Can the pure-petrol hot hatch claim bragging rights over its Golf GTI stablemate?
While we're still waiting for a credible electric contender, the traditional hot hatch segment has changed beyond all recognition. A lot of the big players of old have abandoned it completely: Renault, Peugeot and Vauxhall have decided they can't make the sums work, so they're concentrating on SUVs and hybrids.In their place have come manufacturers that only 10 years ago you would never have associated with hot hatchbacks: Hyundai has emerged as the defender of the performance hatch, BMW wants us to forget all of that advertising about front-wheel drive being wrong, and Cupra is its own brand now.We're still unsure what to make of Cupra. In many ways it seems to be usurping Seat, as it can sell cars for a higher price and therefore more profit; it's trying to be a luxury brand. But then it's also still functioning as the performance arm of Seat.Whatever the Cupra's more recent direction with the Cupra Born and the Cupra Formentor, the Cupra Leon is very much a classic Cupra - a hot Seat. In many ways it's a very traditional hot hatch: take one family hatchback, add a more powerful engine, a bodykit, sports seats and a more focused suspension set-up. Done.At the same time, the Cupra Leon is trying to have a finger in every performance car pie. You can have one as a hatchback or an estate, with front- or four-wheel drive and as a pure petrol or as a plug-in hybrid.We've previously road tested the 306bhp four-wheel-drive estate and found it to be fiercely quick but lacking some involvement, while the hybrid's 1.4 doesn't really feel at home in a performance derivative.We have driven the petrol hatch before: the Cupra Leon 300 version featured in the 2021 Britain's Best Affordable Driver's Car competition, but it was somewhat overshadowed by the more exciting junior hot hatches.As an all-round proposition, though, it might do rather better. So since Cupra has finally started deliveries of the entry-level 245 version, it's a good opportunity to put the petrol hatchback through the full road test.Range at a glanceThe hatchback is always front-wheel drive and is powered by a four-cylinder engine, either a 2.0-litre with 241bhp or 296bhp, or a 1.4-litre plug-in hybrid. The estate comes with either the front-wheel-drive hybrid or an even more powerful tune of the 2.0-litre with four-wheel drive. A DSG automatic is the only gearbox option. There are three trim levels - VZ1, VZ2 and VZ3 - but not all engine and trim combinations are possible.EnginesPowerFromCupra Leon 245 TSI VZ1*241bhp£33,100Cupra Leon 245 eHybrid VZ2241bhp£36,710Cupra Leon 300 TSI VZ2296bhp£37,130Cupra Leon 245 eHybrid VZ2 Estate241bhp£37,890Cupra Leon 310 TSI VZ2 Estate306bhp£40,705*Model tested (VZ2 trim)