Sports compacts have always been the object of desire for young people for their capabilities and economy. The CUPRA León and the BMW M135i xDrive are two of the best hot-hach on the market. We face them and declare a firm winner.
Compacts have been the most important segment of the market for years. They are those cars that are used for almost everything. Little family members who comply with everything and who are able to satisfy a wide variety of clients. The Leon and the BMW 1 Series are two benchmark compacts, but what happens when you take them to the extreme? Well, the figures of the CUPRA Leon and from BMW M135i xDrive, the most radical versions and also the funniest.
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If we talk about hot-hatch it is impossible not to mention the Volkswagen Golf GTI. It was the harbinger of an era back in the 1970s. Those first more hooligan units today have been transformed into authentic sports cars. Brands have made them more and more powerful, and more and more aggressive. They have little or nothing to do with those original models.
However, they still maintain some basic features, such as small engines. Both offer us gasoline mechanics with two-liter four-cylinder turbocharged blocks. The performance figures are almost identical, with 306 hp for the BMW and 300 hp for the CUPRA. Both opt for seven-speed dual-clutch automatic gearboxes for the Leon and a torque converter and eight ratios for the M135i, which is also accompanied by the xDrive name because it is only marketed with all-wheel drive, due to the front-wheel drive of the CUPRA.
Be very careful that you will see that I am talking about CUPRA and not SEAT. As you know recently that the Spanish brand divided the range. CUPRA models push SEAT capabilities to the limit, while exploiting that passionate and sporty path that has always accompanied the brand. It looks like a SEAT León, but I assure you that once in motion they are absolutely nothing alike.
Design trends have changed a lot over the years. When they began to exploit the route of sports compacts, these were authentic wolves in sheep’s clothing. On the outside they barely revealed what they were hiding. Only true experts knew how to differentiate them. But now, on the contrary, the designs hide absolutely nothing. We always see them looking angry, spruced up with war stitching and flashy battle colors to make it clear that if you mess with them, they won’t be lenient with you.
In this particular battle, both the Leon and the M135i xDrive are very even. I could not opt for either, because despite their clear differences, I like them both. They are aggressive as well as discreet, although if we inquire into the configurators we will discover that the appearance of the CUPRA can be more radical due to its rims and colors, although yes, the price will also rise as the foam.
The key is in the details. Unlike their boring brothers with less power, the sports versions sport exclusive elements such as 19-inch wheels, specific paintings or details that usually provide those differentiating touches and more hooligans such as the German’s double exhaust outlet, or the four tailpipes. of the CUPRA, and real departures.
It strikes me that, on the contrary, both are quite modest with doors to the inside, and I would even say that neither of them manages to convey that sporty essence that they are so presupposed, with the exception of some striking and strong bucket-type seats that look like Serie. The only one that wears it a little more is the Leon thanks mainly to this steering wheel with satellite controls. It reminds me a lot of the Audi R8.
I also have to admit that the one with the best quality of finishes is the BMW. There no one can deny the obvious, and although it is not the first thing that one demands from a sports compact, the truth is that it does not hurt when such figures begin to be paid. Soft surfaces, well-fitting materials, a high sensation of well-made manufacturing … Not only in this comparison the Series 1 comes out the winner, for me it is the best compact manufactured today.
The equipment factor does not matter much either, but both brands know how to reward their customers with a vast array of technologies and systems. Both offer those details that today are becoming essential such as connectivity for mobile devices, voice control or digital screens for instrumentation and the multimedia system. They have more than enough to improve life on board, as we must not forget that one of the keys to every compact sports car is its day-to-day usability.
As you might expect, the BMW can be more complete, but it is also more expensive. On the contrary, the CUPRA options are cheaper, although the multimedia system is considerably worse. And the good thing about this is that some mechanical trinkets are also kept in the chamber to improve behavior such as Brembo brakes or Bridgestone Potenza Race semi-slick tires. Not quite ideal for those cold or rainy days.
