7.8/10Score

Score breakdown

8.0

Safety, value and features

8.0

Comfort and space

8.0

Engine and gearbox

8.0

Ride and handling

7.5

Technology

Things we like

  • Cabin presentation
  • Sharp handling
  • Good amount of grunt

Not so much

  • Exhaust boom at 110km/h
  • Firm suspension tune
  • Awkward infotainment

7.8/10Score

Score breakdown

8.0

Safety, value and features

8.0

Comfort and space

8.0

Engine and gearbox

8.0

Ride and handling

7.5

Technology

Things we like

  • Cabin presentation
  • Sharp handling
  • Good amount of grunt

Not so much

  • Exhaust boom at 110km/h
  • Firm suspension tune
  • Awkward infotainment

If you’re reading this review, you’ve probably got an idea of the current state of play for hot hatches in Australia.

The Hyundai i30 N and Honda Civic Type R are the hardcore players, the Golf GTI and Focus ST ideal everyday hatches, and the i30 N Line a nice warm entry into the sporty hatch world.

Where does that leave Cupra? Well, VW’s sexy Catalan cousin actually has all bases covered. We’ve driven the flagship 221kW Leon VZx on track, but as more variants trickle into Australia it’s now time to sample the mid-spec 2023 Cupra Leon VZ.

The Leon VZ gets the same 180kW/370Nm ‘EA888’ 2.0-litre turbo petrol four-cylinder as the Volkswagen Golf GTI. But unlike that car, it also gets Cupra’s signature suspension settings, cabin design and exterior swagger.

In essence, the Cupra is a whole lot cooler than the GTI.

People look at this car, and I mean really look at it. You’d expect that of Cupra’s first bespoke vehicle, the Formentor SUV, but how often the eyes of bystanders ended up locked onto the Desire red VZ was quite astonishing.

Pragmatic Volkswagens and Skodas already litter Sydney’s Inner West, where I’m based, and while the Leon VZ stood out, there was less of the tall poppy syndrome you’d get in something more exotic like an Audi RS4.

Sure, the Leon is still edgy, the sort that’s likely to have a few too many even on a Tuesday night, but sometimes that’s the kind of friend you want around.

The Leon, initially at least, is nailing the brief.

JUMP AHEAD

  • How much is it, and what do you get?
  • How do rivals compare on value?
  • Interior comfort, space and storage
  • What is it like to drive?
  • How much fuel does the Cupra Leon use?
  • How safe is it?
  • Warranty and running costs
  • VERDICT
  • Specifications

How much is it, and what do you get?

There are four variants in the Leon line-up and none are wanting for spec. This VZ essentially gets all the fruit, as does the 140kW Z that’s due to hit experience centres next month.

A few options have been added to this particular test car. The eye-catching (and VZ-exclusive) Desire Red hue ($475) falls just the right side of retina-searing and complements the copper badging. Our tester was also fitted with the optional leather and sound pack ($2450) and sunroof ($1800), bringing the total to $61,740 drive-away.

Inside, Cupra’s technology package sits in an uncanny valley; decidedly not a VW clone, but with parts sourced from the same bin. It’s more differentiated than a Skoda Octavia that’s based on the same MQB platform.

The Leon’s 10.0-inch infotainment touchscreen has a unique user interface that takes a little time to learn. There are many ways to interact with HVAC settings, driver assistance settings and drive modes, none of which are tied to physical buttons.

Wireless Apple CarPlay and Android Auto feature, and the Apple system performed faultlessly. The optional nine-speaker Beats sound system (part of the $2450 pack) performed strongly, too.

Ahead of the driver is a 10.25-inch digital display that, in typical VW Group style, provides flawless interaction, including the option to display a full map with native navigation directions.

Leather and sound pack adds

9-speaker Bose sound system Power driver’s seat with lumbar
Black leather upholstery Heated seats (1st row)

Back to top

How do rivals compare on value?

The hot hatch price hierarchy remains intact – the Hyundai i30 N is still the cheapest to buy at $46,200 before on-road costs, making the Leon VZ’s $57,490 drive-away (or $61,740 drive-away as tested) price a bit rich at first glance.

That is until you compare it with its German counterpart, the Golf GTI that in Mark 8 guise has not just crept but leapt up in price to $54,990 before on-road costs – about $60,839 on the road.

Like the Leon, the Golf is equipped with cloth upholstery (albeit quite attractive tartan) and manually-adjustable front seats as standard.

With the required packs fitted to match our tested Cupra, a Golf GTI costs $67,874 drive-away. Oh, and if you haven’t already seen Honda Civic Type R pricing, that hardcore hot hatch is $72,600 drive-away.

