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    • Handsome exterior design
    • Interesting cabin, even in base model
    • Impressive performance, with more mongrel
    • Infotainment can be fiddly
    • Faces off with some tough rivals
    • Brembo brakes cost $3500
    Not tested

    It’s hard to go far without tripping over a Volkswagen Golf GTI or Golf R in 2022. The Cupra Leon is here to offer an alternative.

    Under the skin, the Cupra Leon is a hotted-up version of the Seat Leon – itself a Spanish take on the Volkswagen Golf.

    It shares its powertrains with parts of the Skoda Octavia and Volkswagen Golf ranges, and the cabin features the latest technology the Volkswagen Group has to offer.

    It’s far from a carbon copy, though. Outside, the Leon is clothed in a sharp Spanish suit that’s eye-catching in person, especially in the hero matte blue with copper accents, and the car is being sold online or through retail-style Cupra Garage locations instead of conventional dealers.

    There’s no proper entry-level model, either. Even the least powerful Leon packs 30kW more than a base Golf, and the plug-in hybrid VZe packs a powertrain not offered elsewhere in the Volkswagen, Skoda, or Audi stables locally.

    Cupra is pitching itself as a “tribe” to Australians, and the Leon is aimed squarely at people who want the performance and polish of a Volkswagen hot hatch, but don’t to be a part of the Golf club.

    How does the Cupra Leon fare vs its competitors?
    View a detailed breakdown of the Cupra Leon against similarly sized vehicles.

    How much does the Cupra Leon VZx cost?

    The Leon has already been given a price tweak for 2023. Any stock that’s on the ground will have the price and equipment outlined here, any new orders will be at the pricing listed below and feature the equipment outlined here.

    The Leon VZx we tested has a sticker of $65,490 drive-away, putting it above the Hyundai i30 N Premium DCT with sunroof (~$58,500 D/A) and roughly in line with a fully-optioned Volkswagen Golf GTI (~$65,500 D/A).

    It undercuts the Golf R ($65,990) and Audi S3 ($70,700) with which it shares an engine.

    2023 Cupra Leon pricing:

    • Cupra Leon V: $43,990 (D/A TBC)
    • Cupra Leon VZ: $52,990 ($57,490 D/A)
    • Cupra Leon VZe: $60,490 (D/A prices vary, full list here)
    • Cupra Leon VZx: $61,490 ($65,490 D/A)

    All prices exclude on-road costs unless specified

    What is the Cupra Leon VZx like on the inside?

    The Leon is essentially a Spanish cousin to the Golf, and it feels it behind the wheel. That’s not to say it’s a carbon copy, though.

    With unique bronze highlights and stunning petrol blue leather trim, not to mention the wheel and its supercar-style start button, the Leon VZx looks and feels a bit more special than its demure German relative.

    Even the base Leon V on show at the Cupra launch event looked and felt special inside, albeit without some of the posher materials you get in the VZx.

    The fundamentals are excellent. Driver and passenger sit in sporty seats with plenty of bolstering, and tall drivers won’t have trouble getting comfortable.

    It’d be nice if the seats dropped lower to really deliver a sporty feel, but otherwise there isn’t much to complain about.

    As you’d expect of a modern Volkswagen Group cabin, screens are the showpiece here.

    The touchscreen is a 12-inch unit running Cupra’s take on the software rolled out across the Golf and Octavia ranges, along with the same touch sliders below for volume and temperature control.

    Points to Cupra for allowing owners to drop a widget on the home screen to control fan speed for the air-con, and for making shortcut buttons prominent – it’s easier to jump around the system than in the Golf – but it’s fiddly at times.

    The digital cockpit is handsome, and features unique graphics in keeping with Cupra’s sportier remit. The steering wheel itself feels great in your hands, and has proper buttons instead of the touch controls rolling out elsewhere.

    Opting for the VZx gets you a start/stop button and drive mode controller on the wheel; other models bury their drive modes in the touchscreen. The fact you need to dive through a screen for Sport mode in most versions is hard to understand.

