Cupra Leon review: Pretty damn good. If only more people knew about them

Cupra was a model within SEAT but is now its own brand, with five cars to its name. It deserves to be better known
Cupra Leon review: Pretty damn good. If only more people knew about them

If only those in charge would start marketing the product properly and get some serious brand recognition going for Cupra





from €36,310 - €43,681 as tested, including options


a mild-hybrid petrol turbo Not the quickest, but economic

The Spec

pretty damn good, even at entry level


maybe they’d sell a few if people knew what Cupra was

It would appear that Cupra has something of an ongoing marketing issue right now – because it seems to me too few people know what Cupra is, what’s it’s about and what it is planning to do.

Any time I’ve had a Cupra to test, I have been bedevilled by people asking me exactly what the hell is it and, frankly, I’ve been shocked at the general ignorance of what Cupra is and the cars it makes.

Readers will forgive me, therefore, if I indulge in a bit of a history lesson here. SEAT, as we know, is Spain’s only motor manufacturer and is owned by the Volkswagen Group. Based at Martorell, just outside Barcelona, SEAT has shown continuous growth since VW took it over in 1986.

In times past, Cupra was simply a range-topping trim level, but in 2018 and for reasons best known to itself, SEAT decided to turn the name into a standalone brand. It did so and Cupra now describes itself as “an unconventional challenger brand, based on stimulating style and contemporary performance that inspires the world from Barcelona with progressive cars and experiences.” 

A notable mission statement – even if I say so myself – but pretty typical of the anonymous automotive mumbo-jumbo that emerges when you have too many public relations staff on hand. The fact of the matter is that Cupra has been something of a mishmash from the outset.

You would have thought that if you’re setting up something completely new then you’d stick with the newness plan. But not here. Cupra currently has a five-model range and two of those models – the Cupra Leon and the Cupra Ateca are also on SEAT’s books.

In fairness, the three other models – the Cupra Born, the Cupra Formentor and the Cupra Tavascan are refreshingly individualistic and bear a uniquely Spanish stamp, although each has origins elsewhere.

The Born is a direct relative of Volkswagen’s ID.3, albeit much snazzier in looks and much less ‘white goods’ in general demeanour; the Formentor shares a platform with such as the Audi A3, the Skoda Octavia, the VW Gold and, somewhat less glamorously, the VW Caddy; while the Tavascan (which we will see here soon) is closely related to the VW ID.4 and ID.5.

So, Cupra has a decent line up of cars, but the pity is that the brand does not seem to have had as big an impact on the buying public as it has on a generally appreciative motoring press, which is a pity because it deserves better.

This week’s tester is something of an enigma, therefore, as it exists on both SEAT and Cupra’s price lists. Of course, the Cupra name used to designate the sporty end of the SEAT food chain and many will fondly remember SEAT Leon Cupra models down several generations as being up there with fellow sporty VW Group products such as the VW Golf GTi and Skoda’s Octavia VRs.

This Cupra Leon, however, is not so madly sporty – although there are faster versions for the hot tamale drivers out there. No, this one is powered by the VW Group’s 1.5 TSI engine, although in the specific case of the tester it is technically an ‘eTSI’ powerplant under the hood.

The eTSI unit is a mild hybrid and has a 48v electric motor added to proceedings. The system is actually available in the form of a one-litre engine as well, but the 1.5 turbocharged version is the one Cupra hope will catch some traction with the punters.

Cupra Leon interior
Cupra Leon interior

In terms of its economic viability, the car has a few tricks; one of which is that the engine will shut down while the car is coasting. Another is that it has recuperative powers and will gather energy under braking and this is stored in a 48V lithium-ion battery.

Truth be told, however, this does nothing to add any great zip to proceedings. The output is a sturdy 148 bhp, with 250 Nm of torque; the top speed is 214 km/h and the 0-100 km/h dash is achieved in 8.9 seconds and the engine is mated with a seven-speed dual clutch DSG automatic gearbox.

This engine was only introduced to the line-up late last year (along with a perkier 2.0 unit with 187 bhp) and is also seen in the SEAT version of the car. It makes it a lukewarm rather than hot hatch.

Riding on 18” machined alloys, the one thing you’ll immediately notice abut the car is how firm the ride is and that means you will have to endure compromises when it comes to comfort. The firm suspension does not compromise the handling though and in this regard the car is pin sharp and will raise an eyebrow among connoisseurs of well-balanced cars.

The steering is very precise and this to will find favour among the cognoscenti and if you can endure the minor battering you’re going to get from the Irish road network, you will find a lot to like about how this thing goes about its business and how it responds to a delicate touch. A 5.9 l/100 km (47.1 mpg) consumption rate will also find favour with a lot of drivers.

In terms of the look of the car, it does come across as being hotter than it is From the copper-coloured four-legged-spider Cupra badges to the deep front air dam, the sculpted sides and the full-width LED light arrangement at the rear, the car looks purposeful, modern and stylish. The ‘Midnight Back’ exterior colour scheme also adds a nice touch of menace to things.

Unfortunately the interior is not quite so swish, although it is very easy to live with and well laid out – it’s just a bit on the dull side. Sure, the ‘snorkel’ air vents look cool – especially with their characteristic copper detailing – but the rest of the dash is uninspired.

On the infotainment front, the system on offer is from the VW parts bin and while usable and reasonably user-friendly, the slider controls for such as temperature and audio volume are terrible and a grave distraction the actual driving process. These were rightly ridiculed when the appeared in various VWs and they’re no better here.

That said, the build quality levels and the materials used are, overall top notch – just a tad dull.

In terms of interior space, things are not too bad – a little tight for head and legroom in the back, although boot space is good. People looking for a more practical beast might like to check the estate version, with has all the positives of the hatch, but is that bit bigger.

I liked this car not just because of the excellent handling and the mean look of it, but because it is a pretty complete package and it doesn’t cost the earth.

If only those in charge would start marketing the product properly and get some serious brand recognition going for Cupra, then maybe people might sit up and take a bit more notice.

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