Cupra Leon ST 1.4 e-Hybrid vs Renault Megane Grandtour E-TECh : Driving fully charged and connected

With a power deficit of 87 horsepower compared to its Spanish competitor of the day, one might think that the French car has nothing to do in this confrontation. And yet… Its R.S. Line finish, its comfort and its technology allow it to take on this Iberian estate car which is pretending to be sportier than it actually is.

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The young Cupra brand will need a lot of time to become a major player in our country as it sold just 159 cars in Belgium between January and April. However, Cupra people have faith in the brand and think an accelerated development of its range should help it get a broader recognition. Its chic and sporty character is highlighted by the body colours (matt grey in the case of our test car), and the sporty elements of its interior such as the wraparound seats and the steering wheel, which unfortunately, are extras. Renault too plays the sporty card but it’s only the R.S. Line version which offers some exterior elements such as the racy front bumper and the 17″ aluminium wheels. Inside, faux carbonfibre and red piping offer a dynamic atmosphere but it’s far from what Cupra offers. In terms of design and finish, the Cupra has the edge, but the French car has not said its last word yet.

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Anemic ponies

Under the bonnet of the Mégane, runs a 92 bhp 1.6 four-cylinder engine combined with a 49 kW electric motor, offering a combined total power of 158 bhp and 205 Nm of torque, while the automatic gearbox is genuinely nice to use.However, there’s a big snag : the Renault doesn’t have a quick charge mode and a full charging cycle takes about 5 hours (down to 3 hours with a Wallbox). This isn’t a problem when you’re just commuting to work, but it’s more annoying when you’re driving long distances. However, that’s becoming a common problem these days.

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The Cupra offers 245 bhp from a smaller 1.4 (VW EA211) engine, with 150 bhp coming from the internal combustion engine and an extra 80 kW coming from the electric unit. Its torque reaches 400 Nm and the dual-clutch automatic gearbox also offers 6 gears, while its 12.8 kWh battery can be recharged in 5h45 using a domestic socket or in 2 hours using a 3.7 kW terminal. In terms of performance, the Spanish car claims a top speed of 225 km/h and a 0 to 100 km/h time of 6″7, while the French car reaches 183 km/h and requires 9″8 to reach 100 km/h… The Cupra wins hands down here!

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Is it a sportscar? No…

However, behind the wheel, the Cupra disappoints. Admittedly, they both have to carry batteries and deal with a paltry weight (1642 kg for the Leon and 1602 for the Mégane Grandtour). Which means the feeling of heaviness is the same with both cars. However, the Leon ST misses the point even more than the Renault as it pretends to be a sportscar. Indeed, there are three different driving programs, but none is really convincing and the more aggressive Cupra mode brings with it an unconvincing artificial sound, a firmer steering and a more nervous engine… nevertheless it’s quickly muffled, and all this remains too artificial for us. The feeling is not precise enough to make us feel confident and the multiple settings of the controlled damping did not change our mind. We didn’t even really try…  very quickly, we got back to a fast driving style, even though it was leaning more towards Grand Tourism style than anything else. Let’s just say that everything is too smooth, too sanitized to feel the slightest thrill of pleasure.

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With the Renault, it’s a bit the opposite that happened. We were not fooled by its R.S. Line finish but it proved to be quite fun to drive quickly. Obviously, I didn’t write “sporty”. The Megane nevertheless offers a successful balance between sportiness and comfort and its chassis is as impressive as ever. Unfortunately, the steering is not very precise and does not urge the driver to be precise and delay  braking. That’s a bad point  for both cars : the brake pedal feeling is not really pleasant and feeling the car slowing down strongly when you take your foot off the accelerator is very unpleasant for us, leading my teenage daughter to ask me why I was braking so early while I hadn’t even put my foot on the brake pedal yet! These are the new sensations offered by electrified cars but we would gladly make do without these.

Ouverture match

Load bay volumes

Obviously, you want to find out about the load capacity of these two estate cars. The Cupra is the winner with 470 litres, 50 more than the Megane. And, as far as fuel tanks are concerned, both cars have to make do with a ridiculous volume of 40 litres. This is obviously made up to urge you to charge both cars as often as possible, otherwise the fuel consumption would be way too high. During my tests, without recharging, I used 6.4 litres per 100 km driving the Grand Tour and 7.8 litres driving the ST, having covered 400 km in both cases. For the sake of completeness, the Cupra’s infotainment system (satnav, mobile phone and radio) didn’t work at all over a 30 km drive. It wasn’t that better on the Renault side : even though its mileage was nominal, the car deprived us of air-conditioning for 7 days. Obviously no winner here!

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Victory for Renault!

As you can see, our heart goes with the French car. It does what it says on the tin and doesn’t pretend to be something else than what it is. Admittedly, it is less powerful and less modern than its competitor of the day, with its brassy logos and touch-sensitive screens that often irritated us by not reacting quickly enough when we pushed on the screens. Surprisingly, my daughter’s generation doesn’t have this kind of problem with such controls! In terms of price, expect to pay € 44,110 for the 245bhp Cupra Leon ST, although there is a 204bhp retailing for € 42,580. These are steep prices, justified by the exclusivity of the brand and its positioning on the market. However, what distinguishes it most from a classic Seat, such as its supersport steering wheel with satellite buttons (€715) or its electrically adjustable wraparound seats (€660), are extras.

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Being much more discreet in its appearance, the Renault Megane Grandtour is available from € 38,875 with the R.S. Line finish which suits it so well. These are still low prices for estate cars in this market category, but the tax system encourages self-employed drivers to opt for this type of fully tax-deductible combination. Private individuals will prefer more classic and less expensive engines that are not available yet in the Cupra range. (Translation: Dimitri Urbain)

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