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Medium Not Mild: 2023 Cupra Leon V Review

A trip to most Asian restaurants or your local Nando’s will involve ordering of course but at the time of doing so, you have to specify your desired spice level. While most people tend to avoid either the ‘spicy’ or ‘bland’ options, that leaves two choices. Either ‘Medium’ or ‘Mild’. The difference seems insignificant but that is a false assumption. And yes, this is still a car review!

‘Mild’ is a heavily tempered down version of the magnum opus that is the spicy dish, you don’t want this. What you do want is the ‘medium’ option because that means you get the same dish that you love with an easier to stomach level of spice. In essence, that’s what the new Cupra Leon V is. Read on to find out why that is!

Front three quarters view of the 2023 Cupra Leon V in Nevada White with a green forest background
Sharp styling makes the Cupra Leon an eye catching hatch

Though the exterior for starters is anything but lacking in spice! Sharp lines and distinctive Cupra design language set it apart from other hatchbacks on the road. The brand’s signature Copper coloured accents contrasted well with the ‘Nevada White’ that my review car was painted in. Worth noting that the nice Copper accent wheels are part of an optional $1,900 ‘Design Pack’ for the V which adds said 18 inch Copper accented wheels plus a black rear lip spoiler on the outside and a black headliner on the inside. Let’s go check out that spoiler and the rest of the rear.

Black lip spoiler on the rear of the Cupra Leon V in Nevada White with a seaside background
Black lip spoiler is part of the additional ‘Design Pack’

Yes, the Cupra Leon V stands out in pedestrian traffic but its particularly the rear which makes it do so. That Infinite Light bar catches many eyes, more so at night where it really comes into its own. The unique shape and lighting configuration only help draw attention to the Cupra badge. Sitting in traffic and at lights, I could see many puzzled looks from the drivers/occupants in cars behind.

Remember that Cupra is still a brand being established so there is plenty of mysteriousness surrounding it. However, that sharp looking rear end with its light bar and distinctive Cupra writing & logo will go some way towards helping it become a more well known name. The only downside with the rear is that the “exhaust tips” are no more than simple plastic panels on the bumper, the actual tips are hidden underneath. A shame because noisier DSG pops would be welcome!

Rear three quarters view of a 2023 Cupra Leon V in 'Nevada White' with a green forest background
Cupra Infinite Light is a particularly eye catching styling cue

Speaking of welcoming, the illuminated Cupra logo puddle lighting is a neat touch as well, especially after sundown. As is the interior LED lighting which is functional too! On the doors, the LEDs change colour to red if the door is open and then to amber if there’s a car in your blind spot.

Despite this being the Leon V which is the lower spec of the two models we receive in New Zealand, I didn’t find myself wanting for much more in the way of luxuries. Heated seats would have been a nice to have on those colder mornings but they can be optioned for $900, the addition of which would tip the price over $50,000. Considering the entire package, it is still excellent value while offering some exclusivity courtesy of that Cupra badge.

A badge that is well featured in the interior via the steering, door sills, infotainment and gauge cluster. I found the interior to be spacious enough for my family of four, the trunk was generous too at 344 litres with an accessible opening to boot! You do also get plenty of storage in the doors and centre console for your smaller knick-knacks.

Interior of a 2023 Cupra Leon V hatchback
Interior prioritizes comfort without losing its sportiness

While the styling and practicalities were excellent, the Cupra Leon V was let down by its technology. The touch capacitive air con & volume controls are easy enough to use during the day but at night, there is no backlight resulting in temperature changes when a song shuffle was desired. I personally interact often with those controls on a regular basis which made night time driving occasionally frustrating. Though I have to thank the powers that be for the return of physical buttons to the steering wheel, a small redeeming factor on the tech user interaction front.

Otherwise, the screens were fine and Bluetooth connection was instant. I found the factory audio system to be very impressive and based on experiencing the upgraded Beats Audio version, would recommend saving the $950 instead.

Rear view of a 2023 Cupra Leon V hatchback in 'Nevada White'
Cupra Leon V is equally well poised on more demanding drives

While the sound system is good, when it comes time to lowering the volume and dropping some gears, the Cupra Leon V is surprisingly impressive too. Power comes courtesy of a petrol 1.5L turbo four cylinder mild-hybrid powertrain, 110kW and 250Nm is what you get. Not bad considering the 0-100 time is 8.7s and fuel efficiency is rated at 5.5L/100km.

On my review, I made sure to mix it up with highway and city driving plus a pinch of the occasional spirited drive, allowing me to average circa 6.9L/100km. The addition of a mild-hybrid system means the engine effectively switches off when coasting or idling for longer periods, saving on fuel. What it does mean is that you don’t get instant power while coasting. A small compromise for how good this car is to drive. It’s soft enough on the motorway and comfortable enough for rougher surface roads despite riding on 18 inch wheels. All this without sacrificing a sharp drive.

I keep raving on about the Leon’s handling because it truly was special. It may only be the V but it gave me more than enough confidence to tackle corners at pace, limited at times because of the road surface rather than the car. The chassis especially feels razor sharp with steering offering plenty of feel too. This is where Cupra really comes into its own as the “sporty brand” at this level of the VW Group. Power is plenty too when pulling out of corners with the DSG offering instant shifts.

Close-up of the Cupra logo on the road of the 2023 Leon V in 'Nevada White'
Cupra is still making a name for itself but the right ingredients are all there!

To go back to my culinary analogy at the start, the Cupra Leon V isn’t the magnum opus spicy dish because that would be the Leon VZ but it is the slightly less spicy version with the same basic ingredients that drew you to the dish in the first place! It’s the one with a broader appeal and that’s easier on your stomach. It’s the ‘medium spice’ of hot hatches and that’s what makes it such a well-rounded car.

2023 Cupra Leon V: 4.5/5

Thanks for reading! For more Cupra news and reviews, visit Tarmac Life.

Car courtesy of Cupra NZ and EMD. Words and pictures by Matthew D’Souza.

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