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Cupra Leon 2023 review

EXPERT RATING
8.6
Cupra is the latest automotive brand to try and crack the Australian market, but unlike others that have failed, the Spanish brand is backed by the gigantic Volkswagen Group. Three models are on offer at launch, with the Leon hatchback being the most conventional, so should you consider a Cupra?

New things can be exciting, or they can be surprising, but clapping your eyes on something for the first time always grabs your attention – and the latest car brand to enter Australia certainly fits this description.

Cupra is a racy brand under the Volkswagen Group umbrella that aims for a lasting first impression thanks to head-turning designs and potent petrol - end electrified - engines.

On offer at launch will be the Ateca, a sporty SUV that will ferry you and the kids to school and back in record time; the Formentor, more like a high-riding hatchback or crossover for those that hate the three letters of S, U and V; and the Leon, a VW Golf-related hot hatch designed to take on the likes of the Hyundai i30 N and Ford Focus ST.

So, Cupra will grab the attention of most people, but is it worth your money?

Cupra Leon 2023: V
Safety rating
Engine Type2.0L turbo
Fuel Type
Fuel Efficiency6.2L/100km
Seating5 seats
Price from$40,260

Does it represent good value for the price? What features does it come with?   8/10

When you think European and sporty, I'm sure pictures of Mercedes-AMGs, BMW Ms and Audi Sports spring to mind.

Well, Cupra comes to us from Spain, and in Spain, they do things a little differently from the Germans.

For starters, don't expect to be paying premium prices for something like this Leon, which kicks off from just under $44,000 before on-road costs in base form.

For multimedia, there’s a 12.0-inch touchscreen (as the entry-level V is only offered in the MY23 form). For multimedia, there’s a 12.0-inch touchscreen (as the entry-level V is only offered in the MY23 form).

And the smaller pricetag doesn't necessarily mean a shorter list of equipment. Here's everything you need to know.

The entry-level Leon is known as the V, and starts at $43,990 before on-road costs, and standard equipment includes adjustable suspension, a variable-ratio steering rack, 18-inch wheels, power-folding mirrors, rear privacy glass, cloth interior, keyless entry/push-button start, tri-zone climate control, a heated steering wheel, front sports seats, and a 10.25-inch digital instrument cluster.

For multimedia, there's a 12.0-inch touchscreen (as the entry-level V is only offered in the MY23 form), which comes fitted with satellite navigation, a wireless smartphone charger and wireless Apple CarPlay/Android Auto.

By its own admission, Cupra’s design is meant to be polarising – you either love it, or you don’t. (image: Tung Nguyen) By its own admission, Cupra’s design is meant to be polarising – you either love it, or you don’t. (image: Tung Nguyen)

Spending $52,590 on the VZ or $59,990 on the VZe will net buyers 19-inch wheels, but buyers of the MY22 cars will receive a 10.0-inch multimedia screen as opposed to the MY23's 12.0-inch unit.

Take note however, MY23 versions of the VZ and VZe move up in priced by $400 and $500 respectively.

Although both VZ and VZe variants share the same spec, they differ in powertrains, which explains the price discrepancy and is covered in more detail further down.

At the top of the Leon tree is the VZx, priced at $60,990 (MY22) and $61,490 (MY23), and scores petrol-blue leather interior, unique 19-inch wheels, quad exhaust tips, heated front seats and an uprated sound system.

It comes with 18-inch wheels. It comes with 18-inch wheels.

It's a comprehensive list of equipment to be sure, even at the base grade, and if you are still on the fence about the pricing, well consider this.

Cupra's Leon might be classified as a small hatchback like a Toyota Corolla, Mazda3 and Volkswagen Golf, but the brand is targeting the upper-end of the mainstream market – hence the higher prices in comparison to models in the same segment.

And if we take the Leon VZ as an example, it offers up the same performance and comparable equipment as a Volkswagen Golf GTI, but is about $2000 cheaper.

