THERE was a time when Cupra was simply the sportier, more aggressive trim level on SEAT models but these days it's a brand in its own right and it's making quite an impact.
The latest Cupra Leon is testament to that with bold styling, a wealth of technology and performance stats that will make any driving purist sit up and listen. It would be fair to say the car is a hot hatch with attitude.
The Cupra Leon is available in hatchback or estate body styles in trim levels called VZ1, VZ2 and VZ3.
Customers can choose from a range of punchy petrol engines and there is also a new e-HYBRID model that introduces lots of tax savings to the mix and can complete 34 miles in EV-only mode.
We opted for the2.0-litre TSI hatchback in range-topping VZ3 trim delivering 300ps of power and 400Nm of torque, priced at £36,760.
It could complete the 0-62mph sprint in 5.7 seconds, maxed out at 155mph and, according to official WLTP figures, could deliver a combined 35.8-37.2mpg with carbon emissions of 172g/km.
Viewed from any approach, the Cupra Leon is a real attention grabber with lots of copper-coloured detailing that is synonymous with Cupra styling.
The brand logo sits proudly in the centre of the main grille and there are larger air intakes giving the car a more aggressive look, along with quad tail pipes, a rear spoiler, black brake calipers and 19-inch aerodynamic machined black and silver alloy wheels.
When you open the doors, there are puddle lamps that display the Cupra logo onto the ground and the interior of the car is very sports-themed with black leather sport-style seats, a flat-bottomed steering wheel and some neat copper-coloured contrast stitching.
There is plenty of high-end technology to explore too with a 10-inch touchscreen with navigation, Bluetooth audio streaming, full smartphone connectivity via Apple CarPlay or Android Auto and a DAB radio.
On the downside, the minimalist, clutter-free approach means there are very few physical buttons, so you tend to have to navigate the touchscreen for the simplest of tasks which can be a distraction while driving.
But that gripe aside, the Cupra Leon is quite the complete package. And when it comes to performance, it certainly ticks all the right boxes.
The acceleration is blisteringly quick and the seven-speed direct shift automatic transmission is perfectly timed with steering wheel mounted paddles for added driver engagement.
The car sits lower on its axles than its SEAT stablemate and that results in a lower centre of gravity, and that in turn means assured handling through tight bends.
It cruises on motorways, is agile in busier town settings, but is at its best when unleashed on the quieter country lanes.
The driver can switch through drive modes called Comfort, Sport, Cupra and Individual that alter the car's reactions quite considerably and, in addition, you can shift the gearstick back to engage a Sport mode for even more fun.
Comfort levels are good up front and there is room for a couple of adults in the back provided the front seats are not pushed back too far. And back seat passengers get two Type C USB ports as well as two up front, so people can stay connected to their devices on the move.
The deep boot can swallow 380 litres of luggage - a limit that is increased further with the 60:40 split-folding rear seats dropped flat and there is a ski hatch to make carrying longer items possible without lowering the rear seats. There are also a number of handy storage options scattered throughout the car, including front and rear cup holders, a glovebox, central cubby, door bins and seat back pockets.
Recently, the Cupra Leon was awarded the maximum five stars when tested for its Euro NCAP safety rating, scoring exceptionally well in the Adult Occupancy, Child Occupants, Vulnerable Road User and Safety Assist categories.
On-board safety systems on our car included autonomous emergency braking, traffic sign recognition, high beam assist, traffic jam assist and pre-crash assist. There is front assist (with vehicle, pedestrian and cyclist detection), emergency steering assist and junction assist, lane assist, emergency e-Call and seven airbags.
All in all, the Cupra Leon is further proof that the split from SEAT is not simply a case of rebadging existing models. These cars will be featuring their very own identity and further ventures into electrification are on the way too.