Review: The 2021 Cupra Leon VZ Hatch is roarsome

Review: 2021 Cupra Leon VZ Hatch on Newshub.
Photo credit: Tarmac Life

By Dave McLeod of Tarmac Life

At the New Zealand launch of the all-new SEAT/Cupra Leon, I discovered that the 4th generation Cupra Leon is more powerful, better equipped and smarter than ever; however, just to be sure, Cupra NZ let me play with the 'hot hatch' version.

The Leon is named after a city on the Bernesga River in northwest Spain and it's also Spanish for 'lion', the result of this makes it a spicy European ride that I call 'roarsome'. 

The Cupra Leon comes in two variants: the Sportstourer (which is an AWD, sports wagon) and the red hot hatch that I was loaned.

Coming from the VW group stable, it's closest and most obvious comparison is the 'benchmark' Golf GTI; however the Cupra Leon comes with a 2L turbo/7-speed DSG powertrain that's more akin with the R (although that's AWD).

Let's get one thing out of the way upfront, the Cupra Leon Hatch is fast. It's 5.7 seconds 0-100km/h fast with 221kW and 400Nm under your right foot that's gagging to be stamped on.

And what's more it's nimble too, with XDS (electronic diff lock), ASR and ESC traction controls to virtually eliminate any torque steer (where the power takes control of the direction you are headed) and ensure you go round the bends in an orderly fashion, regardless of speed.

The Leon VZ sits lower than its SEAT sibling too, 25mm in the front and 20mm at the back in fact, and not only does this bring you closer to the road below but it also lowers the hatch's centre of gravity, again ensuring you tackle corners with enthusiasm and zeal.

My red hot Leon actually came in red, desire red although I am very partial to the matte colours, particularly the petrol blue. Either way, the paint finishes contrast well against the Cupra's distinctive copper accents, badge and trim both inside and out.

The Cupra Leon VZ has a classic hatch silhouette and yet still manages to stand out from the norm, I think it's the unique copper Cupra badge and C-shaped DRLs. It boasts a sharp aggressive design and a strong shoulder line that meets the 'coast to coast' LED lights at the rear, where quad exhaust tips and a (albeit small) diffuser completes the picture.

Is the 2021 Cupra Leon VZ Hatch any good?
Photo credit: Tarmac Life

Luckily for me, I had an out of town meeting to attend while testing out the new Cupra Leon, before the COVID-19 alert level 4 lockdown, and that meant a four or so hour round trip to Dargaville and back.

Now no disrespect to Dargavillians, but the Leon hatch really was the highlight. Both there and back the trip allowed me to really get to know the vehicle inside and out and I'm happy to say that we got on famously.

The route between Auckland and Dargaville is a simple one, effectively just a couple of roads, but those roads include arrow straight straights, uneven surfaces and plenty of corners both long and sweeping and 30km/h tight (well that's what the signpost suggests). 

The SH1 had me enlisting the aid of adaptive cruise control, simple to engage and easy to adapt, the same went for my phone connection which meant that I could play MY tunes through the Leon's BeatsAudio system. On the subject of the Beats, it's a really clear system, however, personally I would have given it more power than 340w - it's far from ear bleeding.

Roarsome – 2021 Cupra Leon VZ Hatch review, from Tarmac Life.
Photo credit: Tarmac Life

The rest of the tech is spot on. The 10-inch colour infotainment screen is loaded with menus, including fast-track to switching off the start/stop function and access to the Cupra 'Sporty' driving mode. The 10.25-inch Instrument cluster is highly customisable and offers up a number of display options from multiple dials and gauges in a copper brown to a 'just the facts ma'am' screen - and everything in between.

The cabin itself is both sporty and modern with figure hugging bucket seats and a D-shaped wheel to contrast copper stitching and copper accents around the air vents, like I said it's something a whole lot different.

I managed to master the Cupra Leon's launch control this time and it really does power off the mark well, although it does spin its wheels on damp road surfaces. But it's when it's on the move that the Cupra shows its skills.

Although it's front wheel drive, it displays a vice-like grip in the corners and the resulting confidence it gives is infectious (probably shouldn't say that right now).

The ride itself is firm but not bone rattling, particularly as the Cupra Leon sits on 19-feet with slivers of rubber, but it's not the softest out there and just like the piped in exhaust note, it barely differs whichever diving mode you're in - mind you, I spent the majority of my time in Cupra. The added joy of Cupra mode is the rev matching downshift, it underlines its sportiness.

As a daily driver, the Cupra Leon offers up 344L of boot space, it can assist with your parking, drinks fuel at a rate of 6.7L/100km (I got nowhere near that) and emits gases at 172g/km, but I get a sense that if I owned it I be yearning for the weekend (more than I do now) and finding every excuse to take this roarsome Lion, sorry Leon, on a long drive somewhere.

Why you should:

  • Cupra badge/copper is unique
  • It's faster than a Golf GTI
  • It'll make you smile in the corners

Why you shouldn't:

  • The BeatsAudio is a bit tame
  • The A/C dials don't light up at night
  • Emissions are not the best

What else to consider: VW Golf, Renault Megane RS, Ford Focus ST, Hyundai i30N, Honda Civic Type-R, Mercedes-AMG A 45

Tarmac Life