‘KING OF LEONS’ - CUPRA Leon Independent New Review (Ref:1490/12308)


Car and Driving’s Independent New Review of the CUPRA Leon.

By Jonathan Crouch Added 31st May, 2024

The CUPRA Leon is a force to be reckoned with, thinks Jonathan Crouch. Here, he looks at the updated version.

Ten Second Review

The CUPRA Leon might not be the stand alone CUPRA hot hatch model we'd hoped for but it does offer a very appealing and satisfyingly sophisticated lower priced alternative to a fast Volkswagen Golf or Audi A3. Especially in this sharper-looking improved form. This Spanish shopping rocket comes with a choice of conventional petrol turbo or PHEV powertrains.


For about as long as many of us care to remember, a SEAT Leon Cupra was a cheaper way to get into a Golf GTI. Okay, so you had to put up with an interior that was notably less attractive, but in the way it drove it was pretty much identical. Same engine and running gear, same great way it went up the road - you just paid less. Then in 2021, this fast Leon stepped out from the long shadow cast by the Golf GTI and got a bit Rafa Nadal on us as it became the CUPRA Leon. Three years on, that car has been usefully updated.

In theory, it's a hot hatch from a fledgling Iberian brand, CUPRA being a marque created by SEAT in 2018 for its sporting models. In practice though, this car functions as the flagship variant for the latest SEAT Leon range and can be had with either faster versions of that car's 2.0-litre TSI petrol turbo engine or a quicker tuned-up take on the e-Hybrid PHEV powertrain also familiar to Leon customers. So really, it's a Leon CUPRA, not a CUPRA Leon, but that's being pedantic. What's more important is what the improved version of this car is like. And here, we're going to find out.

Driving Experience

The Leon Cupra has some form line. There's never been a duff one and the latest CUPRA version of this Spanish hot hatch comes with real giant-killing ability. Various engines are on offer. Most customers will be choosing either a hatch or an estate with one of two available (but very different) 245PS powertrains. There's a conventional 2.0 TSI petrol turbo unit. Or a clever new 1.5-litre petrol/electric PHEV plug-in e-HYBRID engine with a much larger 19.7kWh battery which can now travel up to 62 miles between charges and manages 62mph in around 7s en route to 140mph. Think of these variants as alternatives to Volkswagen's Golf GTI and Golf GTE (all the same mechanicals feature).

If you want your CUPRA Leon with even more zip, you'll need to get the conventional 2.0-litre TSI turbo unit in uprated tune - similar to the sort of thing you'd find in a Golf R. There are two options - a front-driven hatch model with 300PS. Or a '4Drive' 4x4 estate with 310PS which makes 62mph in 4.8s en route to 155mph. The '4Drive' version now gets clever torque-splitting technology which can shift power independently between the rear wheels during cornering for greater agility; or it can direct all of the power to one of the rear wheels if an added 'Drift' mode is activated. There's also an exclusive 'CUPRA' drive mode meant to be optimised for race track use.

Whatever CUPRA Leon model you choose, it should handle well. SEAT's engineers have worked hard on this model's electric power steering system and say it's the 'most progressive feeling' rack they've ever delivered. The ride has been lowered by 25mm at the front and by 20mm at the rear over a standard Leon. Plus on most models there's a standard DCC adaptive damping system to vary ride quality based on your choice from a range of drive modes. Stopping power's taken care of by a large set of Brembo 370mm disc brakes gripped by copper-coloured calipers.

Design and Build

Any Leon that wears a Cupra badge has to dose up the attitude a degree and this CUPRA Leon looks really gym-toned, especially in this updated form. For this mid-term update, CUPRA has added a more aggressive 'shark-nose' front end with a wider mouth and a three-triangle headlight signature. The brand badge has been moved from the front grille to the bonnet. The rear bumper's been revised too (to look like it's lower), while the rear full-width light bar reflects the three-triangle headlight motif and is highlighted by an illuminated CUPRA logo. Redesigned 18 and 19-inch wheels also feature. As before, there are side skirts that visually lower the vehicle and the dark chrome front grille frame, front wings and exterior side mirrors contrast with the various model-specific body colour options.

Inside, CUPRA has worked to improve perceived quality, also adding a bigger 12.9-inch central screen with a more intuitive infotainment system featuring customisable widgets and wireless 'Apple CarPlay' and 'Android Auto'. The touch-sensitive sliders for volume and climate have been illuminated and there's now a more powerful 15-watt wireless 'phone charging mat with a cooling fiunction to prevent your 'phone from over-heating. Selected models get bucket seats with 73% recycled vegan microfibre upholstery. And there's now the option of a 12-speaker 425-watt Sennheiser audio system upgrade.