Given the Cupra’s interior fit and finish, more premium rivals are also legitimate considerations.

The BMW 128ti is also in the Leon’s sphere ($58,900), as is an Audi A3 40 TFSI ($56,500) and Mercedes-Benz A250 ($66,900) – all before on-road costs.

Back to top

Interior comfort, space and storage

Although we’re partial to a cloth interior at Wheels, ultimately the leather and style pack is a worthy addition to the Leon.

We’re also informed by Cupra execs that if a pack is there, most buyers will cough up the extra cash.

The seats are supportive, well-bolstered, and offer a good range of electric adjustment including four-way lumbar support. Three-stage heating is fitted to the seats and the steering wheel, though accessing the settings is done through the touchscreen’s ‘Clima’ panel, which can be a steep learning curve.

Material quality is generally high. The primary plastics are convincing and the perforated leather-appointed steering wheel is a highlight, being just the right size and finished with Cupra’s copper-coloured logo taking pride of place on the boss.

Secondary plastics in the Leon aren’t quite so nice and don’t live up to the BMWs and Audis mentioned above – or, arguably, a Mark 6 Golf – but they are enough to match the latest GTI. Cupra’s cabin design is more confident too, with jutting angles, crisp lines and a bold colour palette.

The door pockets are a good size for a one-litre camping bottle and have a little bit of carpeting at the bottom (though they aren’t fully flocked like Golfs of old). There are two well-sized cup holders in the centre console and a very clever spot to store the Leon’s weighty and premium-feeling fob.

Cupra also fits the Leon VZ with two USB-C fast-charging ports and a 12-volt socket as well as a Qi standard wireless charging pad.

Jumping into the Leon’s back seat, there are two more USB-C ports and adjustable air vents with a separate climate control zone.

Rear seat space in the Leon is generous – much like the Golf on which it’s based – and at 188cm I was comfortable, even under the optional sunroof.

For securing child seats, ISOFIX ports are fitted to both of the Leon’s outboard rear seats and there are three top tether points in the seat back. This really is a hot hatch big enough for the whole family.

Boot space is also fairly generous, with 380 litres of cargo space under a manually-operated tailgate. There is a little more storage under the floor including a spot for the space-saver spare tyre.

Back to top

What is it like to drive?

The basics

2023 Leon Cupra VZ
Driven wheels front
Engine 2.0L turbo-petrol 4cyl, dohc, 16v, PPF
Power & torque 180kW / 370Nm
Transmission 7-speed wet dual-clutch auto
0-100km/h (tested) 6.4 seconds
Required fuel & tank 95 RON, 50 litres
Fuel consumption (tested) 7.6L/100km
Boot space 380L

The Cupra Leon strikes a balance between the Golf GTI and Hyundai i30 N in power terms, but it also happens to do the same when it comes to chassis setup.

The Leon VZ also gets VW Group’s 15-stage adaptive dampers as standard – part of the $3500 Sound and Style pack in a Golf GTI.

Cupra chooses firmer suspension settings than Volkswagen, with notably stiffer springs installed in the Leon. Some will appreciate the Leon VZ’s firm body control and sporty ride, but we found it to be a little clunkier than the oh-so-fluid Golf GTI on adaptive dampers.

This suits the range-topping VZx’s aggressive persona, but in a VZ that you expect to be slightly more laid back, it can get tiring around town. The ride does settle at speed and there’s no fidget on smooth surfaces with the adaptive dampers set just to the soft side of Sport, so the Leon is never busy and unsettled like an i30 N can be.

Unfortunately, the front-drive Leon VZ misses out on the flagship VZx’s wheel-mounted drive mode and start buttons. This is frustrating when you want to quickly jump from Comfort to Individual, as it means interacting with a touchscreen, not simply bumping a shortcut button – one reason to shell out an extra $8K for the range-topper.

That said, once locked into the perfect drive mode and pointed at a string of corners, the Leon VZ is a delight. This is a sharper hot hatch than the Golf GTI, with pointier turn-in and tighter body control. You can lean on the locking front differential through the middle of a corner to drag the Leon’s nose around.

It’s true to say the Leon isn’t as expressive as the Golf, but it’s more confidence-inspiring, those 235/35 R19 Hankook Ventus S1 Evo tyres biting convincingly into the tarmac.

The steering, too, is sharp and precise – measuring only two turns lock-to-lock with its progressive rack.

Where the Leon feels a little odd is in its engine and exhaust tune. With the VZ’s powerplant locked in ‘Cupra’ (read: loud) mode, you get burbles, a throaty bark and genuine turbo spool-up sound to around 4000rpm.

