4.1 out of 5 4.1
Parkers overall rating: 4.1 out of 5 4.1

Reborn fast Leon also offers plug-in hybrid technology

Cupra Leon Hatchback (20 on) - rated 4.1 out of 5
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At a glance

New price £34,790 - £36,730
Lease from new From £357 p/m View lease deals
Used price £25,690 - £31,185
Used monthly cost From £641 per month
Fuel Economy 35.8 - 217.3 mpg
Insurance group 30 - 34 How much is it to insure?
New

PROS

  • Next model in growing Cupra brand arrives
  • Three different petrol options, including plug-in hybrid
  • Five-door hatch or Estate body styles

CONS

  • Faces toughest opposition from in-house rivals
  • e-Hybrid compromises agility for lower running costs
  • No manual gearbox option

Cupra Leon Hatchback rivals

Written by Lawrence Cheung on

The Cupra Leon arrived in 2020 to expand the firm’s performance-orientated line-up, which started out with the existing Cupra Ateca SUV.

The previous SEAT Leon Cupra was a big hit for the company, with around 44,000 of them finding homes, but as Cupra continues to grow as the performance division of SEAT, this hotted-up version of the Leon won't be wearing a single SEAT badge this time. Instead, it comes with the firm's exclusive branding, logos and details - mainly with the copper theme that debuted on the Ateca in 2018.

Two body styles and four trim levels

Like the old Leon Cupra (that’s the older naming style), the Cupra Leon (now its new name) comes with a choice of body styles, if not quite as many. The old car was available as a three-door SC, five-door hatchback and five-door ST estate.

Sadly, despite looking the sportiest, three-door cars have become less popular and less viable to produce alongside more practical options, so there’s no longer a three-door available. That goes for the regular Leon models, as well as the smaller Ibiza.

As such, there continues to be a good spread of options available for this version, including the estate with its all-wheel drive option, but also a plug-in hybrid hatchback for the first time.

Trim levels range from VZ1, to VZ2, First Edition and VZ3.

What are the rivals?

Unsurprisingly, many of the Leon’s rivals also come from the wider Volkswagen Group, namely the new Skoda Octavia vRS and VW Golf GTI and GTE, but with an updated Hyundai i30 N on the way, along with the existing Renault Megane RS and Honda Civic Type R, it’ll need to be impressive to appeal to potential buyers. There’s also the Ford Focus ST, which also has a choice of engines and body styles, but no PHEV option.

Safety

Safety equipment on the Cupra Leon mirrors the SEAT Leon, meaning you'll find LED headlights, adaptive cruise control, traffic sign recognition, lane-keeping assist and blindspot monitoring.

>> Read more about the Seat Leon's safety

What’s it like inside?

As it’s based on the Mk8 Volkswagen Golf, the Cupra Leon benefits from a host of extra technology over the older car. Nothing revolutionary, just the usual suite of screens to control everything, very few buttons and lots of slick ambient lighting surrounding the driver.

It’s not hugely different from the regular Leon, but there are a few new touches. Cupra logos are everywhere, and the starter button has moved to the steering wheel, like you’ll find in an Audi R8 or Alfa Romeo Giulia Quadrifoglio. The Cupra switch for the driving modes is also located here, like Hyundai’s i30 N drive mode switch, and is far more handy than faffing through the touchscreen menus when on the move.

Cupra Leon (2020) e-Hybrid interior view

The digital dial display also changes depending on the driving mode and comes with a Sport configuration, while front sports seats and plenty of Cupra-specific copper and dark chrome details add a different feel to the regular cars. There’s also a choice of upholsteries depending on the model, with part-fabric, part-fake-leather on some, and full leather in black or blue also available.

In terms of practicality, the boot capacity of the plug-in hybrid is quoted to be smaller, at 270 litres, compared to the standard SEAT Leon's 380 litres. The overall shape of the boot remains as practical as before, rather just the boot floor has been raised to accommodate the additional hardware underneath.

Comfort

There's a fair amount of road rumble from the large 19-inch tyres, but otherwise, the level of refinement is the same as the SEAT version, with a hushed engine and a little wind noise up front.

The firmed-up suspension is never uncomfortable, either, even in the sportiest Cupra drive mode on models with dynamic chassis control. The Leon never jolts or thumps you around uncomfortably, but if you want maximum ride comfort, the entry-level VZ1 comes with smaller 18-inch wheels.
The front sports seats are a nice shape with plenty of side support.

Turbocharged 2.0-litre TSI provides the power

Cupra is giving buyers plenty of options with this Leon. The old model had varying power outputs throughout its life, but the company is providing choices from the get-go this time.