    Rear seat space is about par for the class. The chunky seats with their one-piece backrests block forward visibility, but kids will be able to get comfortable back there without too much stress.

    Average-sized adults will be able to slot back there as well, although the bigger Formentor or Ateca are better options if you’re lugging people around regularly.

    Dual ISOFIX points and three top-tether points for child seats feature back there, along with a fold-down central armrest, air vents, and dual USB-C points.

    Boot space varies based on which model you choose. The VZe has just 270 litres because of the PHEV battery hardware, while the VZ and VZx up that to 380L.

    What’s under the bonnet?

    Each of the four Cupra Leon variants has a different powertrain. We drove the VZx, and detail its outputs below – for a breakdown of the wider range, check out our full price and specs.

    The VZx is powered by a 2.0-litre turbocharged four-cylinder engine with 221kW of power and 400Nm of torque, sent exclusively to the front wheels through a seven-speed dual-clutch transmission.

    The same tune is applied to the Volkswagen Golf GTI Clubsport in Europe, and sits between the Golf GTI (180kW) and R (235kW) in Australia.

    Claimed fuel economy is 6.8 litres per 100km on the combined cycle. The Leon VZx demands 98 RON premium unleaded.

    How does the Cupra Leon VZx drive?

    The Leon VZx puts a twist on a formula that’s won the Volkswagen Golf GTI and R so many fans.

    Both those cars feature variations of the same engine, so we know performance isn’t a problem, but the Leon is front-wheel rather than all-wheel drive.

    On dry roads it puts its power down well, given you’re channeling 221kW and 400Nm to on the front axle, but it will spin its wheels if you’re greedy with the throttle in the lower gears, and there’s a bit of tug from the steering wheel on roads with some camber.

    The 2.0-litre EA888 engine is a known quantity by now. There’s just a hint of lag down low, before it squeezes you back in your seat and drop kicks you down the road. The 100km/h sprint takes a claimed 5.7 seconds, but the quickest Leon feels faster than that in-gear.

    Of course if that’s not enough, the Audi RS3 or Mercedes-AMG A45 S might be more your speed. Be prepared to dig deeper into your piggybank for the privilege, though.

    The engine is louder and more aggressive in the Leon than other applications, with a loud intake whoosh and hard bark that feels authentic in a way the fake sound piped into some other Volkswagen Group performance cars isn’t.

    Helping keep things in check is an electrically-controlled limited-slip differential, which you can feel dragging you out of corners when you dive into the throttle’s travel.

    I’d be interested to see how it works in the wet, but on dry roads the differential is impressive, and really plays into the car’s billing as a more aggressive alternative to the Golf R.

    The seven-speed DSG is lightning quick through the gears, although it’d be nice if Cupra fitted bigger, metal shift paddles in place of the cheap-feeling ones you get here.

    The front end feels nicely dialled in, and the car feels rock solid once you’re into a corner. It’s hard to know if it’s more adjustable than something like a Golf GTI based on our first drive; a proper hot-hatch shootout with Chris Atkinson behind the wheel beckons.

    Even in the raciest Cupra mode the Leon won’t shake your fillings loose. Mid-corner bumps don’t deflect it, although sharper bumps thump into the cabin like you’d expect of a small car on big wheels.

    Like the Golf R, the Leon rides on dampers that can be flicked through 15 different settings. You’re able to make them more relaxed than even the standard Comfort setting, or firmer than Cupra mode, so there’s no shortage of options for drivers keen to customise exactly how the car rides.

    The ability to play two roles – relaxed on the commute, engaging on the weekend – is a core part of the Volkswagen Group’s pitch to buyers with its hot hatches, and our launch drive suggests it’s present in the Leon as well.

    There’s a healthy serving of tyre roar on country highways, but a full suite of active driver assists is on hand to keep a gap to the vehicle in front, keep you between the white lines, and warn of hidden obstacles in your blind-spot.

    What do you get?

