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Cupra Leon long-term test

2020 onwards (change model)
Parkers overall rating: 4 out of 54.0

Written by Luke Wilkinson Published: 16 January 2023 Updated: 20 October 2023

Saying hello to the Cupra Leon long termer

The collective definition of the term ‘family car’ has evolved over time. Now the SUV is held up as being the answer to the needs of those with small children to cart around. With their high ride height, big boots and myriad storage options, it’s easy to see why.

Nonetheless, for many the simple hatchback is still all you will need from a family vehicle.

Tom Webster spent his youth being ferried around in a series of cars that are much smaller than the average hatch, so is on board with this idea. He’s living with a Cupra Leon to see if that still holds sway in 2023.

Update 1: Basic trim with loads of toys

Update 2: Reduced back pain

Update 3: Family road trips

Update 4: Naming confusion

Update 1: Basic trim with loads of toys

If I hadn’t looked up the equipment list of the V1 trim before I took delivery of the Cupra Leon, I would have assumed this was a mid-to-high-level spec rather than the entry-level one it is.

The major bases are all covered, at least for our needs. Long gone are the days of feeling like the basic trim will have most of what you need apart from one thing that you would really rather have but you can’t justify the extra cost.

Cupra Leon long termer rear end

Being a Cupra, all the visual adornments are in attendance. Outside you get Cupra bumpers and 18-inch black and silver alloy wheels behind which sit black Cupra brake callipers.

Inside the highlights include sports seats, some chrome and copper details, a leather-clad, flat-bottomed steering wheel and Cupra sports pedals.

The 12-inch touchscreen gets nav and wireless Apple Carplay and Android Auto. There’s a digital cockpit in front of the steering wheel and it is all controlled via a series of buttons on wheel and through the screen itself. The frustrations of living with the VW Group infotainment screen have been covered in plentiful detail elsewhere, so I promise not to turn these reports into an ongoing grumble about its lack of physical buttons, infuriating user interface and unlit volume controls.

It is nice to have wireless charging, although it isn’t as good at coping with my phone’s cover as those in other cars, but it kicks in sporadically to help negate the battery drain that streaming navigation and music produces.

The additional kit list is incredibly short – the only added extra is the white metallic paint, at £580.

A Cupra with a non-Cupra engine

The engine in the Cupra Leon is also relatively entry-level, as it is the smallest and least powerful you can pick up in the range. With 150hp from the 1.5-litre engine it isn’t exactly lacking, though, and still gets from 0-62mph in 8.7 seconds. To put this into context, this is the most powerful engine that you can get in the SEAT Leon with which the Cupra shares, well, pretty much everything. In fact, this is the only engine you can get in both the SEAT and the Cupra.

Cupra Leon long termer driving

Because this comes with the seven-speed DSG automatic gearbox, this is a mild hybrid engine, with a little, but imperceptible, support from a battery and motor. It’s yet to make its presence known though.

That DSG ‘box is something about the Leon’s driving experience, that I’m generally fond of though. It’s smooth and relaxing rather than engaging and sporty, but I’ve spent more time pootling around town than attacking B-roads so far, so that’s fine by me.

Perception is everything when it comes to how appropriate the engine is for the Cupra Leon. Where it might feel a little sprightly in the SEAT version presenting as a plain family hatchback, the Cupra is a different manner, if you take the branding into consideration at least.

Family space

So far, the Cupra Leon has been well up to the task of everything that our family has thrown at it. The rear leg room is plentiful enough for a hefty pair of child seats, although small feet still kick up against the front seats.

Cupra Leon long termer rear seats

The Isofix points are buried behind what feels like a couple of basic cuts in the seat fabric, though. Getting them in requires some exploration with your fingers to make sure the seat Isofix arms get into the correct place. You can’t see the anchor point, so it’s a bit of a fiddly process.

The boot has managed to take the most challenging and oddly shaped of our regular loads – two child-sized bikes. Doing so required a little careful angling of the front wheel of the larger bike, but both went in without having to take the parcel shelf out.