2023 Cupra Leon

Explore the 2023 Cupra Leon range

Is there anything interesting about its design?   10/10

By its own admission, Cupra's design is meant to be polarising – you either love it, or you don't.

That kind of makes this section of the review superfluous because you've probably already made up your mind on the Leon's looks, but for what it's worth, we think it looks pretty good!

The unique Cupra grille, the shark nose front, the aggressive bumper and subtle bonnet creases combine to make this hot hatch unlike anything else on the road.

From the side, 19-inch wheels do well to fill out the arches (even the 18s on the base V grade don't look bad), and the strong shoulder line give the Leon an aggressive stance.

Cupra’s Leon shares many elements with the Volkswagen Golf. (image: Tung Nguyen) Cupra’s Leon shares many elements with the Volkswagen Golf. (image: Tung Nguyen)

The signature matte paintwork does do some heavy lifting in terms of standing the Leon apart from the crowd and works really well with the copper-coloured accents, but even metallic options manage to look distinctive thanks to the Leon's stand-out style.

The rear end features the latest design trend of connected tail-lights, and the Leon's sporty intentions are made clear thanks to a prominent diffuser, large exhaust tips (on high-end grades) and a rear wing.

Inside, the Cupra Leon is all straight edges and dark materials, which gives off a very modern, even minimalist vibe.

Take the centre stack for example, there's not a whole lot there because the central touchscreen incorporates all the climate controls, so there's no physical buttons to speak of.

The unique Cupra grille, the shark nose front, the aggressive bumper and subtle bonnet creases combine to make this hot hatch unlike anything else on the road. (image: Tung Nguyen) The unique Cupra grille, the shark nose front, the aggressive bumper and subtle bonnet creases combine to make this hot hatch unlike anything else on the road. (image: Tung Nguyen)

Even the shifter is replaced by a little flap, keeping much of area free between the driver and front passenger.

Of course, soft-touch materials like leather (on high-end grades), faux-carbon fibre and fabric are found throughout, as are copper-coloured accents to liven things up a bit.

Love it or hate it, there's no denying that the Cupra Leon turns heads.

If you want to stand out from the crowd, if you don't want the same handful of hatches that everyone else buys in Australia, this could very well be the unique and attention-grabbing model you are after.

How practical is the space inside?   8/10

Small hatchbacks are popular because they offer up usable, practical space in a vehicle with a footprint that is little enough to be manoeuvrable and easy-to-park around town.

And there's no surprises here with the Cupra Leon.

There's ample room for front-seat occupants, and the seats and steering wheel offer plenty of adjustability to get in just the right position whether going to a café for a soy latte or an hours-long road trip to a picturesque landscape for the 'gram.

Inside, the Cupra Leon is all straight edges and dark materials, which gives off a very modern, even minimalist vibe. Inside, the Cupra Leon is all straight edges and dark materials, which gives off a very modern, even minimalist vibe.

Storage options include door pockets, cupholders for said lattes, an underarm cubby and a tray that also doubles as a wireless charger.

And while most of the cabin is traditional, there is the huge touchscreen display that is a point of difference compared to the likes of the Toyota Corolla, Mazda3 and others.

While it's fairly responsive and fluid, the touch-only controls can become tricky enough to navigate while on the move, and I'd prefer at least a few physical buttons for volume controls and climate settings rather than the touch slider bars.

In the second-row there is enough space for our six-foot tall (183cm) frame, even with the driver's seat in the desired position.

Take note though, the middle seat is compromised thanks to an intrusive transmission tunnel, but when only four up there's a fold-down armrest to make use of.

You also get ISOFIX points for baby seats, there's a bottle holder in the door and back seat map pockets as well.

In the second-row there is enough space for our six-foot tall (183cm) frame. (image: Tung Nguyen) In the second-row there is enough space for our six-foot tall (183cm) frame. (image: Tung Nguyen)

And because this car has three-zone climate control as standard, there are vents and a temperature adjuster too, as well as a pair of USB-C ports for charging your devices.