    Leon V highlights:

    • 18-inch black-and-silver alloy wheels
    • 18-inch space-saver spare wheel
    • Heated, power folding side mirrors
    • LED headlights
    • LED daytime running lights
    • Fog lights with cornering function
    • LED tail lights with static indicators
    • Automatic headlights
    • Automatic high-beam
    • Rain-sensing wipers
    • Rear tinted windows
    • 12-inch touchscreen infotainment display
    • Wireless Apple CarPlay and Android Auto
    • 10.25-inch digital instrument cluster
    • Wireless phone charger
    • Four USB-C ports
    • Heated, leather-wrapped steering wheel
    • Paddle shifters
    • Interior ambient lighting
    • Black headliner
    • Cloth sports bucket seats
    • Driver profile selection
    • Dynamic Chassis Control
    • Progressive steering
    • Keyless entry and start
    • Auto-dimming rear-view mirror
    • Three-zone climate control
    • Illuminated sill panels
    • Aluminium pedals
    • Semi-autonomous parking assist

    Leon VZ adds:

    • 19-inch black-and-silver alloy wheels

    Leon VZe adds:

    • Tyre repair kit (in lieu of space-saver spare wheel)

    Leon VZx adds:

    • 19-inch black-and-copper alloy wheels
    • Side skirts
    • Quad-tipped exhaust
    • Heated ‘supersports’ leather-wrapped steering wheel
    • Petrol Blue dashboard
    • Petrol Blue leather front bucket seats
    • Heated front seats
    • Power driver’s seat with memory
    • Memory mirrors
    • 9-speaker Beats sound system

    Available options include:

    • Power sunroof: $1800 (all models)
    • Brembo brake package: $3600 (VZx)
    • Leather and Sound package: $2450 (V, VZ)
      • Leather upholstery
      • Heated front seats
      • Power driver’s seat with memory
      • Mirror memory
      • Dashboard with copper-coloured stitching
      • 9-speaker Beats sound system
    • Leather package: $2050 (VZe)
      • Leather upholstery
      • Heated front seats
      • Power driver’s seat with memory
      • Mirror memory
      • Dashboard with copper-coloured stitching

    Is the Cupra Leon VZx safe?

    The Cupra Leon wears a five-star ANCAP safety rating, which is based on Euro NCAP testing conducted in 2020 on the related Seat Leon.

    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:

    • 10 airbags
    • AEB with pedestrian and cyclist detection
    • Adaptive cruise control
    • Lane-keep assist with highway lane-centring
    • Blind-spot monitoring
    • Safe exit warning
    • Driver fatigue monitoring
    • Reversing camera

    How much does the Cupra Leon VZx cost to run?

    The Cupra Leon is covered by a five-year, unlimited-kilometre warranty.

    Cupra also includes three years of free servicing.

    CarExpert’s Take on the Cupra Leon VZx

    There’s plenty of variety in the Leon range.

    At the bottom end of the range, the upcoming Leon V shapes as a well-specced alternative to a VW Golf R Line or even a base Audi A3, while the Leon VZe plug-in hybrid fills one of the very few empty niches elsewhere in the Volkswagen Group Australia world.

    The real excitement for enthusiasts lies in the VZx, though. It possesses almost all the polish of a Golf R or Audi S3, but features an extra dose of mongrel thanks to its front-wheel drive setup.

    We’ll know more when we spend more time with the car, but based on our first road drive it’s going to be an interesting addition to the already crowded hot hatch market in Australia.

    Click the images for the full gallery

    MORE: Everything Cupra Leon

    Scott Collie

    Scott Collie is an automotive journalist based in Melbourne, Australia. Scott studied journalism at RMIT University and, after a lifelong obsession with everything automotive, started covering the car industry shortly afterwards. He has a passion for travel, and is an avid Melbourne Demons supporter.

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    Overall Rating

    Cost of Ownership9
    Ride Comfort8
    Fit for Purpose8.5
    Handling Dynamics8.5
    Interior Practicality and Space7.8
    Fuel Efficiency8
    Value for Money8
    Technology Infotainment8.5
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