Cupra Leon review – can it compare to the Hyundai i30 N?
One of the sharpest hot hatchbacks money can buy right now, despite weird branding and a very long name (which we’ve simplified for you).
With Cupra’s transformation from a small SEAT sub-brand to high-performance offshoot now matured, the Leon stands as one of the few remaining models that straddle both brands. Yet while the SEAT range has condensed, the Cupras have proliferated, with a total of five powertrain options in two body styles.
We’re not that interested in the lesser models here, rather the upper three petrol-powered options in the range called 245, 300 and 310. The first two relate to the standard five-door hatch, and sit at equivalent levels of performance bias to the closely related VW Golf GTI and GTI Clubsport. The 310 model is specific to the all-wheel-drive estate, which we’ve also driven in more detail.
Take an overview of the Cupra Leon range and you’ll notice that it’s generally well equipped and priced below the equivalent Volkswagen Golf, with a few key differences that actually make the two rivals look and feel quite different.
Whether that’s a good or bad thing is still up for discussion, though, as while the Cupra Leon is a broadly capable and well finished family hatchback, those wanting a reboot of hot hatchback superstars like the previous Cupra R Abt or Sub8 might be disappointed to know there’s no such joy, yet.
Cupra Leon: in detail
- Engine, gearbox and technical highlights > Turbo four feels a little gruff and is less linear than some rivals including the closely related GTI Clubsport
- Performance and 0-60mph time > Limits of front-drive traction made up for by sharp-shifting dual-clutch
- Ride and handling > Less precise, yet more agile than a GTI Clubsport
- MPG and running costs > Mostly sits in the 30s, making it fine by modern hot hatchback standards
- Interior and tech > Poor digital UI hinders an otherwise likeable cabin design
- Design > Subtle beyond the food processor wheels and quad exhaust outlets
- Living with it > Our six months were free of fuss or bother, but also low on impact
Prices and specs
The relatively diverse Leon range is split between trim levels and powertrain options, all of which are well equipped, with additional options generally limited. The entry-level Cupra Leon V1 with the 148bhp turbocharged four-cylinder engine starts at £29,515, but is most definitely more commuter car than hot hatchback.
The VZ1 trim level opens the 242bhp engine range from £33,390 with a standard seven-speed dual-clutch transmission, placing it nearly £5000 below the similarly-powerful Golf GTI when also fitted with the DSG. The 296bhp Cupra Leon 300 starts at £37,425 a further rung up at VZ2 level, sharing its engine tune with the GTI Clubsport.
The VZ3 tops the hatchback range from £40,790, but throws in a range of high-end inclusions such as leather seats, matrix LED headlights, electronically controlled dampers and 19-inch wheels.
Unique to the estate model is the all-wheel-drive 310 model, which features a 306bhp variant of turbocharged four-cylinder engine with a Haldex-style all-wheel-drive system. At its costliest, the fully-loaded VZ3 310 Estate will set you back £43,595, a couple of grand less than the cheapest Golf R estate for context.
The two higher-end VZ2 and VZ3 trims are also available with a 242bhp plug-in hybrid powertrain that is shared with the Golf GTE.
Cupra did initially promise to bring back the high-end dynamic inclusions that made late examples of the previous-generation models so impressive – such as bigger Brembo brakes, an Akrapovic exhaust and an Abt power kit. Yet there’s been a conspicuous silence on the topic, and with the brand’s focus on electrification it might have put an end to any notion of a reboot of the brilliant Cupra R Abt Special Edition.
If you’re in the market for a midsize hot hatchback, it still doesn’t really get any better than the Hyundai i30 N. Few, if any rivals, are able to match the Hyundai’s enthusiastic character, coming in with a sweet balance and top-level engagement. Its understated interior might look a little old fashioned, but the basics - bucket seats, steering wheel, driving position - are pretty much spot on. At £34,595 it’s also a bargain, and if a dual-clutch box is non-negotiable it can be specified with one of those, too.
The Honda Civic Type R is now a very specialised machine, and with prices knocking on the door of £47,000 it comes with a level of performance now far beyond its rivals. In fact, a hot hatchback has rarely been more exciting or capable, but it comes with the caveat of a narrowed operating window, therefore taking away some of the previous car’s magic.
Of the VW Group stablemates, it’s the Golf GTI Clubsport that’s the most capable of a fairly average group, with no real standouts in the class despite there being multiple superstars in the previous generation. The Golf is considerably more expensive, as you’ll need to option the Clubsport up to around £45k to match the Leon’s specification.