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Hot hatch returns for first new incarnation since Cupra went solo.
18in alloy wheels, dark tinted rear windows, electrically adjustable heated and folding door mirrors, LED headlights with dynamic indicators, selectable drive modes, Digital Cockpit display, 10in touchscreen with satnav, wireless Apple Carplay and wired Android Auto connectivity, four USB-C ports, leather steering wheel, front and rear parking sensors, reversing camera
245hp 2.0, 300hp 2.0, 310hp 2.0
Petrol plug-in hybrid:
VZ1, VZ2, VZ3
Seven-speed DSG automatic
Since splitting off as its own brand in 2018, Cupra has made some progress in differentiating itself with distinct models, such as the Formentor and the upcoming electric Born. However, there are also still carry-overs from the days when Cupra was just the badge affixed to performance versions of Seats. The car tested here is an example of the latter - based on the new Seat Leon that launched last year, and the continuation of a long-running hot hatch model line that is effectively the Spanish version of the Volkswagen Golf GTI.
The new Cupra Leon range offers drivers plenty of choice, with both hatch and estate versions available, and both of those able to be specced as 245hp plug-in hybrids. There are also more conventional hot hatch petrol engine options on offer, producing either 245hp or, in the hatch, the more powerful 300hp version tested here. The estate is instead available with a 310hp petrol, which also comes with four-wheel drive, but the hatch is front-wheel drive only.
Despite that slight power shortfall compared with the (heavier) estate, the hatch's performance is impressive. With 300hp available, acceleration is predictably full-blooded and accompanied by a suitably snarling engine note. The accompanying seven-speed DSG auto gearbox performs well, and the shift paddles keen drivers may choose to use are usefully rapid in their response, especially when changing down.
Drivers choosing a car like this will be hoping for an entertaining cornering experience, and the Leon doesn't disappoint. It would be nice if it felt just a little more pointy on turn-in, but from mid-corner on the chassis excels. The car is beautifully balanced and corners flat, feeling playful yet secure, giving the driver plenty of confidence, and picks up out of corners superbly. The ride is firm, as you'd expect from a hot hatch, but especially when comfort mode is chosen from the selectable drive modes it's perfectly civilised, and composure over rippling back road tarmac is commendable.
As well as comfort, drivers also have a choice of sport and Cupra modes designed to firm things up for sportier driving, and Cupra mode also deploys extrovert touches like throttle blips on transmission downshifts and pops from the exhaust - harmless fun on a favourite road, but features that if you forgot to disengage them might cause pedestrians to question your character when driving around town, or indeed turning up to a business meeting. It's annoying, therefore, that switching between drive modes requires delving into sub menus on the touchscreen infotainment system - a steering wheel-mounted shortcut switch is an optional extra.
We found our Leon's interior strongly resembled that of the Formentor we reviewed in August - however, while we were impressed by the quality on that occasion with a lower-spec car, it seems less impressive in the range-topping VZ3 Leon, with details such as cheap feeling plastic below the centre console less forgivable, though overall quality is good and there's an appealing sportiness to the design.
As a hot hatch - and a relatively powerful example of the breed to boot - it's not surprising that our test car sits in the top 37% BIK band for company car tax. The lesser 245hp engine sits a band lower, but of course no petrol option is ever going to come close to the plug-in hybrid for driver wallet appeal. We're yet to test that version of the Leon, but if it comes close to being as good to drive as the petrol it will look a highly tempting perk fleet choice.