Above 4K though? The 2.0-litre turbo-petrol four-cylinder engine feels a little flat and thin, like its 180kW and 370Nm are held back from the 221kW/400Nm VZx, rather than offering a different experience.

The other oddity is, although quiet at high revs, the Leon VZ has a pronounced exhaust drone at 110km/h in seventh gear. The low resonance is offputting and had me switching back to sixth using the shift paddles to get rid of the drone on long climbs.

Despite being mid-spec, the Leon VZ is not a slow vehicle by any stretch. Cupra claims the 1496kg Leon VZ will get from 0-100km/h in 6.4 seconds, and we were able to confirm that using a V-Box. The VZ would likely be even quicker with a gripped-up dragstrip at its disposal, that seven-speed wet clutch DSG automatic providing effortless shifts at full noise.

Back to top

How much fuel does the Cupra Leon use?

The Leon VZ used 7.6L/100km of fuel during our week of testing, which compares quite well with the official 6.7L/100km combined ADR rating and is much more fuel efficient than a Hyundai i30 N that scores 8.5L/100km in the same protocol.

As the Leon VZ’s Euro 6 compliant engine is fitted with a petrol particulate filter, Volkswagen recommends 95 RON unleaded at a minimum, with 98 RON premium unleaded preferred.

Back to top

How safe is it?

Evaluated under ANCAP’s 2020 protocol, the Cupra Leon rated five stars in safety testing.

The Leon is equipped with myriad driver aids, including front auto emergency braking (AEB) with pedestrian and cyclist detection plus junction function, as well as low-speed reverse AEB. Rear cross-traffic alert, blind-spot monitoring and lane-departure warning are also included.

Adaptive cruise control with stop-and-go function for traffic jams combines with lane-trace assist to provide Level 2 autonomous driving. The system worked well during testing, with strict speed control and decent lane tracing.

Back to top

Leon Cupra VZ safety features

Front assist with Pedestrian and Cyclist detection
Lane assist
Park assist
Side assist with Exit assist
Driver fatigue monitor
Emergency assist
Rear camera

Warranty and running costs

Cupra covers its cars with a five-year, unlimited-kilometre warranty in Australia, matching all major rivals in the hot hatch class including Volkswagen, Hyundai and Ford.

Until December 31 this year Cupra is offering three years of free servicing on all models. That equates to a saving of $1600 compared with a mechanically similar Volkswagen Golf GTI.

Cupra has not detailed full servicing costs in Australia, but if you want to extend your servicing plan to five years it’ll cost an extra $1200. Leon VZ maintenance is due every 12 months or 15,000km.

Back to top

VERDICT

The Cupra VZ strikes an intriguing balance

The VZ sits between the entry and flagship variants in Cupra’s Australian Leon range and, without the sheer grunt of the VZx or electric efficiency of a VZe PHEV, could be easily forgotten.

It’s true, though, that the VZ strikes an intriguing balance. Cupra’s overt character is still dripping from the VZ, with a burbly exhaust note and more focused chassis tune than a Golf GTI. It’s also more affordable than the equivalent Volkswagen.

For most people, the extra grunt of the VZx will be hard to walk past, but for those after a red hot hatch with the unique Cupra badge, the Leon VZ delivers a sharp drive, lashings of style and – perhaps most importantly – a topic of conversation at the next dinner party.

Back to top

2023 Cupra Leon VZ specifications

Driven wheels front
Engine 2.0L turbo-petrol 4cyl, dohc, 16v, PPF
Power 180kW
Torque 370Nm
0-100km/h (tested) 6.4 seconds
Transmission 7-speed wet dual-clutch auto
Body steel, 5-door, 5-seat small hatch
Required fuel 95 RON minimum
Fuel tank 50 litres
Fuel consumption (tested) 7.6L/100km
Boot space 380L

2023 Cupra Leon Australian pricing

Note: Indicated prices are non-inclusive of on-road costs unless marked as drive-away.

Model Pricing
Leon V $43,990 RRP (drive-away pricing TBA)
Leon VZ $52,990 RRP ($57,490 drive-away, +$400)
Leon VZe $60,490 RRP (see below for drive-away pricing, +$500)
Leon VZx $61,490 RRP ($65,490 drive-away, +$500)

COMMENTS

NEWS RELATED

CUPRA Formentor Tribe Edition: serie especial para el SUV deportivo

CUPRA Formentor Tribe Edition Estará disponible para las motorizaciones VZ del Formentor, a partir de final de año. CUPRA sigue aumentando la gama disponible para su modelo estrella, el Formentor, a base de ediciones limitadas. Y si hace poco te hablamos del Taiga Grey, disponible en exclusiva para el ...

