Cupra Leon hatchback review
"The Cupra Leon is a stylish, high-performance take on the standard hatch that's a desirable alternative to mainstream rivals"
- Great fun to drive
- Value for money
- Arresting styling
- Thirsty mid-range petrol engine
- Confusing trim levels
- Infotainment system could be better
Verdict – is the Cupra Leon a good car?
The Cupra Leon is a sporty hatchback that offers an interesting alternative to the equivalent hot Volkswagen Golf. With engines ranging from peppy to seriously powerful, there should be a Leon to suit most buyers. Costing just a few grand more than its SEAT sibling and coming with a plusher, better-equipped interior, the Cupra Leon seems like an obvious upgrade – if you don’t mind the copper accents, that is.
Cupra Leon models, specs and alternatives
Cupra was previously a performance trim level of SEAT’s line-up, but it’s now a brand in its own right and part of the Volkswagen, Skoda, SEAT and Audi family. That said, the Cupra Leon is still closely linked to and based on the SEAT Leon hatchback, just with sportier styling and more powerful engines.
With bigger air intakes and a multitude of copper trim inserts, the Cupra version of the Leon manages to stand out much more than its SEAT counterpart. Buyers can even opt for a distinctive Graphene Grey, Magnetic Tech and Asphalt Blue matte paint – although these may require some extra care and attention to keep clean and maintain.
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 with sat nav.
In general, standard equipment across the lineup is incredibly strong; even entry-level cars get LED headlights, 18-inch alloy wheels, wireless phone charging and a reversing camera. In September 2023 Cupra reshuffled its trims with a ‘Design Edition’ that added new alloy wheels and other touches, bringing extra flair to the car’s styling. The original V1, VZ1, VZ2 and VZ3 trim structure changed as a result, now comprising V1, V1 Design Edition, VZ2 Design Edition and VZ3 Design Edition.
Enthusiasts will be most excited by the Cupra Leon 300, because not only is it fitted with the same 296bhp engine as the Volkswagen Golf GTI Clubsport, but it also undercuts it on price. At the other end of the scale, the base 1.5-litre TSI petrol engine still offers a punchy 148bhp and will return almost 50mpg.
Most buyers, however, will likely opt for either the Leon 190 or 245 models; both utilise the same 2.0-litre four-cylinder petrol engine, outputting 187bhp and 242bhp respectively and are claimed to average around 40mpg.
Company car drivers will instead need to seek out the Cupra Leon e-Hybrid, which shares its plug-in hybrid powertrain with the Volkswagen Golf GTE and Skoda Octavia vRS iV. Its ability to drive for around 37 miles without using any petrol cuts its CO2 emissions to 29g/km, for a low Benefit-in-Kind (BiK) band.
MPG, running costs & CO2
Getting 296bhp out of a 2.0-litre engine actually requires it to be highly efficient, so if you can resist the temptation to floor the throttle, the Cupra Leon 300 can be pretty affordable to run. Its official combined fuel economy figure is 37.2mpg, which stacks up well against the 34.4mpg of the less powerful Ford Focus ST, and isn't far off the 38.2mpg of the Volkswagen Golf GTI.
While similar to rivals, its CO2 emissions from 172g/km are a bit on the high side, putting the Cupra Leon 300 firmly in the highest BiK band for company-car drivers. They'll be better served by the plug-in Cupra Leon e-Hybrid with emissions of 29g/km, which is far greener, but sadly not as fun to drive. During the same official tests, the e-Hybrid can return up to 217.3mpg, thanks to its electric range of up to 37 miles. According to Cupra, recharging the e-Hybrid’s 13kWh battery takes around three and a half hours when connected to a 3.6kW wallbox, or around six hours from a standard three-pin plug. From June 2021, the e-Hybrid also came with a charging cable at no extra cost.
Sitting in the middle ground, the Leon 245 and Leon 190 can return up to 39.2mpg and 41.7mpg and emit from 162g/km and 154g/km, so apart from a lower price, there aren't any major cost savings over the 300 version.
The entry-level Leon 150 is not only the cheapest model to buy, it’s pretty economical, too; Cupra claims it’ll return 47.8mpg from its smaller 1.5-litre engine, although with an emissions figure of 135g/km, it won’t make much sense as a company car.
Other costs for the Leon are also competitive with the rest of the hot hatch crowd; most models bar the 296bhp 2.0-litre version of the VZ2 Design Edition, and top-of-the-range VZ3 Design Edition examples incur the standard rate for VED (road tax) – those cars are instead liable for the extra luxury vehicle surcharge.
