for all your accessories, too.

If you’re thinking the Leon is bound to be a less practical choice than a VW Golf GTI you’re in for a surprise. It’s actually longer than its VW cousin and has quite a lot more rear leg room as a result – as much as the Ford Focus ST. That means two tall adults fit in the back with no problem, or three with a degree of shoulder-rubbing.

There’s a ski hatch for poking long, thin loads through, and 60/40 split rear seats for when you’ve got something larger to transport. With the hatchback's rear seats in place, the boot takes up to six carry-on suitcases (below the parcel shelf), which is more than you’ll fit in a Focus ST hatchback or Golf GTI. 

The estate car version brings even greater practicality. In fact, it's almost as capacious as the Skoda Octavia vRS Estate and has useful a variable height boot floor. The Leon hatch doesn’t offer that feature, so there's quite a big load lip to lift items over. Bear in mind, too, that the e-Hybrid's boot is shallower than in other versions because the battery pack lives under the boot floor.

Cupra Leon back seats

Buying & owning

Everyday costs, plus how reliable and safe it is

An entry-level Cupra Leon 1.5 V1 costs more than more entertaining hot hatches such as the Hyundai i20 N and Ford Fiesta ST. Even the moderately hot 300 hatch costs a bit more than the Hyundai i30 N Performance. Meanwhile, the 310 estate (which is the most recommendable version) is more expensive than a Focus ST Estate, although it is a much faster car with four-wheel drive so that's hardly surprising. For the latest prices see our free New Car Deals pages.

Aside from the 1.5-litre petrol, none of the regular petrol-engined models will be particularly cheap to run, but they should still be competitive against models with similar performance. If you’re a business user, the e-Hybrid makes a good hot hatchback choice when it comes to company car tax thanks to its ability to drive on electric power alone and the lower CO2 emissions that brings. 

Even the base Leon VZ1 has 18in alloy wheels, three-zone climate control and a heated steering wheel (you have to go for a top-spec VZ3 to get heated front seats). Our pick would be mid range VZ2 trim, because that’s the least expensive way to get the 2.0 TSI 300 or 310 engine, and it gets you adaptive suspension too.  

As for safety, all versions offer automatic emergency braking (AEB) and lane-keeping assistance, with adaptive cruise control and traffic-sign recognition offered as reasonably priced extras. Euro NCAP awarded the Cupra Leon a five-star rating under its latest and most stringent test regime, based on the results for the Seat Leon.

We don't have reliability data for Cupra but Seat – which shares many parts used in the Leon models – came a middling 15th place out of 32 brands in our 2022 What Car? Reliability Survey.

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Cupra Leon infotainment

FAQs

  • It's based on the Seat Leon, which we think is a very good family car. The Cupra version is available with more powerful engines, which should appeal to performance-hungry drivers who still need some practicality.

  • Seat makes the Cupra Leon alongside its Seat Leon sibling.

  • The Cupra Leon is supposed to differ from the Seat Leon by being the hot hatch version exclusively available with more powerful engines. The waters have been muddied more recently by the introduction of less potent engines, like the 1.5 TSI 150, which is available in the Seat car for less money.

  • No, Cupra is a Spanish brand like its Seat parent.

  • The Cupra Leon costs more than a number of hot hatch rivals, and more than the Seat Leon on which it's based – even when the two are equipped with the same engine in the case of the 1.5 TSI 150. See the latest prices on our New Car Deals pages.

At a glance
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Target Price from £34,211
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From £23,930
RRP price range £35,170 - £48,130
Number of trims (see all)4
Number of engines (see all)3
Available fuel types (which is best for you?)petrol parallel phev, petrol
MPG range across all versions 217.3 - 47.1
Available doors options 5
Warranty 5 years / 90000 miles
Company car tax at 20% (min/max) £939 / £3,481
Company car tax at 40% (min/max) £1,878 / £6,961
Available colours