1 / 10
- Launched: 2014
- Hot hatch
Browse cars on heycar:
- Searing pace of Estate
- Enormous fun to drive
- Restrained appearance
- More expensive than many rivals
- Small infotainment icons
- Less steering feel than is ideal
On the inside
Cost to run
Prices and Specs
"The 2014 SEAT Leon Cupra has acted as a barometer of how much power was required to be considered among the top tier of hot hatches."
Throughout its lifespan, this Leon Cupra’s engine output steadily grew in line with what was needed to fend off lesser rivals and keep the Spaniard very much in the running with the best in class such as the Ford Focus ST, Honda Civic Type R and, of course, the Volkswagen Golf GTI.
So, the Leon Cupra began with 265PS when it was unveiled in 2014. That seemed like a lot of poke back then, especially for a front-wheel drive hot hatch and only the likes of Vauxhall Astra VXR could outdo the Leon. To sort that, the Spanish firm introduced a 280PS version of the 2.0-litre turbo petrol four-cylinder motor in 2015. That gave way in short order to a 290PS iteration of the engine and that’s what we have in the later five-door hatch models.
SEAT still wasn’t quite done with upping the ante, though, and for the Leon Cupra Estate power was increased to 300PS. This also comes with four-wheel drive and the same seven-speed DSG twin-clutch automatic gearbox as the hatch.
Even then, SEAT offered a limited edition Cupra R model with 310PS. Finding one will be the trickiest part as only 799 in total were produced. You’ll have similar problems tracking down the earlier Sub8 models built to mark the Leon Cupra lapping the Nürburgring in less than eight minutes, which is quite an achievement for any car.
Whichever Leon Cupra you choose, the brash wheel arches and colour schemes have been replaced with a toned down design and from a distance you’d be hard pressed to tell the Cupra apart from the standard SEAT Leon. Indeed, alongside the hatchback version, it's also available as an estate based on the SEAT Leon ST. Yet, under the bonnet, the new Cupra is still highly potent and tremendous fun.
The Leon is also renowned for its impressive handling and the Cupra builds on that. It may be one of the older members of the hot hatch brigade and has now been replaced by the Cupra Leon, which is part of a standalone sub-brand of SEAT, but it’s still a very entertaining, enjoyable car to drive.
All models get a limited slip front differential to help deal with the power of the engine and transmit it to the road without the wheels scrabbling for grip. Use the full force of the Leon Cupra and the 290PS hatch will dispense with 0-62mph in six seconds, which is on a par with the class best.
However, it’s the four-wheel drive estate model that steals the show and stands out as possibly the most practical fast wagon money can buy. It dashes off 0-62mph in just 4.9 seconds, making it quicker than Honda Civic Type R.
It may not be the most obvious choice of hot hatch, but you ignore the SEAT Leon Cupra at your peril if you’re in the market for this type of car.
Comfort and design
"Sometimes hot hatches can be an assault on the senses, but SEAT has resisted the urge to transform the interior of its Leon Cupra into a crude boy racer. Instead, the Spanish firm has kept its focus on comfort. We do advise against going for the option of adding bucket seats that was made available from June 2014 onward (this is part of the Lux pack that should make the car more, well, luxurious, but these seats have the opposite effect and we found the shape really uncomfortable on your spine)."
However, in its standard guise, the Leon Cupra is comfortable and pleasant, with plenty of head and leg room for both the driver and front passenger. You also get lots of shoulder and elbow space, so the Leon’s cabin feels much airier than many of its rivals.
LED interior lights are standard and the dashboard is easy to use and understand. As with the standard model, the Cupra gets an 8-inch touchscreen display, which operates the car's sound system, sat nav and interior settings. It’s also used to operate the Drive Profile that offers four settings for the way the car behaves, comprising Normal, Sport, Cupra and Individual.
The Leon hasn’t had its buttons scattered to the four winds, which gives the cabin a clean and upmarket appearance. There are also a number of useful cubby holes and pockets, along with a standard pair of cup holders.
Handling and ride quality
"On country lanes, the SEAT Leon Cupra comes into its own and needs little encouragement to tackle difficult roads at speed. It will also push very hard before giving any indication that it's ready to relinquish its grip, such is the ability of its limited-slip differential. There are also other traction aids that work seamlessly to make you feel like a better driver than you might be in other hot hatches."