As I have already said, it is important that in order to remain practical on a day-to-day basis, they do not give up many comforts, such as the space in the rear seats. The habitability of the Leon is much better than that of the M135i. In load capacity, both are balanced thanks to individual trunks with a minimum capacity of 380 liters. If we need more than that, the only one who can give it to us is the CUPRA León Sportsourer with its familiar bodywork. A rare resource in the segment that also offers slightly more power than its compact brother with 310 horsepower and all-wheel drive.
Comparison CUPRA León vs BMW M135i xDrive
All figures declare an outright winner in this comparison. On paper the BMW is better in every way. More power and more torque in a greater range of revolutions, better acceleration, lower consumption… But what do you want me to tell you, once you get behind the wheel it cannot transmit the same as the Leon. At least not me.
It is as if it costs to him to remove the bad milk. It runs, it runs a lot but it does not transmit it because of an excessively isolated cabin. I never thought I could complain about something like that, but it’s the truth. After all, A compact sports car is only as good as the sensations it manages to generate for you.. Speed and accuracy are not determining factors. They matter, yes a lot, none of us want to be left behind in a pique, but it does not matter to win if along the way it does not generate that bug of emotions that is essential.
The original Golf GTI showed us that you don’t need a lot of power. With its 110 horses, it managed to transmit the same or more than these two figures with triple the power, and I think I know what the key is. The weight. While the first units were small and light, the original GTI barely exceeded 800 kilograms, current models double the figures on the scale. In this comparison, the BMW throws a weight of 1,600 kilograms, 110 kilos more than the CUPRA León. They are terrifying data that cannot be neutralized with the increase in power. Not at least in sensations, I repeat.
Because it is clear that when it comes to behavior, the technique offered by the M135i and CUPRA Leon would be the envy of supercars of yesteryear. All-wheel drive and limited-slip differential for BMW and Haldex-type limited-slip differential for CUPRA. Automatic gearboxes, high-performance brake discs, power management systems, and the usual driving modes with specific tuning programs for various components.
It is impressive how they both move in a twisty stretch. They are able to withstand cornering steps at insane rates, and chain turns without bringing out the extra kilos. It is very easy to push them to the limit, they convey a lot of confidence and allow the driver to believe that he is much better than he can be, because in case of danger electronics always comes to the rescue to keep safety in order.
The CUPRA tends more to understeer, the engine hangs more from the front axle and lacks a strut bar on the front axle
I must admit that the CUPRA León is one of the compacts that I have liked the most in recent years, along with the Hyundai i30N. The work that the engineers have done is commendable, and they manage to deliver everything that a buyer asks for or needs. To put it another way, It will not be the best in figure by figure or the best in driving, but without a doubt it is the one that transmits the most. When accelerating at full speed, you encompass the sound of the turbo taking in air, it conveys a greater sensation of speed, but without losing control, and, also, best of all, is that from time to time the exhaust releases small backbursts, which the German do not.
But no matter how much I tell you about driving, the determining factor in this comparison is going to mark the ugly issue of money. Hot hatches have always been a teen’s dream. Small sports shoes with which to show off your palm. But now, because of prices, they seem more intended to fill the youthful shortcomings of older adults. The cheapest of these two figures is the CUPRA León with a starting cost of 40,697 euros. The BMW is offered from 54,200 euros. Excessive no matter where you look.
And the winner is…
After putting these two little creatures to the test, one realizes that within the same concept the two are quite different. The BMW is a machine of pure precision. Its set-up is better, its dynamics too, but it fails to convey that joy to the driver. I’m not saying it’s boring, but it still needs to improve the experience. Conversely, the Leon is not as effective in curve or behavior, but these deficiencies are supplemented with greater sensations. I value that more than pure precision, not at least in this segment, and I already tell you that the M135i xDrive is not 14,000 euros better. So, victory for the CUPRA León.