Insurance groups range from 20-33, depending on the car’s exact specification, while all Cupra models come with a three-year/60,000-mile warranty. However, it's possible to extend this warranty to four years/75,000 miles for less than £300 or five years/90,000 miles for less than £500, although it's worth noting that the Hyundai i30 N comes with a five-year warranty as standard.
Engines, drive & performance
The Cupra engine range has expanded to include several different power outputs, so it isn’t only a hot hatchback. To keep things simple we’ve listed them below in order of power starting with the highest performance model.
The Cupra Leon 300 shares its engine with the Volkswagen Golf GTI Clubsport, and its 2.0-litre is also closely related to the Golf R engine. Its 296bhp can get it from 0-62mph in 5.7 seconds and on to a top speed of 155mph, 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 gear shifts from the seven-speed DSG automatic gearbox feel sharper.
The 2.0-litre petrol engine from the Leon also comes in two different power variants: the Leon 245 is the middle of the three and is a great compromise between price, performance, and specification, costing around £3,000 less. This uses the same 242bhp petrol engine as the regular Golf GTI, and comes with a DSG gearbox getting it from 0-62mph in 6.4 seconds.
For roughly £2,000 less than the Leon 245 there is the Leon 190. This again used the 2.0-litre engine, and isn’t much slower with a 0-62mph time of 7.2 seconds. It is also a little more fuel efficient than the more powerful options, however, if fuel economy and a low purchase price are important then you may be better off with the Leon 150.
The Leon 150 is the starting point in the Leon price range, and if you don’t mind a manual transmission, it starts from below £30,000. The 1.5-litre petrol engine lacks the power and urgency of the 2.0-litre options, managing the 0-62mph run in 9.2 seconds (8.9 seconds with the DSG automatic transmission). It’s worth noting that without the adaptive suspension setup and rorty engine note of the top models, the Leon 150 doesn’t feel quite as sporty, nor does it provide as engaging of a drive as similarly-priced competitors such as the Mazda3 and BMW 1 Series.
Meanwhile, the Leon e-Hybrid plug-in hybrid gets a 1.4-litre petrol engine, electric motor and battery for an altogether different driving experience. Its combined 242bhp sounds impressive, but it's the heaviest of the three and takes 6.7 seconds to cover the same benchmark. This extra weight dulls the handling a bit too, meaning the hybrid Leon will feel the least nimble of the lineup on a twisty road.
Interior & comfort
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, called V1, V1 Design Edition, VZ2 Design Edition and VZ3 Design Edition. Even the V1 grade gets 18-inch alloy wheels, plus LED lights front and rear. Step inside and you’ll be greeted by a set of illuminated kickplates, alongside a set of digital dials and a 10-inch infotainment display with navigation, along with ambient lighting, tri-zone climate control, wireless phone charging, a rear-view camera and four driving modes. Step up to V1 Design Edition and you get different 18-inch black and copper alloy wheels with a machined finish, a black spoiler lip extension, different side skirts and a panoramic roof.
Stepping up to VZ2 Design Edition trim adds a few extra touches such as figure-hugging sports seats with integrated headrests, copper stitching and a heated steering wheel, part-faux leather upholstery and larger 19-inch alloy wheels. Finally, the range-topping VZ3 Design Edition model boasts Nappa leather upholstery, power-adjustable memory seats, adaptive dampers and blind-spot monitoring. VZ3 Design Edition cars also get the option of powerful Brembo brakes.
Practicality & boot space
The Cupra Leon has no size differences from 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 vRS which boasts 600 litres of storage. Choose the e-Hybrid and the boot shrinks to 270 litres because of the extra hardware necessary for its hybrid powertrain. The Cupra Leon is also available as an estate, increasing its boot capacity to 620 litres.
Reliability & safety
Despite being a new generation of car, the latest Cupra Leon is a thorough evolution of the previous SEAT Leon Cupra model, so it would be a surprise if its reliability is much different. Owners scored the closely related SEAT Leon 29th out of the top 75 models in our 2022 Driver Power owner satisfaction survey, although it did not make an appearance in 2023. Cupra also did not make an appearance in our brand survey, though closely related sister brand SEAT did, coming 23rd out of 32 manufacturers in 2023. Reliability was middling, with around 21% of owners reporting an issue in the first year with their SEAT – it’s worth noting that this was better than sister brands Volkswagen, Skoda and Audi, however.
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% and 88% 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.