Long-term tests

Cupra Leon TSI 300: long-term test review

First report: Can the RHD version of the Cupra Leon hot hatch impress as much as the LHD model?

Overall Auto Express Rating

4.0 out of 5


We’ve been a little underwhelmed by the Cupra Leon so far – not because it’s a bad car, but because left-hand-drive versions felt a little sharper and had better-integrated technology inside the cabin.

  • Mileage: 2,019
  • Economy: 31.7mpg

Without wishing to sound too much like the silver-haired, shiny-suited second-hand car salesman Swiss Tony, cars, like fine wines, don’t always travel too well. There are numerous reasons why, and you might be surprised how often it happens.

You drive a car on its international launch, often on unfamiliar but great roads, and you like the new model very much indeed and give it a rave review. Then you drive the same car back in the UK and it feels completely different.

Sometimes this is because UK roads are unique. But there are other occasions when the car itself changes before it makes its way across the English Channel, and I’m both glad and disappointed to report that the Cupra Leon TSI is one such example.

Glad because it genuinely is a different car in UK specification compared with how it is in left-hand drive (more detail on which in a bit). Disappointed because it means the UK-market Cupra simply isn’t as sharp to drive as its Spanish equivalent.

So what are the differences between our right-hand-drive Cupra Leon TSI and the left-hand-drive car with which we were so enamoured when we tested it this summer?

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One, the way you access the drive modes is quite different. In the left-hand-drive version you get a simple button on the steering wheel that allows you to alter the modes – precisely the sort of set-up you’d want when you’re on the move. Bafflingly, that wheel-mounted selector is only offered on the 310 estate in the UK: in the other versions you to delve into the touchscreen, which is a faff when you’re driving.

Two, if you take your UK-market Cupra to a track – and we have – once again you need to dive into the touchscreen’s sub-menus to alter the e-diff settings or to change the traction control system’s response. In the Spanish version there’s a simple button to press down in the centre console. Again, you’re less likely to use the functionality when it’s so much more fiddly to access.

Three, although Cupra won’t openly admit as much, I’m convinced the suspension settings are softer in the UK cars, especially in Cupra mode, the result being that they don’t feel as precise as their left-hand-drive cousins. I’ve driven two different UK examples now and they’re both the same.

Conclusion? Good hot hatchback though it remains in right-hand-drive form, the Cupra Leon TSI is not a great one, not like the Spanish model is in left-hand drive. Which is a pity, but there you go.

Elsewhere, and without wishing to sound like an old whinge-bag, the functionality of the car’s main touchscreen is already beginning to cheese me off, even though its range of operation is excellent. The system takes too long to fire up, with the satellite navigation often needing 30 seconds or more to work out where it is.

And for some other weird reason it fails to then recognise where some locations are at all, such as a place called Heathrow Airport, or Southend-on-Sea. Which is a little bit ridiculous, you’ll surely agree? It’s a shame because, in so many other respects, I still think this car is a cracking hot hatch. One that’s quick, refined, well packaged and well built. A car that – in isolation – is still pretty damn good fun to drive.

Cupra’s first standalone hot hatch is a Mk8 Golf GTI Clubsport wearing a different badge and a fresh set of clothes, essentially, and there’s not a whole lot wrong with that.

But like the forbidden fruit, once you’ve tried something else – something a little bit spicier – it’s hard not to want the same again. Maybe our UK-spec Cupra will mature with age and become more like that original left-hand-drive version we were so impressed by. Or maybe not. We’ll find out over the next six months.

On fleet since:September 2021
Price new:£36,760 (£38,090)
Engine:2.0-litre 4cyl turbo petrol
0-62mph:5.5 seconds
Top speed:155mph
Options:Safety & Driving pack (£790), metallic paint (£540) 
Insurance*:Group: 30 Quote: £797
Any problems?None so far

*Insurance quote from AA (0800 107 0680) for a 42-year-old in Banbury, Oxon, with three points.

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