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In-depth reviews

Cupra Leon review – long term test

Our six months were free of fuss or bother, but also low on impact

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

Sometimes it feels like there is a lot to say about a car. Other times you end up reading about an event called Entierro de San Genarín or the Burial of Saint Genarin. On Holy Thursday in 1929 an unfortunate alcoholic beggar called Genaro Blanco was run over by the first rubbish truck in the Spanish city in which he lived. Ever since, there has been a procession through the streets to commemorate him. A bottle of orujo (a type of eye-watering pomace brandy) is carried aloft before being placed at the spot of his demise along with two oranges. Inevitably inebriation then ensues.

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Why am I telling you this? Well, the city is León in the northwest of Spain. The Wikipedia dots hardly need joining. The procession sounds like a memorable annual occasion. In fact the whole city of León sounds like a rather fabulous place, with an amazing history and some extraordinary architecture. It clearly has the sort of flair and vibrance that I tend to associate with the Spanish arms of the Volkswagen Group. 

But after a few months with the latest Cupra Leon I feel like it needs a bit more of that flair. For a start, a bodykit wouldn’t go amiss, and it’s not often I think that. There is some flamboyance in the way that the chassis has been set up, with a noticeably more tail-loose balance than a Golf GTI if you provoke it. Trail brake with some conviction and you’ll feel the nose dig in and the rear start to swing nicely, whereas the Golf is much more locked down and nose-led though its VAQ diff (which the Leon has too). 

The only problem is that you can’t really exploit this aspect of the Cupra on the road, and when you’re not loading up the front tyres, the steering doesn’t quite give you the confidence that the more planted GTI does. Of course, given time you do tune in to the grip of the Cupra, allowing you to trust the turn-in, and when you want to cover ground quickly the Leon is incredibly capable. But, for all its pace, there is always a sense that it’s not quite as engaging as it should be. 

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Driving dynamics aside, the Leon was a very well-specced, practical car to live with. I had cause to use it like a small van for a week and it fulfilled the role admirably, cramming in a surprising amount with the seats down. Even with the seats up, the boot was pretty capacious. The Petrol Blue leather stood-up well to the rigours of family life too and fuel economy in daily driving was what I’ve come to expect from this EA888 engine, namely mid-30s if you’re being sensible. I also liked the big, configurable ambient light bar that runs round under the windscreen and into the doors (see page 129) – a welcome bit of after-dark pizzazz. 

I hesitate to mention the infotainment because I feel like everyone is bored of hearing how irritating it can be, but equally it would be remiss to simply gloss over it. The positive thing is that there are physical buttons on the steering wheel (unlike the Golf), but, infuriatingly, for things likehttp://evo-shop.co.uk the heated seats, climate control or the various drive modes, you need to use the central touchscreen. 

Weirdly, the Cupra Leon Estate gets drive mode and start/stop buttons slung under the steering wheel spars, so that you can quickly pop the car into a more appropriate drive mode when you reach a good piece of road, but the hatchback doesn’t. With the dynamic options solely accessible via the screen it often doesn’t feel like it’s worth the time and effort. And don’t even start me on the need to disable Lane Assist – via the touchscreen menus, of course – every single time you start the engine.

Overall, Ian Eveleigh (who ran the car for several months before I took the reins) and I agreed that the Leon was mostly very good, but also curiously not particularly memorable. It’s strange, because it feels that a brand like Cupra should stand out. It should pique your interest with its uniqueness. Just like the Entierro de San Genarín. 

End of term stats:

Date acquiredJuly 2021
Duration of test6 months 
Total test mileage9095 
Overall mpg31.6
Total costs£0
Purchase price£40,790
Value today£28,000

This long term test was first published in evo 296. For the latest issue, and to catch up with our current Fast Fleet, subscribe at our online evo shop.

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