As before, you get a compact DSG shifter and a CUPRA steering wheel with shift paddles houses the engine start and driver mode selection button. You also get an interactive digital driver display to replace conventional binnacle dials. Throughout the interior the copper and dark chrome detailing brings a sense of drama, with the dashboard and door mouldings finished in brushed dark aluminium and illuminated CUPRA treadplates in the front doors and colour coded door panels and seats.

Otherwise, it's much as in any other Leon. There's comfortable room for a couple of adults in the back. And a 380-litre boot in the hatch (it's 617-litres in the estate). That's for the conventionally-engined models; for the PHEV e-HYBRID hatch and Estate derivatives, the figures are 270 and 470-litres respectively.

Market and Model

Four trim levels are on offer - 'VZ1', 'VZ1 Design Edition', 'VZ2 Design Edition' and 'VZ3 design Edition'. All models get, amongst other things, full-LED headlights, sports suspension, a reversing camera and the SEAT Digital cockpit with an interactive driver display screen and a 12.9-inch central infotainment monitor. All that comes with 'V1' trim, priced from around £32,000. 'VZ2'-spec gives you the option of both body shapes and the e-HYBRID powertrain if you want it (the e-HYBRID priced from around £41,000). 'VZ2' models add DCC dynamic chassis control, speed-sensitive steering, larger 19-inch alloy wheels and (on the Estate) roof rails too. The flagship 'VZ3' model is priced from around £44,000 and adds petrol blue Nappa leather bucket seats, a heated steering wheel and a wireless smartphone charging pad. If you want the 300PS 2.0 TSI model, you'll need from around £45,000 and there are two trim levels - 'VZ2 Design Edition' and 'VZ3 Design Edition'. The 4Drive 310PS AWD powertrain's limited to the estate.

Depending on the spec level chosen, there's plenty of autonomous driving tech and safety equipment too fitted across the range. Predictive Adaptive Cruise Control (ACC) uses feeds from GPS data delivered from the navigation system and input from the front-mounted camera and Traffic Sign Recognition, allowing it to proactively adjust the cruise speed depending on the road layout ahead. When the road becomes more congested Traffic Jam Assist takes the stress out of driving, maintaining a safe distance to the vehicle in front. There's also an 'Emergency Assist' system that can bring the Leon to a controlled stop if you're taken ill at the wheel. And a 'Blind Spot Detection' system that alerts the driver to another vehicle in their blind spot.

Cost of Ownership

Owners of much older previous generation Leon CUPRAs will look incredulously at the three-figure fuel efficiency stats and tax-beating CO2 readings of the e-HYBRID version of this current model, which in this improved form claims to be able to take you 62 miles between charges of its now-larger 19.7kWh battery (30 miles further than the original CUPRA Leon e-HYBRID could manage). The brand has also added 50kW DC rapid charging capabilities for the Leon e-HYBRID too - and increased the maximum speed for AC charging from 3.6kW to 11kW.

Powering a PHEV CUPRA Leon up from a domestic socket would take around five hours, but most owners will want to find an extra few hundred pounds to install a wallbox charger in their garages. Use such a wallbox and you'll be able to reduce your charging time period from empty to well under three hours. Once that's been done, a PHEV CUPRA Leon can as we said now travel much further on a single charge. Which means that if the vehicle is only used for short commutes and re-charged regularly overnight, it's conceivable that this electrified Spanish hot hatch could be run almost entirely on off-peak electricity, costing pennies rather than pounds to consume.

As for the more conventional 2.0 TSI CUPRA Leon models - here, think around 38mpg on the combined cycle and about 170g/km of CO2; that's for the 245PS front driven version. The 300PS variant manages up to 37.2mpg and up to 171g/km.


This CUPRA-badged Leon continues to be an under-rated fast family hatch or estate. For some hot hatch customers, the idea of being able to combine storming performance with the now-improved all-electric drive capability of the e-HYBRID variant will be novel. Others will want to stick to the familiar 2.0-litre petrol turbo formula of the more conventional derivatives.

It's true that most of what's on offer here can also be had in differently packaged form with either a Škoda Octavia vRS, a Golf GTI, a Golf R or an Audi S3. But, especially in this improved form, the CUPRA Leon has a slightly more dynamic look and feel than any of those cars - closer to an old-school hot hatch if you like. If that kind of twist on the usual Volkswagen Group shopping rocket confection appeals, we think you'll bond quickly with this Iberian road burner.

  • Performance
  • Handling
  • Comfort
  • Space
  • Styling
  • Build
  • Value
  • Equipment
  • Economy
  • Depreciation
  • Insurance
  • Total (76/110)

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Terms and Conditions:

  1. Emissions and efficiency data taken from official test results, where available, when new. Data shown is intended to provide a standard figure for comparing the relative fuel economy of different vehicles of a similar age and condition, and does not represent the average fuel consumption that will be achieved on the road. Actual figures will depend on factors including the age of the vehicle, how it has been maintained, road and weather conditions and driving style.