Our first drive review shows that the Cupra Leon VZx is a brilliant to drive and well-equipped hot hatch.
From an engineering standpoint, the Cupra Leon is a seriously impressive hot hatchback. It makes fine use of the familiar 2.0-litre petrol TSI unit from the Golf GTI, managing to outshine the iconic German hatch for driving fun, while still providing all the expected practicality, refinement and day-to-day usability that buyers expect.
Ahead of the model’s arrival to customers in Australia, our colleagues in Europe have already driven the model. Power options for the Cupra Leon centre around the Volkswagen Group’s ubiquitous 2.0-litre, four-cylinder TSI unit with 221kW dished up in the VZx, although driving purists may be disappointed that there is no manual gearbox option available.
Generous levels of standard kit will catch the eye of buyers looking for a good deal, including 19-inch alloys, speed sensitive power steering and dynamic chassis control, leather upholstery, heated front seats and a wireless smartphone charging pad. Starting from $60,090, the Leon VZx is more expensive than the Golf GTI although less the all-wheel drive Golf R.
Cupra has done a fine job engineering a little individual character into the Leon. Yes, it’s closely related to the Volkswagen Golf GTI, with both riding on the VW Group’s latest MQB platform, but the Leon has a longer wheelbase, the brakes are supplied by Brembo and the Spanish performance brand has spent time fettling the Leon’s suspension to create a particularly engaging hot hatchback.
The light variable-ratio steering still provides decent feedback and you’ll enjoy the Leon’s ability to push through tight corners with ease, willing you to get on the power as the differential does its job. Then there’s the straight line speed – with next to no torque steer off the line, the 221kW Leon is seriously quick and, overall, we found it to be a more complete car than the Volkswagen Golf GTI Clubsport – it’s that good. It will dispatch the 0-100km/h sprint in a claimed 5.7 seconds.
You might think that all this performance comes at the expense of a comfortable ride, but not so with the Leon. There are 15 available damper settings, graded from the more forgiving Comfort, through to Sport and then the stiffer Cupra mode. We found adjusting the suspension nearer to Comfort meant that the Leon was no firmer riding than a standard model, while even cranking it up to the harshest position didn’t feel too jarring.
While buyers have the choice of more extravagant hot hatchbacks such as the Honda Civic Type R with its huge rear wing and aggressive aero kit, the Cupra Leon offers a more subtle proposition. It features a rear spoiler and sportier bumper design, along with quad tailpipes, but remains an understated look.
The Cupra brand has adopted copper-coloured detailing across all its models in an attempt to create an air of individuality, and it generally works quite well – particularly as an accent to the darker Magnetic or Graphene Grey paint colours.
With the Cupra Leon so closely related to the SEAT family, it’s not a surprise to discover that the layout of the infotainment system is familiar VW group fare, with screen response and loading times largely similar to that in a Golf. We prefer the Leon’s arrangement, though. In particular, the home screen is smartly laid out; there are three large, customisable tiles that are easy to select on the move.
However, the Leon suffers from poorly placed touch-sensitive heating controls below the main display, but does compensate for this with more prominent on-screen shortcuts for both the climate functions and other menu keys. This includes the drive mode settings, which are accessed via a car-shaped icon at the bottom of the display – although the steering wheel-mounted button in our test car made things simpler still.
Space upfront is good and headroom is on a par with the Volkswagen Golf. Rear legroom is actually better than you’ll find in the Golf, and taller passengers should have no problem getting comfortable behind the front two.
With a 380-litre boot the Leon is just 1 litre down on the VW Golf’s load capacity, although it does trump the Ford Focus by 5 litres. The rear bench offers a 60/40 split and includes a ski hatch for carrying longer items, although there isn’t a variable height boot floor, so there is an awkward lip to negotiate when loading.
Overall, the Cupra Leon VZx cracking fun to drive and offers good levels of standard kit. While it is pricier than the Golf, it feels more unique and is a hot hatch worthy of consideration.