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Road tests

New Cupra Leon 2024 facelift review: fun hatch gets sharper looks

Cupra tidies up its Leon range with a facelift, but it’s the plug-in hybrid hatch which gains the greatest upgrades

Overall Auto Express Rating

4.0 out of 5

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Verdict

All models of the Cupra Leon now get a new front-end design to bring the car into line with the brand’s electric vehicles. But they also benefit from useful technology updates inside, and even more power. That’s true of the flagship four-wheel-drive estate version, but for the hatchback the 296bhp TSI petrol is retained. As such, we’d recommend swerving the top-spec car in favour of this more potent plug-in hybrid; this is the new star of the Leon show.

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Larger hot hatchbacks seem to be thin on the ground these days. There’s no longer a fast Renault Megane, and Hyundai stopped making its brilliant i30 N earlier this year. 

Your choices, therefore, amount to the Ford Focus ST, the superb (but super-pricey) Honda Civic Type R, and then a whole load of Volkswagen Group models using much the same underpinnings. Of these, the Cupra Leon is the latest to gain a series of updates to see if it can snaffle C-segment class honours.

The most noticeable feature, before you’ve so much as stepped foot in the car, is the beaky new styling. This is supposed to make you think of a shark, but we’re not fooled – it’s clearly to tie the Leon to the electric vehicles elsewhere in Cupra’s stable. 

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Looks are subjective, so we’ll leave it up to you as to what you think of the smoothed-off nose with its triangular-LED headlights, but for our money the Leon looked better with its old radiator grille. Still, at least you now get a light-up Cupra logo on the boot, as some form of consolation.

Inside, the infotainment system has been given an overhaul, with a larger 12.9-inch screen and the latest MIB4 operating system. It works a little better than it used to, though all the climate control functions are still on the touch-sensitive display, which makes them fiddly and sometimes infuriating to use when you’re on the move.

Otherwise, it’s the same high-quality Leon cabin as before, complete with Cupra’s trademark copper-tinged details and a greater content of ecologically sound materials, such as 73 per cent recycled microfibre for the seat upholstery.

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Engines are broadly carry-over, with 1.5 TSI and eTSI (mild-hybrid) 148bhp derivatives at the base of the range, while the 2.0-litre four-cylinder turbo units stick around at the top. The Sports Tourer – a clunky official name for an ‘estate’, if ever there was one – benefits from the lusty 329bhp motor and 4Drive all-wheel drive, which has recently found its way into the Audi S3 and Volkswagen Golf R. The front-driven hatchback sticks with the 296bhp iteration of the same unit.

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In truth, a Leon 300 2.0 TSI feels a little off the hot-hatch pace these days. It’s not the most tuneful version of the EA888 engine you’ll ever encounter, with a flat growl about the most noise it ever makes. And while it does everything dynamically well, by the same token it doesn’t really do anything exceptionally.

Which is why we reckon the updated 1.5 eHybrid might be the Cupra Leon to aim for these days. Despite being saddled with 212kg of additional bulk compared to the 296bhp TSI, it steers and handles every bit as well as the plain petrol model. If anything, it rides with a bit more grace too as it’s not trying to suspend the unsprung mass of larger, heavier 19-inch alloy wheels.

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It's also a surprisingly spry performer, at odds with an on-paper 0-62mph time that’s 1.4 seconds behind the 2.0-litre car. With 330Nm of torque on tap from its electric motor at all times, and a system max of 400Nm spread across a broad plateau from 850-4750rpm, the Leon eHybrid never feels thin on power; something helped by an increase from 242bhp previously to a more robust 268bhp in the facelifted model.

Admittedly, there are times when the 1.5 can become a bit coarse, specifically at higher revs. But until you’ve breached 5,000rpm it feels smoother and sounds a lot quieter than the 296bhp TSI. And as we don’t think the revised flagship is the class-leading hot hatch, then the all-round sweeter eHybrid is a better fit for the Cupra Leon’s character.

As to economy, the larger 19.7kWh battery pack in the eHybrid has resulted in an official electric range of more than 73 miles, which leads to some wildly skewed on-paper fuel consumption stats. Better to focus on Cupra’s own ‘charge-sustaining mode’ figures, which report more like 51.4mpg than 700mpg-plus. Our experience on a mixed test route saw the Leon eHybrid 272 manage a commendable 74.3mpg; we’d expect 50mpg-plus to be realistically attainable with only occasional charging cycles, therefore.

ModelCupra Leon 1.5 eHybrid 272 VZ3
Price:£42,075 (est)
Engine:1.5-litre 4cyl turbo petrol PHEV
Power/torque:268bhp/400Nm
Transmission:Six-speed automatic, front-wheel drive
0-62mph:7.1 seconds
Top speed:142mph
Economy:706.3mpg
CO2:10g/km
On sale:Now
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