The 4Drive all-wheel drive system used in the Estate offers up even more grip and reassurance on any type of road. It’s especially noticeable when you use full power to accelerate from a standing start where there’s no chirp from the tyres, just forward motion, while through corners the Estate is loathe to relinquish its vice-like grip on the tarmac.
If the thought of thundering around country lanes like Evel Knievel leaves you cold or ashen in the face then you’ll also be pleased to hear that the Leon reels things in on the motorway, with the engine note hushed to a barely audible whirl.
The suspension settings can also be customised to match your mood, yet none of the settings are what we would describe as hard, despite the large alloy wheels. A bit more steering feel would be good, though, as the Leon’s wheel doesn’t communicate as much or as clearly with the driver as those in the Ford Focus ST or Honda Civic Type R.
Even so, the result is the Leon is a superb hot hatch that's easily a match for anything else out in the road when it comes to performance and handling, yet is still comfortable enough to live with every day.
MPG and fuel costs
"Hot hatch buyers might be less likely to put fuel economy at the top of their must-have lists, but it’s still a consideration and the SEAT Leon Cupra hatch scores well here. It has an official combined consumption best under WLTP tests of 38.7mpg. Take the Estate and its all-wheel drive system pegs that figure back to 33.6mpg, some 5mpg less than the hatch."
Real MPG data shows you can expect 32.3mpg from the hatch and 31.3mpg from the Estate in normal mixed driving conditions.
How much should you be paying for a used SEAT Leon Cupra?
"A six-year old SEAT Leon Cupra in three-door SC 280 form can be yours from £11,500 with around 60,000 miles on the clock. The three-door model was dropped from the range in 2017 and a two-year old five-door hatch Cupra 290 will cost from £20,000 with 20,000 miles under its belt. A Lux version will cost £1000 more."
Choose a pre-registered Leon and the 290 hatch version can be found with delivery miles only for £3500 less than list price at £28,000. The 300 Estate is more sought-after, but you can still find pre-registered examples for £2500 below list price.
Is the SEAT Leon Cupra right for you?
If you like hot hatches that are refined, civilised and honed to easy-living perfection, the SEAT Leon Cupra is possibly not the one for you. It’s not because the SEAT is difficult to live with, rowdy or unruly, it’s more that it has a nature that calls for it to be driven enthusiastically.
With 290PS from the front-drive hatch or 300PS in the all-wheel drive estate, both are right on the pace with the best in the sector. In fact, the wagon puts itself among the likes of the Mercedes-AMG A35 and Audi S3, yet it’s also able to carry big loads and all the family.
For this reason, we’d have the estate for its quicker pace, more versatile and spacious cabin and the fact that fast wagons always fly that little bit further under the radar of all but the keenest of hot hatch fans. It’s the fast car that your neighbours won’t notice, letting you get on with enjoying the car whenever the opportunity arises. The only caveat is the Cupra is a bit more expensive than rivals such as the Ford Focus, but then the estate is also quicker and comes with four-wheel drive as standard.
What’s the best SEAT Leon Cupra model/engine to choose?
There are two engine variants in the SEAT Leon Cupra, comprising a 290PS 2.0-litre turbo petrol in the five-door hatch and a 300PS version in the Estate. Both use a seven-speed DSG dual-clutch automatic gearbox, but the wagon couples this to an all-wheel drive system whereas the hatch sticks with front-drive.
For the added sure-footedness of four-wheel drive, we’d err towards the Estate, and it has the happy side benefit of being quicker to accelerate thanks to better traction off the line. That’s a win-win.
You’ll also find the Estate has a big boot to make it handily versatile, though the hatch is far from cramped.
You can pick between standard Cupra spec or the Lux model that gains adaptive cruise control, heated front bucket seats, wireless phone charging, keyless entry and a driver fatigue warning.
What other cars are similar to the SEAT Leon Cupra?
Anyone considering a SEAT Leon Cupra has several other options to think about. Not least among these is the Ford Focus ST that also comes in hatch or estate body shapes, though without the Leon Cupra Estate’s all-wheel drive. The Ford is quick and invigorating to drive, and also a bit cheaper than the SEAT.
The Honda Civic Type R is a more in-yer-face option to the subtle SEAT. Honda backs up the looks with superb performance and very crisp handling. Alternatively, Renault Megane R.S. models offer serious pace with practicality in a five-door hatch body shell, although some bits need to be added as options on the French machine.