The coming months are all family focused. The Cupra’s biggest task will be to take the challenges that come with carting around a demanding set of small passengers, and all their stuff.

Update 2: Reduced back pain

We’re several weeks into our time with the Cupra, and it’s slotted into family life with aplomb. Although it isn’t a huge car (not in terms of its overall dimensions or boot space in any case) it has provided an impressive amount of room in one area in particular.

Cupra Leon long termer corners well

I might have mentioned in the odd long-term update here and there that I have two small children. The smaller of the two is still in a car seat that takes up a significant amount of space in the rear of the car. Given she has little legs, she and her seat need more legroom than most adults.

If she doesn’t have enough, she ends up bashing her little shoes against the front of the seat in front. In fact, that happens almost all the time, so it is more a case of ensuring she can only brush her feet against the front seat rather than spend the whole journey merrily kicking away.

Cupra Leon rear seats with child seat behind driver

As a result of this, you often end up needing to move the front seat further forward than you might be comfortable with. And because the driver needs to be able to fit behind the wheel safely, this normally means that the front seat passenger ends up compromised and with less legroom than is ideal, all to accommodate someone who is less than a metre tall…

This isn’t the end of the world – it means I can glance back at the small person using the rear-view mirror when I’m driving, and it is easier to hand her another snack when we park up, so we tend to default to that layout.

Circumstances meant that I ended up hurriedly having to swap the layout recently, though. I fully expected the short trip home from nursery to be regularly interrupted by sharp kicks to the back of my seat, especially as I had forgotten her chosen snack. Tolerable for 10 minutes, not ideal for longer.

Mercifully, this proved not to be the case, and on closer inspection it turned out that there was much more room than I’d expected. I’ll be swapping them back, but it’s nice to know that the option is there.

The one thing I won’t be doing, though, is making use of the Isofix points up front. It might be possible, and they might enjoy it, but if they know it’s possible then I’ll never hear the end of it. Frustratingly, though, the connections in the front are more accessible than those in the rear.

Update 3: Family road trips

With far-flung family, any car that we live with will eventually spend some time trekking away to a distant part of the country via a selection of motorways and tiny winding rural roads.

The most recent trip saw us head down to Dorset, boot full of everything that small children demand, and the second row taken up by the kids themselves.

Cupra Leon is starting to get through the miles.

Given we were heading for a birthday celebration that was due to be held outside, we were delighted to be blessed by warm and sunny weather. While this was good news for the event itself, it presented plenty of opportunities for grumbling from the rear seats about it being too bright/too hot etc.

While we have a pair of cartoonish blinds that stick onto the window to give a little more sun protection, about half an hour into the drive I realised I’d forgotten to pack them. Thankfully the tint on the Cupra’s rear windows is stronger than that offered on the commercial vehicles I often drive, and definitely versus that on our own aged Honda.

The air con confusion

The next challenge was keeping the cabin cool. I won’t go into a detailed diatribe about the appalling way in which you control the temperature and fan speed but in short, it’s frustrating to say the least. Having to go into multiple sub menus, accessed by small icons that are not always in the same place on the screen, is ridiculous and annoying when all you want to do is blast the cabin with some cool air for a minute or two.

The cabin in the Cupra Leon long termer.

And anyone who comes out with ‘Do it before you set off and leave the climate control to do its job’ is welcome to come and have that discussion with a five- and two-year old. Sometimes it’s quicker to just turn the fan up for a bit and everything that makes that harder while you are on the move is a bad thing. And then there’s the fact that you have to use the shortcuts below the screen to adjust the temperature, but you can’t do so on the ‘Clima’ screen. And that those shortcuts aren’t lit up at night…

Still, once you’ve gone through the rigmarole of tweaking the temperature, the fans to at least work well.

This doesn’t stop the requests to open the windows, though. Maybe my ears are getting more sensitive with age, but when I do that in the Cupra Leon then you get a fair amount of booming noise, depending on which you open. If my eldest opens her window then you have to drop one of the front ones even at relatively low speeds.

