► Hotted-up Leon now badged Cupra
► Plug-in hybrid introduced as an option
► Low running costs and 242bhp, any drawbacks?
This is Cupra’s answer to the Volkswagen Golf GTE. A plug-in hybrid hatch that isn’t solely focussed on gaining you environmentally friendly points with your fleet manager.
You still alternate between a petrol engine and electric motor to conserve fuel as it propels you along, but now, when both combine to boost performance, there’s enough power to surprise a few people. It’s like the Leon e-Hybrid’s party trick.
While the Golf GTE’s exterior looks relatively stealthy and ideal for sneaking up on the unassuming, the Cupra Leon shows up like it’s trying to taunt everyone else. If cars ever do resemble their owners, the owner of this one will be wearing a copper nose stud and necklace.
Funnily enough, with Skoda’s Octavia vRS iV and its subtle bodykit befitting the undercover police car look, it’s like an eco-friendly game of Cops and Robbers could form between these two .
Wait, what happened to the SEAT Leon Cupra?
Since Cupra arrived on the scene as the performance division of SEAT back in 2018, the firm’s model range has continued to grow, offering go-faster versions with exclusive branding, logos and copper detailing – a theme that debuted on the Ateca.
In short, if you want a sensible Leon, go to SEAT. If you want a hotted-up derivative, come to Cupra.
Cupra Leon e-Hybrid is hatch-only
The 2020 Cupra Leon comes with a choice of five-door hatch and estate body styles. The old three-door SC is no more, however, as is the option of a manual gearbox – all Cupra Leons come with a DSG automatic transmission.
The hatch comes with a couple of 2.0-litre petrol engines, in 245hp and 300hp guise, and this e-Hybrid. All are front-wheel drive.
The estate only comes with the 2.0-litre petrols, but the most powerful version is upped to 310hp and comes with all-wheel drive instead.
Trim levels range from VZ1, to VZ2, First Edition and VZ3.
What’s it like inside?
It’s not hugely different from the regular Leon, meaning very few buttons, slick ambient lighting surrounding the cockpit and two main screens stuffed with information.
But there are a few neat touches. The Cupra logos and copper detailing lift that grey monochrome interior, and the starter button has moved to the steering wheel. The Cupra switch that’s also mounted here controls the drive modes and is a godsend, saving you from faffing around the touchscreen menus when on the move.
The digital dial display also changes depending on the driving mode and comes with a Sport configuration, while the front sports seats grip you in place – available with part-fake-leather on some, and full leather in black or blue on top-spec VZ3.
As expected, the Cupra Leon remains as practical as the SEAT counterpart, bar the boot capacity in the plug-in hybrid shrinking down to a quoted 270 litres. The overall shape of the boot largely remains the same, rather the raised boot floor eats into the standard Leon’s 380 litres to accommodate the additional hardware underneath.
Packing 245hp… some of the time
This Leon PHEV uses the familiar 1.4-litre TSI petrol engine producing 148bhp and 184lb ft of torque, with an electric motor developing 113bhp and 243lb ft. When combined, you get 242bhp and 295lb ft of torque.
Straight-line performance is impressive when both units link up and get you from 0-62mph in 6.7 seconds and onto a top speed of 140mph. The gearchanges from the six-speed DSG ‘box are quick and imperceptible, but this PHEVs party trick can feel short-lived once the hybrid’s 13kWh battery pack has depleted.
At this point, what’s left is a 1.4-litre petrol engine having to heave this 1,596kg hatchback – that’s only a few kgs off the last Ford Focus RS and its all-wheel drive system. In these conditions, it’s quite ropey to drive and feels as though the e-Hybrid has run out of steam, with the same level of enthusiasm as a tired puppy.
What’s it like to drive then?
All Cupra Leons come fitted with sports suspension that has been lowered by 25mm up front and 20mm at the rear. The standard SEAT Leon is already sweet to drive, so the Cupra version should up the ante even further.
You have a choice of Comfort, Sport, Cupra and Individual drive modes, altering the throttle response, gearshift behaviour and how much artificial engine noise is piped into the cabin.
On models with dynamic chassis control, and adjustable steering, this alters the suspension firmness and steering weight as well.
The artificial engine noise piped into the cabin is something we could do without – generating a digitised, video game-like rumble around 4,000rpm before morphing into a V8-like noise at higher revs. It’s nasty, but not as nasty as those fake copper exhaust tips on the bumper.
We’ve only driven this early left-hand drive model so far and it’s a bit of a mixed bag. View this PHEV version of the Cupra Leon as a slightly sportier SEAT with tightened-up body control and you’re onto something. If, however, you think this is the ultimate handling Leon in the range, we’d suggest waiting a little longer for the 2.0-litre petrol engines.
The two main compromising factors of this model root back to the plug-in hybrid hardware. First of all, the additional tech adds weight and dulls the Leon’s agility. The second, is the way the tech behaves inconsistently like it has a short attention span. You could repeatedly drive down the same piece of road and it would be behaving differently to the last time. As a result, you can’t really build into a rhythm when you try and go for a spirited drive as it hinders your confidence.
The steering remains sharp, but the weighting is also inconsistent, so it doesn’t feel like you’re hooked up to the wheels at all.
So, if it’s not a hot hatch, can it do the everyday stuff?
Absolutely. There’s a fair amount of road rumble from the 19-inch tyres, but the level of refinement is otherwise the same as the SEAT version, with a hushed engine in Comfort mode and a little wind noise up front.
For day to day driving, the suspension set up is balanced beautifully. Ours was fitted with dynamic chassis control and it’s firm enough to be sporty, but never so uncomfortable that it jolts you around even in the sportiest Cupra setting. Sport is also better for bumpy roads as it retains the softer suspension setting and minimises the Leon from being thrown off course.
Running costs should be low too, claiming to reach 201.8-217.3mpg, along with a CO2 output of 30g/km. Plus, the 32-mile electric range will be handy for those using the car regularly in towns and cities.
If you can charge the car at home, it’ll take around six hours from a regular domestic socket, or three-and-a-half hours from a dedicated 3.6kW AC wall box.
If the high demand for the previous Volkswagen Golf GTE was anything to go by, having a Cupra alternative should go down well with customers, too.
The short bursts of electric assistance will be fun for those looking for a brief kick as they go from corner-to-corner, but the rest of the package isn’t quite resolved yet. This is a complex and heavy car and it soon shows, leaving those looking for thrills asking for more.
If you view the e-Hybrid as a hot hatchback that’s going to cost pennies to run, you’re going to be disappointed. But, if you approach this Cupra from the other end of the scale, as a comfortable, plug-in hybrid hatchback that occasionally uses it’s electric assistance to lighten up the mood, you have yourself a well-rounded, sporty-looking family car.