The Cupra Leon will give Australian car buyers a stylish, high-performance hot hatch that’s a desirable alternative to mainstream rivals.
Cupra will launch in Australia mid-2022 with the Formentor and Ateca SUVs before it brings in the small Leon, a hatchback with sporty looks and matching performance. It has recently been updated too, and we’ve driven the model in the UK to bring you a first-drive review. Bear in mind that local specifications have not been detailed yet, so we’ll mention all of the options while we concentrate on the high-performance 221TSI hot hatch.
Based on the SEAT Leon, the Cupra Leon 221TSI’s nose gets considerably bigger for air intakes, while a rear diffuser adds to the Cupra Leon’s ground-hugging stance. Like the Cupra Ateca and Cupra Formentor SUV’s, the Leon also gets eye-catching exterior trim painted copper giving it a distinctive look. Seven colours are offered, and the matt-finish Graphene Grey works particularly well, helping the Cupra Leon stand out in a similar way to the powder blue finish adorning the Hyundai i30 N.
The interior continues the theme, with copper trim punctuating the air vents and steering wheel for a unique look. It’s an edgy design, and round steering wheel buttons for starting the engine and changing driving modes add a motorsport feel. Technology impresses, with every version getting digital instruments and a 10-inch infotainment screen. The latter offers gesture and voice control and plentiful connectivity, including Android Auto and wireless Apple CarPlay.
Enthusiasts will be most excited by the Cupra Leon 221TSI (300 in Europe), because not only is it fitted with the same 221kW engine as the Volkswagen Golf GTI Clubsport, but it also undercuts it on price. We also found it even more exciting to drive, with a rousing soundtrack and superbly judged suspension. Not only does the Leon 300 handle precisely on track, but it’s also planted and comfortable enough along twisting stretches of tarmac.
If 7.6L/100km fuel economy isn’t very appealing, the lower-powered Leon 245 doesn’t offer much of an advantage, because it’s 2.0-litre turbo petrol is essentially a detuned version of the same engine. There is, however, the Cupra Leon e-Hybrid, which shares its plug-in hybrid powertrain with the Volkswagen Golf GTE and Skoda Octavia RS iV. Its ability to drive for around 50km without using any petrol cuts its CO2 emissions to 30g/km.
The Cupra Leon 300’s 221kW can get it from 0-100km/h in 5.7 seconds and on to a top speed of 250km/h, despite it being front-wheel drive only. It might be augmented by the speakers, but the engine sound inside the Leon 300 impresses, and its throttle response seems sharper than in the Volkswagen.
Its chassis has been tuned expertly to provide an even better balance between handling precision and road comfort than the GTI Clubsport. It’s better value too, with adaptive suspension dampers fitted as standard, instead of being an expensive optional extra. Overall, it feels like its engineers have spent even more time honing its responses to deliver the best experience, and even the gearshifts from the seven-speed DSG automatic gearbox feel sharper.
Cupra is the most youthful brand in the Volkswagen Group stable, and that’s reflected inside, where the dashboard’s angular surfaces and vents make us wonder if this is what a Lamborghini hatchback would look like. The steering wheel even features two buttons for starting the engine and changing driver modes, like you’ll find in many supercars. In every version equipped with shift paddles, a heated steering wheel is also standard.
Bronze highlights may be a bit much for some tastes, but they certainly make the Leon more flamboyant than the Golf. Surprisingly, it’s also more intuitive, with a physical button to switch off driver aids instead of a multitude of on-screen menus. The only real negative is the presence of some cheap trim if you look for it.
There are several trim levels available in Europe, called VZ1, VZ2 and VZ3. Even the VZ1 grade gets 18-inch alloy wheels, privacy glass, folding door mirrors and LED lighting. Inside, there’s a set of digital dials and a 10-inch infotainment display with navigation, along with ambient lighting, a rear-view camera and four driving modes.
The Cupra Leon has no size differences to the SEAT Leon it’s based on, so four adults can travel in comfort, while its boot is competitive without being class-leading. The Leon grew for the latest generation, with a 50mm increase in wheelbase (the distance between the front and rear wheels) that provided an improvement in rear knee room. There’s plenty of headroom too, although a central transmission tunnel means the middle rear seat isn’t as comfortable.
The Cupra Leon 245 and 300 both have a 380 litre boot, that’s on a par with the Golf and slightly bigger than the Ford Focus ST’s luggage compartment. If you need more space, there’s the Honda Civic Type R with its 420-litre boot, or the Skoda Octavia RS which boasts 600 litres of storage. The Cupra Leon is also available as a wagon, increasing its boot capacity to 620 litres.
The Leon is also fitted with an abundance of safety kit, helping it land a five-star Euro NCAP safety rating. Following crash tests, it scored an impressive 92 per cent and 88 per cent respectively for adult and child occupant protection. It also has blind-spot monitoring, lane-keeping assist and traffic jam assist as standard, along with adaptive cruise control to take the strain out of driving long distances.
The normal hatchback versions bring some solid drivetrains – particularly the PHEV with its 50km electric driving range – but it will be the hot hatch Leon 221TSI which, like the Golf R, is likely to make an impression with enthusiasts and on the sales chart.