Opening the boot reveals a cavity that will accommodate 380 litres, but the floor is noticeably recessed, making loading and unloading bulky or heavy items tricky.

The rear seats fold down for more space, but take note that they aren't perfectly flat, there's a little hump at the base of the seat.

Boot space does vary between variants though, with the VZe downgraded to just 270L of boot space to accommodate the battery and electric motor of its plug-in hybrid system.

What are the key stats for the drivetrain?   9/10

The Cupra Leon is available, at launch, in three different engine flavours – hot, extra hot and spicy.

And for those worried about the rising cost of petrol, there's also a plug-in hybrid version designed to sip fuel.

The base V grade is fitted with a 2.0-litre turbo-petrol four-cylinder engine with 140kW/320Nm.

The mid-tier VZ also gets a 2.0-litre engine, tuned to 180kW/370Nm to match the Volkswagen Golf GTI and Skoda Octavia RS, while the top-spec VZx has the most potent engine with a 228kW/400Nm at its disposal.

Both engines offer up more than enough power and torque to make almost any driving situation fun. Both engines offer up more than enough power and torque to make almost any driving situation fun.

All aforementioned grades send drive to the front wheels via a seven-speed dual-clutch automatic transmission.

As for the VZe plug-in hybrid, it's fitted with a 1.4-litre turbo-petrol engine and electric motor for a combined output of 180kW/400Nm to the front wheels, while also featuring a dual-clutch automatic transmission with only six ratios.

The breadth of performance on offer is unlike any other model currently available across the Volkswagen Group portfolio, or any other brand for that matter, thanks to the combination of potent petrol powertrains and a flexible plug-in hybrid.

How much does it consume? What's the range like, and what's it like to recharge?   8/10

For the Leon petrol range, the base V is the most frugal consuming just 6.2 litres per 100km in official testing.

The VZ is thirstier at 6.7L/100km, while the VZx drinks 6.8L/100km.

The VZe plug-in hybrid meanwhile, can travel up to 60km on electricity alone thanks to a 12.8kWh battery, making its combined fuel consumption figure just 1.8L/100km.

Without DC fast-charging capabilities though, the Leon VZe will need four-to-five hours of AC charging (maximum of 3.6kW) to go from zero to 100 per cent change.

As a small hatchback range with a performance bent, the Cupra Leon will sip more petrol than the Toyota Corolla and the like, and the engines do require the more expensive 95RON fuel, but overall consumption isn't too bad.

What safety equipment is fitted? What safety rating?   9/10

The Cupra Leon has not been crash tested by ANCAP, but was awarded a maximum five-star rating from its Euro NCAP examination in 2020.

Of note, the model tested by Euro NCAP was a left-hand-drive example, so it remains to be seen how applicable this result is for Australian models.

Regardless, the European Leon scored particularly well in the adult and child occupant protection tests, while also offering a high level of standard active safety systems.

Key highlights in Australian cars include autonomous emergency braking (AEB), adaptive cruise control, lane-keep assist, automatic high beams, driver attention alert, blind-spot monitoring, tyre pressure monitoring and a reversing camera.

Warranty & Safety Rating

Basic Warranty

5 years / unlimited km warranty

ANCAP Safety Rating

ANCAP logo

What does it cost to own? What warranty is offered?   9/10

Like all new Cupras sold in Australia in 2022, the Leon comes with a five-year/unlimited kilometre warranty – trailing the industry-leading 10-year assurance period of Mitsubishi.

However, the Cupra warranty does match the industry standard, and is equal to that offered by Toyota, Mazda, Ford, Hyundai, Volkswagen and Skoda.

The service intervals of the Cupra Leon are every 12 months of 15,000km, whichever occurs first – again matching the industry standard.

What isn't common though, is that the first three services of the Leon are included in the purchase price, meaning you won't pay a cent for maintenance until the 48 month/60,000km service.

What's it like to drive?   8/10

Though the ingredients might be the same as something familiar like a Golf GTI – a 2.0-litre turbo-petrol engine, the same seven-speed dual-clutch transmission, the same platform and chassis – there is something about the Cupra Leon that is different.

