Cupra Leon range expanded with new lower-powered petrol options
The Cupra Leon's distinction from a lesser SEAT grows yet thinner with new entry-level models
Cupra has expanded its Leon range in the UK with new lower-ranking models that will join the range alongside the existing 245, 300 and PHEV variants. This new model spread now mimics the Formentor's engine range, which broadly sits around £3500 more than the mainstream hatchback. This also closes the gap to its SEAT derivatives, which share the same lesser powertrain options. Full UK pricing for the new models have not been revealed, but pricing is expected to start at around £30,000.
The powertrain options now include the VW Group's turbocharged 1.5-litre 'EVO' four-cylinder that produces 148bhp connected to either a six-speed manual or seven-speed dual-clutch. There's also the existing turbocharged EA888 2-litre, which now comes in a new 187bhp form, alongside the existing 242bhp and 296bhp variants. All 2-litre models also come as standard with the seven-speed dual-clutch 'box and front wheel drive, the most powerful model rivalling top-tier hot hatchbacks like the incoming Civic Type R, current Volkswagen Golf GTI and recently updated Ford Focus ST.
Alongside the hatchback variants, the existing Leon 310 ST, complete with all-wheel drive, will continue to top the range with its more practical estate body. This full spread of powertrain and body-style options complete the new generation Leon's range availabilities, each promising more equipment and a more distinctive style in comparison to its lesser SEAT siblings.
Cupra Leon – technical highlights
Its first big upgrade compared to the previous model is the bodyshell, which is 90mm longer and shaped somewhat differently, with a more upright windscreen, longer bonnet and 50mm longer wheelbase. This body is shared with the standard SEAT Leon (and other Volkswagen Group MQB products), but the Cupra sits lower on its larger wheel and tyre packages by 25mm and 20mm at the front and rear respectively, and with slightly wider tracks. The electronic power steering system has also been fettled, while the adaptive dampers have been engineered to give the Leon wider variability between the different driver modes, all of which are now more accessible through a new steering wheel-mounted mode switch.
The high-end powertrain options take things up a notch, rising to be a serious hot hatchback contender. Here, the 297bhp version of the EA888 2-litre engine matches the Golf GTI Clubsport, and the front wheels through a seven-speed dual-clutch transmission and electronically controlled limited-slip differential. This powertrain is exclusive to the hatchback, but any meaningful mechanical upgrades such as the uprated Brembo brakes and Abt-sourced upgrade package are still frustratingly absent. Topping the range is the estate-only 306bhp Cupra ST 4Drive, which sends its power to the road via an all-wheel-drive system and a DSG ’box. Performance figures for this flagship model are rated at 4.8sec to 62mph, 0.1sec faster than the current model, while top speed is limited to 155mph.
The Leon’s design is largely shared with the SEAT derivative both inside and out. To help differentiate the Cupra versions, all models receive a new bumper set, bespoke colour options and plenty of copper-accented trim and badging. All models are fitted with at least 18-inch wheels as standard, while the higher-output models replace these with 19-inch units for an even tougher stance.
The minimalist interior is shared with the standard Leon, but accessorised by yet more copper detailing, Alcantara trim on the seats and door cards and a bespoke steering wheel fitted with an engine start button and mode switch as mentioned above. Tech has also improved, moving across to the new 10-inch floating infotainment display familiar to the standard Leon (and Golf), paired to a new digital driver’s display.
Yet this diversification has left Cupra and SEAT at something of a crossroads. With little to distinguish the Cupra Leon models from their lesser SEAT siblings, especially with the new lower-spec engine options, the SEAT variant is dangerously close to becoming an irrelevance both for customers and the VW Group itself. Cupra's bespoke models keep on coming, including the Formentor SUV and Born EV, but until then Cupra's ambitions of becoming a true standalone brand will continue to look perilously thin.