Kicking off the range is a 2.0-litre TSI with 245hp and 370Nm of torque. Not a bad starting point for a hot hatch, and one that’s been mimicked with other models like the box-fresh Skoda Octavia vRS and VW Golf GTI (with or without Performance Pack additions), giving buyers an entry point to the range, and the option to upgrade to more powerful models.

As such, there’s also a 300hp and 400Nm version available if 245hp isn’t quite enough. Both of these versions are front-wheel drive and are available in both hatchback and estate body styles (SEAT calls it the Sportstourer on regular Leon models). All Cupra Leons come with a DSG automatic transmission now, controlled via a small switch where a traditional gear lever would be – known as shift-by-wire. Unlike its predecessor, there is no manual gearbox option.

For the most powerful Cupra Leon, you’ll want the 310hp version of the same 2.0-litre TSI, also coming with 4Drive all-wheel drive. This engine is reserved for the estate body style only, and is able to get from 0-62mph in 4.8 seconds.

But there’s also a Cupra Leon plug-in hybrid

Car companies rarely introduce models without some kind of electrification nowadays (in the form of hybrids, plug-in hybrids or mild hybrid technology), and the Cupra Leon is no different.

On top of the three regular petrol options, there’s a plug-in hybrid (PHEV) option available as well, badged e-Hybrid. This mimics the option of a PHEV in the similar Skoda Octavia vRS iV and, unsurprisingly, has almost identical performance figures.

It comes with a 1.4-litre TSI petrol engine producing 150hp and 250Nm of torque, and an electric motor developing 115hp and 330Nm. In all, they provide a combined 245hp and 400Nm of torque. And while that almost mirrors the entry-level petrol, it does allow drivers to use the Leon for up to 32 miles in EV mode when fully charged. Ideal for those using the car regularly in town.

Straightline performance is undoubtedly impressive when both sources of power combine together, with a 0-62mph time of 6.7 seconds and a top speed of 140mph. The gearchanges from the six-speed automatic gearbox are also quick and imperceptible. The electrical assistance is essentially the e-Hybrid's party trick, but this can feel short-lived once the hybrid's 13kWh battery pack has depleted.

At this point, you are left with just the 1.4-litre petrol engine having to haul a heavy hatchback that weighs 1,596kg in the first place - that's only a few kgs off the last Ford Focus RS with all-wheel drive. In these conditions, it's quite ropey to drive and it feels as though the e-Hybrid runs out of steam.

What about drive modes?

You have a choice of Comfort, Sport, Cupra and Individual drive modes. This primarily alters the throttle response, gearshift behaviour and can pipe artificial engine noise into the cabin. On models with dynamic chassis control and adjustable steering, this alters the suspension firmness and steering weight as well.

How does it drive?

All Cupra Leons come fitted with sports suspension that has been lowered by 25mm up front and 20mm at the rear. The standard SEAT Leon is already sweet to drive, so the Cupra version should up the ante even further.

We've only driven an early left-hand drive model of the e-Hybrid so far, and it's a bit of a mixed bag. If you view this version of the Cupra Leon as a slightly sportier SEAT with tightened up body control, then you're onto something. If, however, you think this is the ultimate handling Leon in the range, we'd suggest waiting a little longer for the 2.0-litre petrol engined versions.

The two main compromising factors of this model can be rooted back to the plug-in hybrid hardware. First of all, the additional tech adds weight and dulls the Leon's agility. The second, is the way the tech behaves inconsistently. You could repeatedly drive down the same piece of road and it would be behaving differently to the last time. As a result,you can’t really build into a rhythm when you try and go for a spirited drive and it doesn't help you develop much confidence.

The steering remains sharp, but the weighting is also inconsistent, so it doesn’t feel like you’re hooked up to the wheels at all.

For day to day driving, the suspension set up is balanced beautifully - it's firm enough to be sporty, but avoids being uncomfortable. The short bursts of electric assistance will be fun for those looking for a brief kick as they go from corner-to-corner, but the rest of the package isn’t quite resolved yet. This is a complex and heavy car and it soon shows. Those wanting thrills will be asking for more.

Running costs

Figures for fuel economy and CO2 emissions are yet to be released for the 2.0-litre petrol engines, but the plug-in hybrid is the cheapest way to run a Cupra Leon. The e-Hybrid claims to reach 201.8-217.3mpg, with a CO2 output of 30-32.4g/km.

If you can charge the car at home, it’ll take around six hours from a regular domestic socket, or three-and-a-half hours from a dedicated 3.6kW AC wall box.

Click to find out whether we think the Cupra Leon is worth going for...

Cupra Leon Hatchback rivals