View more: CUPRA Formentor Tribe Edition: serie especial para el SUV deportivo

A hot hatch electric car! 2023 Abarth 500e confirmed for Australia next year as new compact performance hatchback puts an electric sting in the scorpion's tail to fight Cupra Born and GWM Ora Good Car GT

The Abarth 500e is due to hit local showrooms in late 2023. For the first time in its 70-plus year history the iconic Italian performance brand Abarth has launched a pure EV model, in the shape of the new Abarth 500e. Powered by a 42kWh battery and a single ...

View more: A hot hatch electric car! 2023 Abarth 500e confirmed for Australia next year as new compact performance hatchback puts an electric sting in the scorpion's tail to fight Cupra Born and GWM Ora Good Car GT

Cupra Formentor V FWD review: are sport and speed the same thing?

Photos / David Linklater Cupra Formentor V FWD $48,990 Price 8.9 sec 0-100 kmph 6.6L Fuel Economy 110kW Power Pros Near-impossible to tell from more costly models Still sporty to drive Lavishly equipped  Cons Not the latest powertrain tech Sluggish infotainment system No standalone drive-mode button A quick question ...

View more: Cupra Formentor V FWD review: are sport and speed the same thing?

Klara Andersson ersetzt Jutta Kleinschmidt bei CUPRA in Uruguay

Die zweite Saison von Extreme E geht am 26. und 27. November in Punta del Este zu Ende – ein intensives Jahr für die Elektro-SUV-Meisterschaft. Das Team des ABT CUPRA XE möchte die Meisterschaft mit einem Höhepunkt abschließen, nachdem es beim vorherigen Event, dem Antofagasta Minerals Copper X Prix in ...

View more: Klara Andersson ersetzt Jutta Kleinschmidt bei CUPRA in Uruguay

VW plant produces 7,100 electric cars in one week

Volkswagen’s electric car plant in Zwickau set a production record in the week from 7 to 11 November when 7,100 electric cars were produced, more than in any previous week. This means that the plant is close to reaching its maximum capacity. On average, more than 1,400 electric cars ...

View more: VW plant produces 7,100 electric cars in one week

CUPRA e-Racer: Probamos el campeón del mundo de turismos eléctricos

La segunda temporada de este campeonato (la primera siendo un certamen oficial FIA), terminó con el título de constructores para la marca española de la mano del equipo CUPRA EKS y con Tom Blomqvist copando el podio del mundial. Los tres pilotos mantuvieron la regularidad en cada carrera llevando a nuestro protagonista de hoy, ...

View more: CUPRA e-Racer: Probamos el campeón del mundo de turismos eléctricos

Cupra e-Racer: Testfahrt im Weltmeister-Auto der ETCR-Saison 2022

2022 war die zweite Saison in der Geschichte des ETCR, des elektrischen Tourenwagen-Weltcups, aber die erste mit offiziellen Siegel des Automobil-Weltverbands (FIA). Dominiert wurde die ETCR-Saison 2022 von Cupra EKS, dem Team von Mattias Ekström, das mit dem Cupra e-Racer die Herstellerwertung gewonnen und mit Adrian Tambay, Ekström und Tom ...

View more: Cupra e-Racer: Testfahrt im Weltmeister-Auto der ETCR-Saison 2022

CUPRA e-Racer: Testing the ETCR world champion

The second season of this championship – the first being an official FIA event – ended with the Spanish brand winning the constructors’ title with the CUPRA EKS team and with Adrien Tambay, Mattias Ekstrom and Tom Blomqvist topping the world championship podium. All three drivers were consistent in every ...

View more: CUPRA e-Racer: Testing the ETCR world champion

Probamos el CUPRA Born e-Boost de 77 kWh: ¿un Golf GTI eléctrico?

2023 Cupra Ateca VZx Review

Cupra Terramar (2024) tarnt sich noch als Audi Q3

Cupra Leon e-Racer review: the future of touring cars?

Première apparition du Cupra Terramar

CUPRA Terramar: el SUV compacto, ya en fase de pruebas

Cupra Terramar, Audi Q3 kılığında test edilirken görüntülendi

El CUPRA Formentor más barato, por 280 euros al mes

Cupra Terramar Spied For The First Time Disguised As Audi Q3

Volkswagen to invest €10 billion in e-mobility projects in Spain

Cupra Leon lineup gains 148bhp and 187bhp engines

Cupra adds another engine to Leon range

OTHER NEWS