If you haven’t heard of Cupra then you’re not alone.
It’s a sporty Spanish brand from the Volkswagen stable and sells in Australia alongside Volkswagen and Skoda from the Czech Republic.
So it’s the same, but different.
There are no giant Cupra dealerships in Australia, just a set of pop-up stores, and the start-up range is small and well focused on driving.
There is the Leon hatchback, the Formentor small SUV, the larger Ateca SUV and the battery-electric Born.
Apart from the electric Born, there are also plug-in hybrids – potentially a great solution for Australia, with piston power but a longer electric range – in the Formentor and Leon line-up.
This time around it’s the Cupra Leon V in the garage, priced from $43,990 with a 2-litre turbo petrol engine, 18-inch alloys, electronic differential, sports suspension and grippy sports buckets in the cabin.
It’s claimed as an Australian ”first”, with a unique specification – as well as value – negotiated with Spain to ensure the right starting point Down Under.
What to make of it?
Think of the Volkswagen Golf but with edgier styling and a bit more style inside.
The Leon V is not as swift as a GTi or R in the Golf range, but is still a fun runner. It’s a warm hatch and a welcome newcomer in Australia, where hatchbacks in general are dying and fewer people can appreciate the enjoyment in a hot hatch.
The Leon V also works as the starter car for Cupra, pitched to appeal to younger singles and couples who want some fun in their wheels.
The shape is good, the dash layout is clean with a touch of funk, the controls are good and everything you touch feels quality. Still, the back seat can be a bit tight on legroom and some of the minor controls have the annoying ”haptic” system, which removes knobs and dials and adds confusion and complication.
The driving basics of the Leon V are good.
It’s not a whack-you-back performer, but it will run to 100 km/h in 7.2 seconds, has good turbo punch in the lower gears, and is solid for overtaking power. The economy is good, at better than 9 litres/100 km, but it sips on 95 unleaded.
The ride is firm yet nicely compliant, the cornering grip and balance are good, and the electronic differential ensures good grip instead of skittling front wheels on bumpy or broken country roads.
It’s also quiet at cruising speeds, the sound system is good, and the LED headlights are great.
Since young people care more about infotainment than most things, Cupra has ensured there is a wireless phone charging pad, both wired and wireless CarPlay and Android Auto, with four USB-C ports – two front, two rear – and the air-conditioning is strong, although I’m less convinced about the heated steering wheel in Australia.
The Leon is also the Cupra starter for plug-in hybrid driving, although the first allocation sold out quickly and fresh supplies are not coming for a while.
Still, the Leon V is an impressive car, a good way to fire the Cupra brand, and definitely worth a gamble.
But it’s not a gamble really, thanks to the Volkswagen package, so a winner for The Tick.
Cupra Leon V
- Position: practical sporty hatchback
- Price: from $43,990
- Engine: 2.0-litre petrol turbo four-cylinder
- Power: 140kW/320Nm
- Transmission: 7-speed DSG, front-wheel drive
- Plus: well priced, looks good, goes just fine
- Minus: unproven brand
- THE TICK: a very good start
- Score: 8/10