Cupra Leon Driving, Engines & Performance | Top Gear
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Wednesday 27th September


What is it like to drive?

We’ve driven the hatchback version of the Cupra Leon in top-spec 296bhp 2.0-litre petrol guise and also the PHEV with 13kWh battery and 1.4-litre petrol assistance. The latter sounded like it had accidentally been fitted with a 7.0-litre pushrod V8 when we thumbed the Cupra button on the steering wheel to ramp up the driving modes. 

This car has one of the most absurdly over-dubbed, stereo tuned engine noises ever contrived. It’s a burbly grumble that’s funny for a few minutes before you tire of it and switch it off. The NASCAR act isn’t particularly well matched to the actual engine speed, so while the rev counter might say 6,000rpm, the piped-in fury sounds like half that. Odd.

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But it drives on electric only too, right?

Cupra claims a full charge offers 31 miles of battery only range, so the eHybrid can be eerily quiet too, but our test car proposed a more realistic 24 miles. Leaning on the 113bhp e-motor alone, performance is swift enough for pottering about town, but it’s reassuring to know that a quick tug of one of the gearshift paddles – or prodding the mode button opposite the starter on the busy steering wheel – rouses the engine. When they join forces, the eHybrid is fairly rapid, with strong traction and minimal torque steer shenanigans.

What about the petrol version?

The 296bhp petrol has a less attractive engine noise, only partially obscured by the artificial burble of Cupra’s sound engineers. Amidst the thrash there’s a fizzy intake whine from the turbo that goads you on, and it’s fun to run the car up to parping high revs. The car isn’t as aggressively raw as a Honda Civic Type R, nor does it offer the wheel-cocking antics of a Hyundai i30N. It’ll offer you decent countryside thrills – the lack of inertia to the steering means you turn the wheel and the car lunges for a corner – but it’s a bit more serious than its lairier rivals. 

The eHybrid’s electric motor complements its 1.4-litre engine with a bit of low-down shove, but it’s not quite as fast as you feel the car's looks have promised, and the PHEV car lags a second behind the faster petrol on its way to 62mph (6.7secs vs 5.7secs). Added to that is the knowledge that the fun’s going to evaporate as soon as the electricity goes. This plug-in powertrain by its nature lends itself more to sedate city driving and the occasional spot of spirited driving.

It's all a bit sensible, isn't it?

And it’s fine for the Cupra Leon to be serious and grown up, but what’s the point in a whole new Cupra brand if it’s lacking its own character? We rather thought the serious and grown-up stuff was Audi and VW’s job. 

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Highlights from the range

the fastest

Cupra Leon 2.0 TSI 300 VZ2 5dr DSG
  • 0-625.7s
  • CO2
  • BHP300
  • MPG
  • Price£34,175

the cheapest

Cupra Leon 1.5 TSI V1 5DR
  • 0-628.9s
  • CO2
  • BHP150
  • MPG
  • Price£29,230
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