Quality and finish
One of the bugbears of older Leon Cupra generations was the poor quality of their cabins. It would not be uncommon for the previous Cupra to shake, rattle and roll along with your favourite song, such was the lack of attention to detail when it came to the fit and finish of plastics and trim.
Thankfully, this has been addressed in this Leon Cupra and the interior feels a lot more upmarket as a result. The driver gets a flat-bottomed steering wheel with in-built controls. The cloth seats are also comfortable and supportive, which makes them ideal for daily use. However, choosing the Lux pack for the Cupra brings front bucket seats that look ace but don’t offer the same support or comfort as the standard items.
The rest of the car is built up to a very high standard and the SEAT should prove long-lasting, durable and reliable. It comes with a three-year, 60,000-mile warranty.
Every version of the SEAT Leon Cupra comes with an 8-inch touchscreen to run its infotainment system. It’s a common item across Volkswagen Group cars and is integrated into the upper centre of the dash rather than being of the floating iPad design that is now more on-trend. No matter, it’s easy to reach from the driver’s seat and the screen responds quickly to the touch of your finger.
However, that finger needs to be accurately placed as some of the display icons are quite small and that makes them tricky to locate on the move. There are steering wheel buttons for the obvious functions, such as stereo volume control and answering phone calls without taking your mitts off of the wheel. Voice control is also included to help reduce the need to use the touchscreen.
The SEAT’s system comes with DAB digital radio, sat-nav and Full Link to pair up with your smartphone. It uses MirrorLink, Apple CarPlay or Android Auto depending on the device, and there’s also a USB port.
Should you opt for the Lux pack, SEAT adds wireless phone charging for devices that are enabled for this.
Space and practicality
Whether you choose the SEAT Leon Cupra as a hatch or estate, the rear seats offer plenty of space for most passengers. Children are very well catered for and the window line of the Leon is lower than most in the class so that kids get a decent view out to the sides. There are also ISOFIX child seat mounts in both of the outer rear pews.
Adult passengers will find the Leon equally accommodating unless they are especially long of leg. A Ford Focus ST or Honda Civic Type R offer more room here, but the SEAT is fine for teenagers or a couple of average-sized adults. It also provides good shoulder space for a couple of grown-ups and more than sufficient head room.
A third passenger in the back seat will find things perhaps a little too snug for shoulder room, but at least the Leon provides a flat base and back with a three-point belt to make a stab at offering room for five. Decent door bins provide some storage and the middle armrest folds down to help if there are only two people in the rear quarters.
Heading to the back of the Leon, this is where the big difference between the two versions lies. With the hatch, the tailgate opens to reveal a well-shaped boot with 380-litres of space. It’s easy to access and the 60-40 split and tumble back seat hinges forward to free up a maximum of 1210-litres.
However, if you need to carry more kit on a routine basis, the Cupra Estate is the one to go for as it provides a very generous 587-litres of cargo capacity with the rear seats in place. Fold them down and they open up a maximum load volume of 1470-litres. Just as pleasingly the rear seats fold down flat to create a long, uninterrupted floor to slide in longer items. Only the slight drop from the load sill to the cargo bed lets the side down, but overall the Cupra Estate is a very practical and rapid way to bring your flat-pack furniture home from the DIY store.
Engines and gearboxes
The power of the SEAT Leon Cupra has been upped over the years. It originally had 265PS in standard form but this version was soon dropped due to lack of demand. Instead, it was the 280PS version which everyone chose.
The Cupra's 2.0 TSI turbo petrol engine is a mainstay of the Volkswagen Group and is used in various cars and it performs strongly in the Leon. Gun the throttle and the throaty four-cylinder 2.0-litre engine roars along with real gusto, yet the power delivery remains smooth. Even in front-wheel drive hatchback form, it doesn't scrabble for grip too much, helped in no small part by the car’s limited-slip differential which is sourced direct from the Golf GTI.
By September 2015 the engine had been upgraded to 290PS before finally there was the 300PS version that is now fitted to the Estate model only. Both hatch and wagon use the same seven-speed DSG dual-clutch automatic gearbox, but the Estate has SEAT’s 4Drive all-wheel drive system as standard, which explains its higher prices and improved acceleration, needing only 4.9 seconds to get from 0-62mph compared to the hatch’s 6.0 seconds.