Obviously, it's hard to pinpoint exactly what that is without driving the cars back-to-back, but from the seat of my pants, Cupra's chassis tuning feels more hunkered down, more eager and – dare I say it – more fun!

The steering is sharp, direct and responsive – at least in the VZe and VZx we drove at the brand's launch, with both engines offering up more than enough power and torque to make almost any driving situation fun.

Though the ingredients might be the same as something familiar like a Golf GTI there is something about the Cupra Leon that is different. Though the ingredients might be the same as something familiar like a Golf GTI there is something about the Cupra Leon that is different.

Keep in mind the Leon V will not be available until 2023.

We especially like the dynamic prowess of the VZx, as well as the punchier engine, and despite it sharing a powertrain similar to the VW Golf R and Audi S3, Cupra's top-dog Leon makes do with 'only' front-wheel drive.

In our time with the car, this did nothing to dampen our confidence when tipping into a corner or powering through a sweeping bend.

The steering is sharp, direct and responsive. The steering is sharp, direct and responsive.

Don't get me wrong, the Cupra can't overcome physics, and there is still some understeer and tyre squeal at the limit, but this is just about as much fun as you can have on a public road.

Flick things into sport mode, and the suspension, steering, engine and transmission liven up even more, but of course that comes at the cost of everyday usability.

Of note, the suspension is tuned towards the firmer side of the equation, at least in the VZx, and does send jolts into the cabin when going over bumps even in the Normal setting.

Don’t get me wrong, the Cupra can’t overcome physics, and there is still some understeer and tyre squeal at the limit. Don’t get me wrong, the Cupra can’t overcome physics, and there is still some understeer and tyre squeal at the limit.

The VZe on the other hand, is much more supple in ride – despite the heavier weight of the battery – and its switchover from electric to petrol-power is smooth and frictionless.

You can even get some real fuel economy out of the plug-in, thanks to the regenerative braking and features such as forcing it to drive in electric-only mode until the battery runs out.

Verdict

Is the Cupra Leon for everyone? Well, it's fun to drive, loaded with equipment and turns heads all over town.

If you love what the Cupra brand stands for and are looking for a bit of personality and individuality in your car, then this Spanish hot hatch will be right up your alley.

The minor shortcomings of the fiddly multimedia system and stiffer ride aside, this Cupra not only deserves your attention, it commands it.

Pricing guides

$49,990
Based on 15 cars listed for sale in the last 6 months
Lowest Price
$39,989
Highest Price
$56,690

Range and Specs

VehicleSpecsPrice*
V 2.0L, —, 7 SP AUTO $40,260 – 47,300 2023 Cupra Leon 2023 V Pricing and Specs
VZE Phev 1.4L, —, 6 SP $56,540 – 65,010 2023 Cupra Leon 2023 VZE Phev Pricing and Specs
VZ 2.0L, —, 7 SP AUTO $49,610 – 56,980 2023 Cupra Leon 2023 VZ Pricing and Specs
VZX 2.0L, —, 7 SP AUTO $57,530 – 66,110 2023 Cupra Leon 2023 VZX Pricing and Specs
EXPERT RATING
8.6
Price and features8
Design10
Practicality8
Under the bonnet9
Efficiency8
Safety9
Ownership9
Driving8
Tung Nguyen
News Editor

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Pricing Guide

$39,989

Lowest price, based on 11 car listings in the last 6 months

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Disclaimer: The pricing information shown in the editorial content (Review Prices) is to be used as a guide only and is based on information provided to Carsguide Autotrader Media Solutions Pty Ltd (Carsguide) both by third party sources and the car manufacturer at the time of publication. The Review Prices were correct at the time of publication.  Carsguide does not warrant or represent that the information is accurate, reliable, complete, current or suitable for any particular purpose. You should not use or rely upon this information without conducting an independent assessment and valuation of the vehicle.