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In-depth reviews

Cupra Leon review – engine, gearbox and technical highlights

Turbo four feels a little gruff and is less linear than some rivals including the closely related GTI Clubsport

Evo rating
  • More agile than a Mk8 Golf GTI Clubsport
  • Not as confidence-inspiring; forgettable looks

The engine and gearbox found in most of the Leon range are familiar VW Group items, with the 242bhp and 296bhp variants of the 2.0-litre, four-cylinder turbo shared with the Golf GTI and GTI Clubsport respectively. Both are paired exclusively with the seven-speed dual-clutch transmission and drive the front wheels only.

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The 242bhp unit produces its peak power between 5000 and 6500rpm, backed up by a peak torque figure of 273lb ft that’s generated between 1600 and 4300rpm. Unlike the GTI, the Leon makes do with an e-LSD, which will quell inside wheelspin with the brakes unlike a mechanical differential. The Cupra 300’s figures are slightly more highly-strung with peak power available further up the rev band at 5300-6500rpm, and its 295lb ft produced between 2000 and 5200rpm.

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To help keep wheelspin in check, the Leon 300 borrows the GTI’s mechanical limited-slip differential, but otherwise shares a fairly basic MacPherson strut front- and multi-link rear suspension system with adaptive dampers only fitted as standard on the top-spec VZ3.

The 310 Estate bumps power up to 306bhp and adds a set of driveshafts to the rear axle, making it all-wheel drive. The system is Haldex-style and only sends a maximum of 50 per cent of available power to the rear wheels. It also doesn’t have a side-to-side torque vectoring rear differential as found in the Golf R and Audi RS3.

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Cupra’s engineers have had free rein to do whatever they like with regards to the fine tuning of components available to them, even if the headline figures have had to remain constant in order to toe the corporate line.

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Same thing applies to the gearbox, which has more snap to its responses, especially when the drive programme is set to ‘CUPRA’ mode. This is purely down to the fine-tuning of the software.

Although the oily bits would appear to be near enough identical to those of a GTI Clubsport – namely struts at the front, multi-link at the back with a multi-adjustable electronic damping system to take care of the detail – in reality it feels quite different from behind the wheel, which we’ll come to in a moment.

Braking is by cast iron ventilated discs front and rear; there is no availability of Brembos that occasionally like to appear on Cupra’s options list. The electronic power steering system is fundamentally the same as in the GTI, too, but in practice it feels both lighter and, once again, sharper due to the more aggressive way in which the front suspension has been set up. And the rear has clearly been tuned to offer as much turn-in assistance as possible without ever going into full-on 205 GTi lift-off oversteer mode.

The electronic damping system has more than 10 different settings similar in principle to the Golf’s. In theory, this level of fine-tuning would be a great addition to tweak the set-up on the fly, but the interface is far too fiddly to use on the move and doesn’t dramatically improve what is otherwise a fairly sterile chassis. It’s one of many frustrating elements to the Cupra’s digital interfaces.

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