Cupra Leon long-term test: report 1

The new Cupra Leon is a hoot to drive and one of our favourite hot hatches, but what’s it like to live with on a daily basis? We’re finding out...

Cupra Leon

The car Cupra Leon 2.0 TSI 300 DSG VZ2 Run by Mark Pearson, used cars editor

Why it’s here To find out if this ultra-sporty Cupra Leon can cut it against some seriously good hot-hatch competition

Needs to Prove it’s more than just a pretty face. It must be both tremendous fun to drive and able to cope with all the usual work and family duties 

Mileage 1721 Price £35,125 Target price £35,125 Price as tested £36,155 Official economy 37.2mpg Test economy 34.1mpg Options fitted Metallic paint (£810) Safety and Driving pack M (£220)

27 September 2021 – Yes, that's right, it's a Cupra, as seen on TV

I didn't think many people would have heard of Cupra, but apparently I was wrong. See, in the first few days of driving my new Cupra Leon, I was surprised how many others seem to have heard of what was once the sporting sub-brand of Seat, but is now a brand in its own right.

The teenagers in the car park all wanted a photograph of my car’s badges, while the doorman at a hotel in Devon was so impressed he ran off to find out more about it on the internet. One of my neighbours identified it immediately as a car of serious intent, while only one of my old friends let the side down by asking if it was a new Tesla

For sure, my Cupra Leon does look a little fancy. It has large and handsome alloy wheels, four exhaust tailpipes and a squat stance to announce its sporty intentions. It also comes with its own unique badging and plenty of bespoke design details, but I wonder if the real reason people seem to know the fledgling brand is because of its recent heavy promotion sponsoring a series of highly popular TV mystery dramas.

Either way, if you wanted to join the Cupra clan there are three models to choose from: this Cupra Leon, based on the Seat Leon, the Cupra Ateca, which is based on the Seat Ateca, and the Cupra Formentor, which is based on the, er, I’m not really sure what it’s based on, to be honest, but I can tell you it is quite a striking looking SUV. 

If you opt for the Leon, as I’ve done, you’ll have a choice of petrol engines: a 1.4-litre hybrid, a 242bhp 2.0-litre or the one I’ve got, the 296bhp 2.0 TSI 300. You can even have it in its most powerful 306bhp form, as an estate car based on the Leon ST, complete with four-wheel drive.

Cupra Leon

My Cupra may be related to the humble Leon, but there’s nothing modest about what’s under the bonnet. That 296bhp 2.0-litre inline-four drives the front wheels through a seven-speed dual-clutch automatic gearbox and produces enough oomph to propel the car from 0 to 62mph in just 5.7sec and on to a top speed of 155mph. In fact, it’s the exact same unit you’ll find in the latest version of the Volkswagen Golf GTI, a car that also shares much of its underpinnings with this Leon.  

I’ve chosen the mid-range and pretty opulent VZ2 trim. Its kit list includes 19in alloy wheels, three-zone climate control, a 10in touchscreen with smartphone integration, a rear-view camera, and front and rear parking sensors. On top of that, Cupra trimmings include sporty bucket seats, a neat perforated and flat-bottomed steering wheel, chrome and copper detailing and a Dynamic and Comfort pack, which is high-falutin’ speak for the variable-ratio power steering and the dynamic chassis control.

I’ve added a couple of options, too. For starters, I couldn’t resist the metallic Desire Red paintwork, a luscious shade reminiscent of the better Ferrari colours. Then there’s the Safety and Driving pack, which adds a road-sign display, high beam assist and predictive and adaptive cruise control. 

All that adds up to an on-the-road price of £36,155, including the options, or £35,125 without, which is actually near-enough £2000 less than the price of the equivalent Golf GTI. I thought that was a useful saving when choosing this car. 

First impressions are definitely favourable. The driving position is spot on, the steering wheel feels good in the hands and the driver’s seat grips in all the right places. I love the distinctive hexagonal pattern on the front grille, air vents and door mirrors too, echoing as they do the design details used on various Lamborghinis over the years.  

Better still, its steering is light and quick, and it responds to the accelerator pedal with alacrity. In the Comfort setting on its adaptive suspension, it even seems to ride well. Oh yes, it’s no mystery why I’m looking forward to the months ahead. 

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