VW Group owned niche car maker Cupra is marketed as an independent brand – so why is it rebadging SEATs? Cupra was the sporty badge put on hot SEATs much like GTI and R are used by Volkswagen with the Golf. Volkswagen Group had been looking for some time for a sporty brand to buy and in the end decided to create one of its own using a rib taken from SEAT. Cupra’s first model, the Formentor SUV crossover is unique to the Spanish brand and rather good but its’ other cars (Leon and Ateca) are just slightly altered SEATs. This week were testing the Leon Cupra sorry old habits, I mean the Cupra Leon – and I’m not sure about this one.
Cupra Leon’s dimensions are slightly longer (+30mm) and lower (-14mm) than the SEAT Leon. The height is down to the sportier suspension and the length is the altered by newly designed bumpers. The two cars are identical in width and other dimensions. The Cupra Leon is available as a hatchback or ‘Sportstourer’ estate with a choice of power outputs – all feature DSG automatic gearboxes. The entry point petrol version is a 2 litre TSI with 245hp (Golf GTI basically). The petrol-heads will drool over the much-want 300hp 2 litre and 310hp (all wheel drive) that are basically Golf Rs. 300+ horsepower is much more in keeping with Cupra’s aspirational performance brand image. Sitting in the middle there is a greener version called the ‘e-Hybrid’. It is a pretty powerful PHEV and we’re testing it this week. To put its green credentials in context the hybrid attracts just €140 in emissions based annual motor tax in Ireland while the 300hp version is €600.
The very low emissions (31g/CO2) PHEV has a 150hp 1.4 litre VW Group ‘TSI’ petrol engine under the bonnet and an electric motor that produces 115hp and a whole heap of torque. All-in the PHEV has a combined power output of 245hp and a whopping 400nm of torque. 0-100km/h takes a swift 6.7 seconds (7seconds estate) and its top speed is 225km/h. The PHEV’s rechargeable Li-Ion battery has a 13kWh capacity. It takes anything from 3.5 hours at a home ‘wallbox’ or 6 hours from a three pin plug. Cupra quotes an electric only range form a full battery of between 55-60 kilometres (54-59km estate). The petrol flap is on the offside rear and the electric Type 2 socket close to the nearside front wheel.
The Cupra Leon moves off in zero emissions electric mode unless you floor the accelerator or the battery is too low. The car can sail along too (when the DSG-6 auto gearbox free-wheels) and cruising on the open road is very pleasant. The impressive power figures mean safe overtaking and enjoyable twisty routes are fun. The steering features ‘R-EPS Progressive’ steering and this helps the Leon feel tight and precise. The ride is firm but not jarring despite the big and sweet looking Cupra alloys. There are paddle shifters and the notch gear selector can go from D to S (sport) with a tiny flick of the wrist. Braking can feel odd, at times a firm push was needed to slow the car despite its big 340x30mm ventilated front discs.
Standard equipment across the range is impressive. The Leon sorry Cupra Leon gets a host of driving safety aids such as Lane assist, driver alert system and the ‘Safe & Drive Pack’ “M”’ with its predictive adaptive cruise control, light assist (auto high-beam), traffic sign recognition. As part of ‘Front Assist’ there is a forward collision warning, auto braking reaction to pedestrians, cyclists and other vehicles. More ‘safe & driving’ packs are optional with pack “L” and “XL” as you may decipher each adding more kit. Power with green credentials, great handling and limited numbers on the street are Cupra Leon’s plus points but there are niggles. You won’t like the artificially generated and mechanical noise the car makes under hard acceleration plus the impressive looking but in reality quite frustrating 10 inch centre touch screen on numerous occasions simply refused to work. It would take its time to allow touch operation and this really annoyed me at times. Cupra Leon e-Hybrid pricing starts from €46,210 (€47,060 Sportstourer).