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Cupra Leon Review: Best Looking Hot Hatch Right Now???

The best looking hot hatchback money can buy right now? I think so.

Design is very much a subjective thing. One person's pretty, is another's ugly. However, when it comes to the new Cupra Leon I think there is little room for argument. Its lines and creases have an air of delicacy and finesse, but at the same time display aggression and muscularity. Think of it as The Rock in a tutu and ballet pumps. It's not all for show, though, the Cupra Leon has got some serious firepower lurking under that well creased bonnet.

The EA888 Strikes Again

For those of you that know a thing or two about the Volkswagen Automotive Group it will come as little surprise that the engine in the Cupra Leon is the famous EA888, also used in cars such as the VW Golf R, Audi S3, and more recently, the Cupra Formentor. This 2.0 litre, turbocharged four-cylinder petrol engine has been around since 2008, but of course since that time it has been updated and revised.

The most plain engine cover in existence? Quite possibly...

The most plain engine cover in existence? Quite possibly...

In this guise it produces a health 300hp along with 400Nm of torque but unlike the aforementioned Golf R, S3 and Formentor, the Cupra Leon has to make do with sending power to the front wheels. The lack of four wheel drive not only means less traction, but 10 less horsepower, not that you're going to notice that in real life driving.

0-62mph is dealt with 5.7 seconds (0.1 slower than GTI Clubsport in case you're wondering) and the top speed is limited to guess what? 155mph. Unlike the Golf, the Cupra Leon doesn't have the option of increasing the speed limiter, but I'm sure a tuning company can deal with that. However, what you do get as standard - VS2 upwards - is the Dynamic Chassis Control, which even on the Golf R is an option. In Queen's English, the DCC means it has adaptive dampers.

Excuse the quality of this...

Excuse the quality of this...

No manual required

Unlike its predecessors, the new Cupra Leon has no manual option, instead you have to make do with a 7-speed DSG. You can either leave it to its own devices, or you do have flappy paddles on the steering wheel, although I'd say they feel a little too small. The DSG works very well, although I do find it a bit slow to get going when you kick down on the throttle. Once you have have the transmission on song the Leon is ready to propel you towards the horizon.

How does it drive?

Slip in to the body hugging driver's seats, and give the pulsating start button a firm prod and you're meant by a promising engine note, but not a massive fanfare. The cabin is a nice place to be, and the divide in quality is not as large as it used to be when comparing to the Golf GTI. I own a 2007 SEAT Leon Cupra and if you were to compare that to a Golf GTI of the same era you'll find a clear difference in finish.

One downside of the Cupra Leon's interior is the lack of a dedicated button for the drive modes of which it has four; Comfort, Sport, Cupra, and Individual. This means you have to navigate another downside of the car - the touchscreen. Yes, it's vibrant, looks very pretty and is generous in size thanks to 10 inches on offer. However, navigating the interface - particularly on the move - is a faff to say the least. So, stick it in to Cupra and be done with it.

Get on to the open road and you'll forget about the touchscreen, as the Cupra Leon offers a fast, assured, competent drive. It's very clear it's a product from the VAG stable as it's very efficient in what it does, which may leave some a bit cold. It's not quite as clinical as the Audi S3, but at the same time it's not as boisterous as a Focus ST or an i30N. Having said that, this car is far from boring, but I did find I needed a bit of time for it to grow on me.

It's not as rowdy as the ST or i30N, but it still delivers what you expect from a hot hatch. Yes, I would prefer a manual, but the DSG makes it easy to drive and means picking up pace is as easy as taking candy from a baby. The steering is well weighted and offers decent feedback, the brakes are strong without being grabby, which can be an issue in my Mk2 Leon Cupra, and the handling is sure-footed. Hankook Ventus tyres are wrapped around the 19" alloys, which wouldn't be my first choice, but they do a commendable job, so complaints from me.

There's little in the way of body roll through the bends and there's an electronic limited slip differential to things in check, which is important when you have that much power going through the front axle. Despite the front wheels having to deal with that grunt, there's not too much in the way of torque steer and I think you'd have to be pushing the car quite hard to experience understeer on the public road.

Can you daily it?

The whole point of a hot hatch is to offer extra performance in a car that you would otherwise use everyday, so it's not a car to be used daily, it seems almost pointless. Some hot hatches can suffer with poor rides that may question whether you want to use it on a daily commute but that is not the case with the Leon. As mentioned earlier, it comes with the DCC, so slip it in to comfort and all of a sudden, you've got a car which you could be tricked in to thinking is a more run-of-the-mill SEAT Leon. Mind you, even in Cupra mode the ride is far from boneshaking - it's just firm.

There is of course the Individual drive mode if you want something more custom. Be warned, though, you will be spoiled for choice as there are no less than SIXTEEN different setting for the ride. SIXTEEN! As well as more comfort settings than you'll ever need, you'll a spacious cabin with decent practicality plus a good sized boot. OK, with 380 litres available, it's not the biggest in class, but it should be enough for most owners. There is a large load lip, though, so loading bigger, heavier items or dogs could be tricky.

How much is it? What's included?

The Cupra Leon is available in three trim levels, VZ1, VZ2, and VZ3, although the VZ1 isn't available with the 300hp engine. For the sake of simplicity let's focus on the VZ2 as A) that is the mid-range and B) it's the trim level used for this review. It has a starting price of Β£35,575 and has standard features includingCupra Styling, LED lights, 19” alloys, tinted rear windows, sports seats finished in fabric and leather, digital cockpit, 10.1” touchscreen with DAB radio, Bluetooth, smartphone connectivity, navigation, ambient lighting, sports suspension, drive modes, dynamic chassis control, keyless entry, three-zone climate control, front and rear parking sensor, and reversing camera.

There’s a good amount of safety systems including autonomous emergency braking, lane keep assist, six airbags, tiredness recognition, and electronic stability control. This was enough to gain five stars from Euro NCAP, which is bound to give buyers peace of mind.

Should you buy it?

If you're looking for something with the same well-rounded character as the Golf GTI but with more style and more value then this should definitely be on your shopping list. That's not to say that this should only be aimed at those who want a GTI alternative as the Cupra Leon is a very good hot hatch in its own right which performs well in lots of areas. Some may find the touchscreen a bugbear, though and as mentioned, if you want something a bit more rowdy then I'd direct you to the Focus ST or the i30N.

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