There's also plenty of torque so neither Cupra body style has to be worked hard if you want a sudden burst of speed and that’s handy for overtaking. The 290PS engine in the hatch has 380Nm and it kicks in at 1950rpm all the way up to 5300rpm, while the Estate offers 400Nm in a slightly narrower but still very useful band from 2000- to 5200rpm.
Refinement and noise levels
For anyone looking at a hot hatch with all the noise and fury of a Touring Car racer, the SEAT Leon Cupra is not the one to satisfy your inner boy racer desires. This is a more sophisticated proposition that comes with deep, bass growl when the throttle pedal is pressed hard to the floor. It simply sounds purposeful and determined.
You can introduce a little more exhaust note into the mix of the Leon Cupra using the drive profiles that offer Normal, Sport, Cupra and Individual. The Cupra setting turns all of the car’s reflexes up to maximum, including some extra burble and crackle from the motor and exhaust, though it’s never too intrusive.
Road noise is kept to an impressively low level despite the standard 19-inch alloy wheels of the Cupra models. There’s also less wind noise to be heard in the SEAT’s cabin than in rivals such as the Honda Civic Type R, which means the Leon is a good bet for those who need a hot hatch to cover plenty of miles and motorway driving. You’ll also find the SEAT’s controls have a satisfying weight and fluid action to them.
Unlike other SEAT Leon models that use an electronic differential lock to quell wheel spin, the Cupra models have a mechanical limited slip differential that works extremely well. It works in tandem with the ESC traction and stability control to make the Leon very sure-footed.
The Leon Cupra also comes with twin front, side, and curtain airbags, and there’s also a driver’s knee airbag as standard. All five occupants get a three-point seat belt and there are ISOFIX child seat mounts on the two outer rear seats.
SEAT also provides Front Assist with pedestrian protection and Multi-collision braking system, which means the car has autonomous emergency braking to spot hazards and apply the brakes if the driver doesn’t react.
For those opting for the Lux pack, you get further safety equipment with Adaptive Cruise Control to maintain a safe distance to the vehicle in front. This pack also comes with Tiredness recognition to tell the driver is fatigue might be setting in, and it also has a rear seat belt reminder.
Insurance groups and costs
There is a very clear line drawn between the SEAT Leon Cupra hatch and its Estate sister model when it comes to insurance. The hatch model in standard or Lux form sits in group 26, which is several bands lower than a Honda Civic Type R.
However, if you take the Leon Cupra Estate, it’s four-wheel drive and superior performance catapult it into group 35 regardless of which version you choose. That puts it on a par with the Volkswagen Golf R for its premiums.
VED car tax
Pick the Estate version of the SEAT Leon Cupra and it may be more practical but it’s also pricier when it comes to its first-year Vehicle Excise Duty payment. Carbon dioxide emissions of 189g/km, or 190g/km for the Lux model, mean you will pay £870 for the initial 12 months of road tax.
That compares to £540 that the hatch version of the Leon Cupra attracts due to its lower emissions of 170g/km as it doesn’t have the extra weight of an all-wheel drive system to contend with.
Trim levels and standard equipment
SEAT doesn’t hold back when it comes to the equipment list for the Leon Cupra. As a result, you get 19-inch alloy wheels, brake calipers with the Cupra logo, unique bumpers, body kit and grille, and twin exhaust pipes. You also get LED lights, automatic headlights and wipers, and all-round parking sensors.
On the inside, the Leon Cupra comes with a flat-bottomed steering wheel, front sports seats and microsuede upholstery, black roof lining, aluminium pedals, and SEAT’s digital cockpit main instrument display. Infotainment is taken care of by the 8-inch touchscreen in the centre of the dash that has sat-nav, DAB digital radio, MirrorLink, Apple CarPlay and Android Auto. It’s also used to work the Cupra Drive Profile with settings for Normal, Sport, Cupra and Individual for the throttle, gearbox and engine sound modes. Climate control is also standard.
On top of this lot, you can have the Lux pack that comes with sportier front bucket seats, Adaptive Cruise Control, and KESSY keyless entry and ignition. The Lux versions also have wireless phone charging, rear seat belt reminder and Tiredness recognition to warn if the driver might be feeling fatigued.
On the inside
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