The CUPRA Leon on test for Changing Lanes!
The CUPRA Leon on test for Changing Lanes!

Caroline drives the 2021 CUPRA Leon

CUPRA turns on a charm offensive in 2021 with a stellar line-up of new models including the Formentor, the brand’s first standalone model, and the new CUPRA Leon. The all-electric CUPRA Born is due here also.

The CUPRA portfolio is expanding, and the brand is finding its feet quickly, offering an exciting suite of cars that major on design and a sporty premium feel from behind the wheel. All good things!

Now it’s time to take a closer look at one of the new arrivals – the 2021 CUPRA Leon. Of course, these two have history, with the Cupra badge strapped to many high-performance versions of the SEAT Leon in previous generations.

The Leon has been tipped over to the CUPRA brand for a shape-up. The results are indeed very impressive.

What’s so special about the CUPRA Leon?

Priced from €46,210, the CUPRA Leon on test here is a plug-in hybrid – a sporty one.

This car looks good, very good. The matte grey paint of the test car gives it a real sporty and exclusive image with chrome accents becoming a CUPRA defining feature on the road. The look is completed with magnificent 19” alloys on our test car.

Sporty features include a large front splitter, larger air intakes, side skirts, dark chrome front grille frame and side mirrors that contrast with the body colour. At the rear the plug-in hybrid has two individual tailpipes, a diffuser and spoiler.

CUPRA Leon on sale in Ireland priced from €46,210
CUPRA Leon on sale in Ireland priced from €46,210

The CUPRA Leon e-Hybrid is sold with a 1.4-litre petrol electric powertrain with 245 hp, certainly giving acceleration like a hot hatchback – 6.7 seconds to 100 kmh. But there’s none of the drama or emotion that you might get with a hot hatchback that traditionally uses a combustion engine. It’s more the hot hatchback of the future – the one that is quick but doesn’t make any noise.

If you want the full fat experience, CUPRA will plant a 2.0-litre turbo petrol engine in the Leon for you, with an inspiring 300 hp (priced from €54,245).

But hybrid is for sure where things are at these days. The e-Hybrid has a 13 kWh lithium-ion battery pack. It can be plugged in and charged via a 3.6 kW AC wall box charger, taking about 3.5 hours to get a full charge. When fully charged, the e-Hybrid can be driven on pure electric power for a range of up to 59 km, otherwise it works as a hybrid drawing power from both the engine and electric motor. Over a week of driving my fuel consumption averaged at 6.1 litres per 100 km, without a whole lot of charging.

Driving the 2021 CUPRA Leon

The new CUPRA Leon is designed, developed and produced in Barcelona at the brand’s Martorell facilities. The chassis and steering have been tuned to make the car more distinct and engaging to drive. The Dynamic Chassis Control (DCC) system comes as standard – it constantly monitors the road surfaces and driver inputs, making imperceptible changes to the setup in milliseconds for the most engaging drive. The CUPRA Leon’s dynamics can be altered somewhat through the four different driver profiles: Comfort, Sport, CUPRA and Individual.

The CUPRA Leon plug-in hybrid has 245 hp
The CUPRA Leon plug-in hybrid has 245 hp

At the front there is a MacPherson strut suspension and a multi-link system at the rear for a refined ride and sharper handling. There’s also Brembo brakes worthy of any performance car! The CUPRA Leon is also 25mm lower on the front axle than the SEAT its based on, and 20mm lower at the rear, meaning a lower centre of gravity for better handling.

On the road, CUPRA’s tuning has transformed the Leon for this occasion. Steering is sharper than the standard Leon from sister brand SEAT. The ride is more soft, premium, yet the handling tighter and more responsive. This one feels like a more sophisticated machine on the road, as it should for the CUPRA badge and price.

What’s it like inside?

Inside the cabin has been glossed over with more CUPRA branding and trim elements. The dashboard and door mouldings are finished in brushed dark aluminium, with copper and dark chrome featuring to define the brand. Illuminated CUPRA sill plates in the front doors complete the look.

The CUPRA Leon is pleasant and sporty behind the wheel with plenty of digital technology in the form of the digital driver instrument display and 10” touchscreen. Bucket seats come as standard setting the right note in terms of comfort and ambience. The Formentor feels a little more special inside, though the cabin design is closely related. It’s still very much a Leon cabin, it doesn’t have the advantage of the Formentor’s distinctness as an all-new standalone model.

The interior of the CUPRA Leon
The interior of the CUPRA Leon

With a five door, five seat hatchback arrangement, the Leon offers standard accommodation for five inside. The car’s platform makes good use of interior space so rear footwells are good for this class of vehicle. However, the Leon’s boot has taken a hit in terms of outright space to accommodate the battery. It is shallower at 270 litres, a bit off the class average. There’s also a CUPRA Leon Sportstourer with a more respectable 470 litres.

Did you like it?

The world is changing rapidly. The hot hatchback must evolve also. The CUPRA Leon performs well as a plush hatchback with plug-in hybrid technology. It’s swift on the road with sophisticated ride over whatever Irish tarmac has to offer.

It looks gorgeous and sporty; the CUPRA badge adds exclusivity and can only grow in recognition now the cars are here, and more good stuff coming.

Yet you will be sorely disappointed if you are expecting thrill, drama, and engine noise! The CUPRA Leon e-Hybrid is too well-behaved for that. The car looks the business but it’s so healthy for the planet when running, it just won’t quite thrill you like Cupra badged SEATs of old!

Still it’s a sign of the times. There is no doubt that this is a desirable car and a pleasant debut for hybrid in the CUPRA Leon range.

CUPRA has transformed the Leon in all the right ways
CUPRA has transformed the Leon in all the right ways

Caroline Kidd

Model tested: CUPRA Leon e-Hybrid 245 hp DSG
1.4-litre petrol electric hybrid
Power: 245 hp
Torque: 400 Nm
Top speed: 225 km/h
Acceleration (0-100 km/h): 6.7 seconds
CO2 emissions: 
30 g/km
Motor Tax: 
€140 per year