It wasn’t too long ago that car enthusiasts the world over pleaded with manufacturers to make more hot hatches and performance cars.
Fast forward to 2022 and it seems like we are inundated with endless options for a hot hatch, which just got a little more confusing with the impending launch of the Cupra Leon VZx.
Although it doesn’t sound nearly as appealing as i30 “N”, Golf “GTI” or “R” or Civic “Type R”, the VZx badge represents the ultimate rung in the Cupra Leon range and is essentially the Spanish performance brand’s version of the hardcore VW Golf GTI Clubsport that isn’t currently sold here, running a version of the EA888 2.0-litre turbo petrol engine also found in the all-paw Golf R.
Though a very promising hot hatch – as we found out after a few flat-out laps at Sydney Motorsport Park – it has a fair bit of competition, not just from the likes of Honda, Hyundai and the upcoming Toyota GR Corolla, but even its own German cousins.
Given its $64,990 drive-away price point is not exactly market-leading, it might just find itself in the super niche realm of those that seek something different for the sake of it (Scirocco R anyone?).
Consider that the recently launched all-wheel drive Volkswagen Golf R is priced at $65,990 plus on-road costs (about $72,000 drive-away in most states), the real-world price difference is about $7000 compared to the Leon VZx… is that enough to make a difference?
Perhaps it’s best compared to the Golf GTI Clubsport sold overseas (but not here, yet) with which it shares its drivetrain, because it certainly outpaces the regular GTI.
We came to Sydney Motorsport Park to find out just how good Cupra’s performance flagship is, and we’ll present a more comprehensive review of the Leon range, including on-road impressions, when it officially goes on sale in a few months time.
2022 Cupra Leon pricing:
- Cupra Leon V: $43,990
- Cupra Leon VZ: $52,590 ($56,990 D/A)
- Cupra Leon VZe: $59,990
- $62,990 D/A (ACT)
- $63,990 D/A (QLD)
- $64,990 D/A (NSW, SA)
- $65,490 D/A (VIC)
- $65,990 D/A (WA)
- $TBD D/A (TAS, NT)
- Cupra Leon VZx: $60,990 ($64,990 D/A)
The Cupra Leon is rather similar to the Formentor in its interior design.
It makes use of a lot of hard plastics in areas that you usually wouldn’t touch (e.g. around the centre console) but despite looking ultra-modern and being equipped with plenty of features, it is similar to Audi’s last generation of vehicles in how the cabin presents – a little spartan.
Needless to say the new Golf 8 is a more refined interior experience as a whole, but that’s not to take anything away from the Leon – which is based on the same platform. The seats are comfortable and the steering wheel is lovely to touch and hold.
Like other Cupra models, the bronze highlights are a nice touch and we found the driving position and overall visibility to be pretty reasonable.
The infotainment system manages to work well with wireless Apple CarPlay, and if that’s not your thing, the native infotainment software is relatively quick and well featured.
The front bucket seat are supportive for fast driving without being uncomfortable, while the rear seats can accomodate two large adults without much issue, but you wouldn’t want to rely on them for long distance drives if you have to carry five on board.
The range-topping Cupra Leon VZx packs a 2.0-litre turbocharged four-cylinder engine developing 221kW of power and 400Nm of torque.
It’s the exact EA888 unit as what you will find in the Volkswagen Golf GTI Clubsport and the Golf R (but down 14kW on the R), with power channelled to the front wheels via a seven-speed dual-clutch (DSG) automatic transmission.
Official fuel economy figures are yet to be released for Australian models, though UK versions quote 7.6-7.9L/100km based on WLTP figures.
The range-topping Cupra Leon drives surprisingly well.
This reviewer won’t lie to hide his bias against front-wheel drive hot hatches, preferring the power to either go to the rear or to all four wheels if possible, but the stability and power delivery of the Leon VZx is hard to argue with. It just works, without much torque steer or any hint of traction loss coming out of corners.
In saying that, we did find the car bogged down considerably going into the double apex at turn two at Sydney Motorsport Park, despite being in Race mode. The only way around it seemed to be to turn absolutely every driving aid off, which is not something we recommend unless you really know your car.
The Leon really suits the high-speed corners and those that don’t upset its balance mid-corner.
Given it has to push all its might through the front-wheels, you will likely find yourself going approaching corners slow in fast out for the best exit speed. Speaking of speed, you can really feel all 221kW of power and the 400Nm of torque pull the Leon along nicely.
Cupra says the car will do 0-100km/h in 5.7 seconds (it genuinely feels faster than that), which is not monstrously quick these days but still faster than the standard Golf GTI’s 6.4-second claim, though falls short of the Hyundai i30 N’s 5.4-second sprint when optioned with the DCT (5.9 for manual).
As you would expect from a Volkswagen Group product, the DSG transmission is ultra smooth and rapid in its gearshifts. You can leave it in automatic and it seems to find its way, though as with the Formentor, we would have liked longer paddle shifters so that we don’t have to move our hand off the wheel to use them – either that, or we need longer fingers!
The ride and suspension dampening is well-suited to a race track environment, with little to no body roll and excellent weight transition.
We look forward to taking the Cupra Leon VZx through some twisty mountain roads to see how it stacks up against other hot hatches and how it deals with poorly surfaced roads.
Our first track impressions are pretty positive and we are confident the VZx will nicely bridge that gap between the Golf GTI and Golf R.
For the full specification and breakdown of the Cupra Leon range, click here.
All Cupra Leon variants come standard with plenty of features including a 10-inch infotainment screen with Apple CarPlay and Android Auto (wired or wireless) in combination with a 10.25-inch digital instrument cluster.
There are four USB-C ports and wireless phone charging as well. Throw in tri-zone climate control, bucket seats (cloth in all variants but VZx) and adaptive dampers and the base model Leon starts to look like a pretty reasonable proposition for under $45k.
That extra $20,000 for the VZx over the base is not just in engine, because features unique to the flagship model include:
- 19-inch black and copper alloy wheels
- Side skirts
- Quad exhaust
- Supersports steering wheel with additional buttons
- Heated steering wheel
- Petrol blue dashboard and leather bucket seats
- Heated front seats
- Power driver’s seat with memory
- Side mirrors with memory
- Beats nine-speaker sound system
Spend another $3600 for the optional Brembo brake package if you must.
The Cupra Leon wears a five-star ANCAP safety rating, based on Euro NCAP tests conducted on the Seat Leon in 2020.
It received an adult occupant protection rating of 91 per cent, a child occupant protection rating of 88 per cent, a vulnerable road user protection rating of 71 per cent, and a safety assist rating of 80 per cent.
Standard safety equipment includes:
- AEB with pedestrian/cyclist detection
- Lane-keep assist
- Adaptive cruise control
- Travel Assist (adaptive cruise + lane centring)
- Blind-spot monitoring
- Safe exit warning
- Reversing camera
- Rear parking sensors
- 10 airbags
The Cupra Leon is covered by a five-year, unlimited-kilometre warranty.
All Cupra models will include three years of scheduled servicing with purchase, with further servicing costs to be confirmed.
The Cupra Leon is a great hot hatch that looks the business and will turn plenty of heads. If you don’t need the performance and don’t want just another Golf, then consider one of the lower-spec variants.
However, if you’re thinking of buying a Golf GTI but want a bit more power, than this is definitely the car for you.
The question, though, is whether you are willing to give up a little more dough and go all-out with the Golf R to get the benefits of all-wheel drive and a 0-100km/h time that is a good second quicker as a result.
It’s a tough question and one we hope to answer when we put them up against each other in due course.
Click the images for the full gallery
MORE: Everything Cupra Leon