Cupra Leon long-term test review: a goth GTI joins our fleet

Published: 14 February 2022 Updated: 14 February 2022

► CAR lives with Cupra’s hot hatch
► It’s the Golf R-nearing version
► Online editor, Curtis, is your guide

I’m in another overcast car park, and the man walking towards me is going to ask me about my new Cupra Leon. Like a few other people today, he’s been staring at it for a while, and wants to know what it’s all about.

‘What’s this car, then, and which country is it from?’ he asks, quizzically pointing at the gothic Dungeons and Dragons-esque badge on the grille. It’s not an easy question to answer.

‘Well, it’s a Cupra, so a new brand from the VW Group, which is a bit like a Seat but better – and really, it’s a Golf GTI underneath anyway. I suppose it’s from Spain, but also Germany. It’s not mine!’

My word salad is a reminder of the uphill battle VW Group’s newest, most progressive brand faces. With ‘premium’, ‘performance’ and ‘sustainability’ its founding ideas, Cupra has got off to an interesting start. First came the Formentor crossover and next came this, a very combustion-engined hot hatch (though also available in hybrid form). They’ve recently been joined by the Born EV, a VW ID.3 with a bodykit.

Put the confusing brand stuff to one side, and it’s easy to see why the Cupra Leon is attracting so much attention. Featuring interesting creases, folds and splashes of bronze, it makes even the hottest Golf R look positively utilitarian – and it has a full-width lightbar, today’s must-have accessory. This bold styling works well on the Formentor and the Born, but it really sings here.

I chose the spec for our car. Unlike all the images of the Leon you’ll find on the Cupra website, I avoided matte paint in favour of deep, purply Graphene Grey. Not only does it look much classier, it also reflects light, drawing more attention to the Cupra’s sculpted bodywork. Its 19-inch machined wheels are equally muted, and when combined with the rest of the exterior, the Leon falls on the right side of understated.

After a particularly boring experience with a hybrid Leon, I opted for a high-end petrol – and it’s instantly a more intriguing car to drive. It packs in a seven-speed DSG and 296bhp, and it feels a bit like a sharper Golf GTI – though I’m not sure if the sportier interior and looks are colouring my thoughts.

Doubtless it will be fast and practical, but my aim is to find out just how much fun it is. Compared to the best hot hatches, I found the Golf GTI technically brilliant but emotionally underwhelming. Now it’s time to see if the Cupra is any different.

By Curtis Moldrich

Logbook: Cupra Leon VZ2 2.0 TSI DSG 300

Price £36,130 (£37,195 as tested)
Performance 1984cc turbocharged four-cylinder, 296bhp, 5.7sec 0-62mph, 155mph
Efficiency 35.8-37.2mpg (official), 32.3mpg (tested), 171g/km CO2
Energy cost 19.8p per mile
Miles this month 230
Total miles 297

By Curtis Moldrich

CAR's Digital Editor, F1 and sim-racing enthusiast. Partial to clever tech and sports bikes