Cupra Leon

Cupra Leon front three quarter lead
Cupra Leon front three quarter lead

The Cupra Leon is no longer a rebadged Seat with fancy trim.

At least that’s what Cupra wants you to think. What once was Seat’s performance arm has broken a little freer of the mothership and developed the Leon as a standalone product with its own driving character, technology and options.

How is it trying to achieve this specifically? In a few ways; partly because it is one of the first cars in Cupra's line-up, along with the new Formentor, to receive the brand's new design language with a shark-nose front end and triangular matrix LEDs, but also because of an "environmentally conscious approach to performance" - achieved with more sustainable materials during manufacture - and new interior technology.


At the same time, the Leon is trying to grab a larger share of the performance car pie. The arrival of a brand new 329bhp engine and 268bhp plug-in hybrid (up 27bhp from before), with the option of front- or four-wheel drive, pure combustion or electrically assisted power.

This increased focus on performance comes as competition in this sector of the market gets tougher than ever, not least because parent brand Volkswagen offers the similarly-conceived Golf GTI, Honda the brilliant Civic Type-R and, as a true alternative, Hyundai's equally tremendous Ioniq 5 N; a car which we’ve awarded five stars.

We’ve previously road tested the 306bhp four-wheel-drive estate and found it to be fiercely quick but lacking some involvement, while the hybrid’s 1.4 never felt at home in a performance derivative.

The Leon, then, will need more than just a facelift to convince us that it is worthy of purchase over a Volkswagen Golf GTI, but also that it can stay at the top of the class as the old one did.

The Cupra Leon range at a glance

One of Cupra’s intentions with the new Leon was to simplify its engine and trim line-up, but it seems to have made things slightly more complicated by adding more trim levels and various tunes of the same engine.

The hatchback is always front-wheel drive and is powered by a four-cylinder engine, either a 2.0-litre with 295bhp in the five-door hatch or 329bhp in the estate, or a 1.5-litre petrol available as standard with 148bhp or 268bhp in plug-in hybrid guise. The estate comes with either the front-wheel-drive hybrid or the more powerful tune of the 2.0-litre with four-wheel drive. A six-speed manual is available only on base 1.5 mild hybrid trim, while a six-speed automatic and seven-speed DSG auto is available on cars higher in the range.

There are no less than seven trim levels – V1, V2, V3, VZ1, VZ2, VZ3 and VZ First Edition – but not all engine and trim combinations are possible.