Comfort continues

Now I’ve got my grumbles about air-con out the way, it falls to me to report that the rest of the ride was carried out in glorious comfort. The Cupra Leon might come with sport suspension, but it remains calm and assured across most surfaces.

This longer trip also gave the opportunity for the Leon to improve its fuel economy. So far it’s been hovering around 41mpg, but this trip saw the latest tank bump this up to 44.5mpg. This is still on the lower end of the official average, but it’s a welcome step in the right direction.

Update 4: Naming confusion

Throughout the Cupra Leon’s time with us I found myself constantly stopping and questioning whether I was calling it the right name. In a previous life I lived with a SEAT Leon Cupra, and the parallels between the two cars have been huge, not least because both were white, well-equipped and had five doors.

But the problem summed up my biggest issue with my 2023 Cupra Leon. While it is a very competent family car, with many strong attributes, I couldn’t quite get my head around how to view it.

Cupra Leon was the perfect size for the majority of family life.

It is all the Cupra branding that confuses matters. It might look like a Cupra, have Cupra adornments and even ride like one thanks to the sports suspension. The problem is, with the 1.5-litre hybrid engine, it doesn’t drive or sound like one. This engine is shared with the standard SEAT Leon, where it is only available on the top two, sportier trims.

It basically comes down to a few hundred pounds between the two and a feeling. The price is so close that you are highly likely to be able to get a basically identical deal on a Leon wearing a SEAT badge and another with a Cupra logo on the bonnet and steering wheel.

There is no real reason why you shouldn’t go for the Cupra, and it is probably just the old-school car industry observer in me, but I can’t really see why both brands are making identical vehicles. Cupra used to be to SEAT what GTI is to VW. I don’t really get why you can get a ‘GTI’ Leon that doesn’t feel that quick or sound that sporty.

Sensible family transport with a sporty suit

Bafflement over the badging aside, the Cupra Leon has genuinely been an excellent family car. As I said when I started life with the Leon, I don’t subscribe to the idea that a family with two kids necessarily needs an SUV, or even an estate. Sure, having such a car might make things a bit easier on the occasions when you really need to chuck everything in to go on holiday, but that doesn’t happen that often.

For the vast majority of weekly journeys, a smaller family hatch like the Leon is much less stressful – not once did I feel like I wasn’t going to fit into a parking space or get it under a barrier. It also made getting small children out of the back easier when into those parking spaces.

The Leon Cupra took two bikes in its boot, albeit small ones.

The boot was big enough to take all our stuff, whether shopping or heading away for a long weekend break. It helps that our children are still small enough that their bikes aren’t large enough to warrant a rack on the back of a car, and both fit into the Leon’s boot.

It would be nice if there wasn’t such a huge entry lip on the boot, though – we didn’t have cause to pick up any flat-pack furniture, but it would make it trickier to load and unload such things.

Economy bonus

The driving I do on a weekly basis covers pretty much all areas. There is a lot of short trips across town on the nursery run, a few rural journeys and an occasional commute with some motorway and faster A-roads.

It’s a fairly good test of fuel economy therefore, and I’m quite pleased with the 42.9mpg that I have got out of the Leon over the months it has been with us. Some tanks made it into the 44.8-47.9mpg official WLTP bracket, although most fell slightly short. The improvement towards the end of our time suggests that things were on the up, too.

Unremarkable excellence

You might notice that the issues I have with the Leon all amount to nit-picking at best. The trouble I have with summing it up is that it is good without really feeling stand out in any particular area. It’s quietly and unremarkably very good at most things. It just slotted into family life without providing any bits that would catch a passenger’s eye or you would feel inclined to point out.

This is, in my view, largely down to the entry-level trim and comparatively sensible engine. The versions we rave about in the main review are the performance-focused ones. It might drive nicely, ride well, have a spacious interior and be comfortable, but if you are going to have a performance badge on the bonnet, you want something to justify it underneath.

Cupra Leon V1 eTSI DSG-auto 150
Total mileage2,890 (995 when delivered)
Real world average fuel economy42.9mpg
Official combined fuel economy (WLTP figures)44.8-47.9mpg
Car joined Parkers fleetApril 2023