Cupra Leon VZ review: it's a hot hatch hoot
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CUPRA LEON VZ HATCH
- Awesomely fun to drive
- Luxury interior
- Great price
- Interior the same as a Golf
- Front wheels love to spin under acceleration
- No manual option
As one of the biggest automotive entities in the world, the Volkswagen Group has its finger in a lot of pies. In business terms, these pies are actually vehicle brands, and there are 10 of them in total each catering to a different buyer demographic. Out of these brands, Cupra is the youngest, and became an independent entity in 2018 after serving as the performance branch of Seat since 1985.
As an individual brand, Cupra’s range of vehicles is unapologetically performance focused, and the brand as a whole can basically be summed up as the VW’s spicy Spanish cousin.
Today we’re looking at the smallest car that Cupra currently sells in New Zealand, a hot hatch that looks as good as it goes, and brings back memories of when hot hatches were unruly and just a little bit scary.
The Cupra Leon VZ sits on the same MQB platform as the new Volkswagen Golf 8, but ups the ante in the aesthetic department. Unlike the rather reserved Golf, this Leon looks angry from every angle, with harsh body lines and a large diffuser at the rear. As standard, the Leon comes on a set of 19-inch alloy wheels, only adding to this aggressive aesthetic.
Moving inside, the differences from its VW-badged cousin are a lot harder to spot. Obviously, you’ve got a Cupra flat-bottomed steering wheel, and copper accents throughout the cabin, but you’d be hard-pressed to differentiate the rest. In here, you get a 10-inch touchscreen infotainment display with Android Auto and Apple Carplay connectivity. It also gets a Beats audio system, and a wireless phone charging pad as standard.
This new system is a breeze to use, and once you get your head around the lack of buttons (thankfully Cupra left the steering wheel buttons intact) you’ll be away laughing. I’ll leave it up to you to form an opinion on this, but it’s slightly disappointing to not see a more performance-focused dash array in such a Spicy Spanish hot hatch.
The VW similarities continue on beneath the bonnet, where the Cupra gets the same turbocharged 2.0-litre engine as the Golf GTI. Though it shares an engine with the GTI, the Leon VZ’s power figure of 221kW is more akin to that of the Golf R, which is something to get excited about; 221kW/400Nm is sent exclusively to the front wheels here, through a seven-speed automated dual-clutch transmission. As you can imagine, this translates to quite a handful at the front end, so an electronic limited-slip differential helps to hold everything in check.
With torque and power figures of this level in a front-drive hatch, you’d expect to be battling torque steer as you struggle to keep in in a straight line, but it does a great job of handling all this itself. Aggressively launching it will always result in wheelspin, but the advanced traction control system does a wonderful job of minimising slip whilst keep acceleration steady. Switching off traction control and attempting to pedal through it is a somewhat hair-raising experience, but is reminiscent of what overpowered hot hatches used to be.
In term of ride quality, it seems to be very dependent on which drive mode is selected. Comfort, Sport, Cupra, and individual are the four options that drivers are presented with, they’re pretty self-explanatory. Comfort offers the best ride, keeps the transmission smooth, and minimises engine noise. Sport stiffens things up, and adds a little more engine noise into the cabin. Cupra is the no holds barred mode, where the steering is direct, the ride is reasonably harsh, the transmission is snappy, and the exhaust makes all manner of pops bangs and farts as you cycle through the gears.
When it comes to safety, this Cupra is packed with everything that you’d expect from a modern hot hatch. AEB, Adaptive Cruise Control, and Lane Keep Assist come as standard, as does Blind Spot Detection and Rear Cross Traffic Alert. Park assist is also a nice feature to have, which will detect and assist the driver when getting into both angular and parallel parking spots.
As a whole, this Cupra Leon VZ is what I had hoped the new Volksagen Golf GTI would’ve been. It’s got a modern interior, it’s quick, but most of all, it’s just a fun hot hatch to drive. Considering that it’s $1000 cheaper than the VW, it’s a no-brainer in the Cupra’s favour for me.
Another hot hatch that’s worth considering if you’re after European luxury is the Renault Megane RS, although it’s a lot more "race car" than the Cupra, and starts at $65,990 for the manual.
CUPRA LEON VZ
ENGINE: 2.0-litre turbo
GEARBOX: 7-speed automated dual-clutch, FWD