"The SEAT Leon's appeal lies in its combination of value, space and sportiness."
Take the chassis of the Volkswagen Golf, add sporty Spanish styling, lower the price and you have the SEAT Leon. The cabin quality is a step down from the Golf's, and in the name of sportiness SEAT does sacrifice some comfort, but inside this is a spacious car, big enough for four adults. A low driving position adds to the car's emphasis on performance and fun. All of the engine range impresses, spanning from the small and economical to the very quick indeed.
The Leon's adjustable driving position is set low, which makes this car feel sporty and special from the moment you climb aboard. The rev counter is mounted centrally, and models from the new FR trim upwards get sports seats that hold you tight. The thick steering wheel has a small circumference and the pedals feel weighty without being difficult to push. The steering is accurate, the gearchange is slick and road-holding is very good. The performance FR and FR+ versions feature clever electronics that aid faster cornering, too. The 1.2 and 1.4-litre petrol engines feel a little slow, whereas the 1.6 and 2.0-litre TDI diesels balance strong pulling power and good economy. The 138bhp TDI diesel engine found in the 2.0-litre FR is cheap to run, but is overshadowed by the slightly more powerful 168bhp FR+ model. A recent update adds plenty of kit to the FR models too, making them good value.
Comfort isn’t the Leon's greatest asset, as the car's sporty set-up makes it feel firm. It picks up all the lumps and bumps of the road and jiggles the cabin. It's not uncomfortable or over-harsh, but the Leon simply isn’t as calm when riding over rough roads as a Ford Focus is, particularly the FR models, which come with lowered suspension and stiffer springs as standard. A shallow windscreen and thick pillars hinder visibility as well. The Leon does offer ample rear leg and headroom, though.
The cabin feels robust, and the dashboard is covered in a padded material, but elsewhere there's too much hard, grainy plastic. Safety features are good, with front, curtain and side airbags standard, as well as electronic stability control. However, thefour-star Euro NCAP crash rating could be better. Its engines and electrics are all tried-and-tested VW and should prove trouble-free.
All versions have five doors, but the boot isn’t very well thought-out. It's quite shallow and the floor is awkwardly low in relation to the lip. The glovebox is quite small and the moulded plastic centre console doesn’t have a storage box either. This is a car that will quickly accumulate an overspill of cartons and CD cases.
Value for money
Equivalent Skodas are cheaper, but SEATs undercut Volkswagen-badged models by some margin without the brand feeling bargain- basement. The range-topping petrol FR+ version, for example, uses the Golf GTI's engine but at a much reduced cost, and equipment levels across the board are great – all cars get air-conditioning, and only basic S models are missing alloy wheels.
The spread of engines means economy varies widely, although all cars are frugal relative to their performance. The Ecomotive version, with its 1.6 TDI diesel, boasts 74.4mpg economy, while even the fast FR+ version returns 38.7mpg. Be wary of lower-powered engines, which need to be worked harder, so could return poorer economy than the quoted figures. The use of VW engines andparts means servicing is relatively easy and reasonably priced.