“The latest SEAT Leon blends a sporty drive, stylish looks and decent practicality. It's cheaper than the VW Golf, too.”
The current SEAT Leon is a proud member of the Volkswagen Group, so is made up of parts and components that also go into the Audi A3 and Volkswagen Golf. However, what SEAT has over its VW bedfellows is style, with the Leon by far the prettiest of the bunch thanks to a striking design and sharp looks.
SEAT used to get the rest of the group's hand-me-down technology and mechanicals, but now it comes packed with every bit of cutting edge equipment that SEAT can cram inside – despite remaining substantially cheaper to buy than the Golf. That lower price point makes it a challenger for a chunk of the Ford Focus and Vauxhall Astra mass market rather than its sister cars, while thanks to its lower and wider dimensions, this generation of Leon is more practical than the car it replaced, too. Inside, both ride comfort and interior quality are significantly better than the in its predecessor, making the Leon an appealing long-distance cruiser.
The SEAT Leon comes in three main specifications – entry-level S, mid-range SE and top-of-the-range FR. There's also the three-door SEAT Leon SC available, which is a rivals for the Kia Pro_cee’d and Vauxhall Astra GTC, while the SEAT Leon ST estate offers even greater practicality, too.
MPG, running costs & CO2 emissions
The whole range of engines in the Leon comes fitted with fuel-saving technology, which combines with the lighter weight to make it the most efficient Leon yet. The 1.6-litre TDI diesel is set to be the most popular Leon, and returns up to 75mpg and emits just under 100g/km of CO2. It's still good to drive, with enough performance so you don’t need to overwork the engine and impact on fuel economy. An even more efficient Ecomotive model that promises to emit less than 90g/km in CO2 is mooted to be launched in 2014 – so wait for that if rock-bottom running costs are key. The current top-of-the-range 2.0-litre TDI FR model is very fast and a really enjoyable driver's car, accelerating from 0-62mph in only 7.5 seconds, while still returning more than 65mpg and emit 112g/km of CO2.
Interior & comfort
The sporty Leon has made lots of improvement, including being more comfortable for passengers. The ride is better, the seats are comfy (particularly the sports seats in the FR) and the interior offers a lot more space, while also being much quieter. There's hardly any road or wind noise, even when driving at motorway speeds. And that quiet extends to the engines, as well – only the diesel gets somewhat loud when you start it up in chilly weather. There's loads of good visibility out the front of the car thanks to thinner body pillars, plus the wing mirrors are also now mounted on the door to further improve the driver's view. Sadly the view out the rear is much worse, with the tiny window and big side pillars proving to be quite an obstruction.
Practicality & boot space
The previous generation of Leon came under a lot of flack for not being very practical, so it's no wonder the new Leon now offers lots more space. You get a great driving position, with loads of storage cubbies and cup holders dotted about. The wide back doors make it really easy to get in and out of the rear of the car, while even tall passengers will be able to get comfortable thanks to the increased head and legroom. You now get 380 litres of space in the boot (more than in a Volvo V40 or Ford Focus), which is quite deep, but does have a high load lip that makes loading quite problematic at times, especially with heavy objects, and the rear seats don’t fold flat either because their bases don’t flip forward. However, the Leon ST estate is much better – so those craving more space should try that instead.
Reliability & safety
The gap between SEAT and fellow VW company, Skoda, in the 2013 Driver Power customer satisfaction survey is a little astounding. Despite sharing the bulk of their parts, SEAT has fallen three more places down to 27th out of 32, with Skoda scaling the heights up at number two. Poor reliability is one of many reasons given for the disappointing score, with no individual SEAT cars breaking the top 100. But logically, all those shared components mean the Leon will likely be just as dependable as the A3 or the Golf. It secured the maximum five-star rating in the Euro NCAP crash safety tests, with a stiffer body, a full range of airbags and electronic stability control (ESP) now fitted as standard equipment, while inside, the dashboard is noticeably better quality than in the old model, with top-notch fit and finish. It will be interesting to see how well it performs in the 2014 Driver Power survey.
Engines, drive & performance
Given all the similarities underneath the bodywork, it should come as no surprise that the Leon is fun to drive, thanks to all those Volkswagen Golf underpinnings. It's actually by far the best driving SEAT yet, with a comfortable ride, accurate steering, strong, responsive brakes and smooth gearboxes. The faster models actually handle the best, but be aware that the seven-speed automatic gearboxes aren't as fun to drive as the manual versions. The 181bhp 2.0-litre TDI FR model is, in fact, one of the best diesel hot hatchbacks ever sold in the UK, accelerating from 0-62mph in just 7.5 seconds. All models are fitted with SEAT's Driver Profile system, which gives the driver the ability to adjust the car's set-up from comfort to sport. Yet if you want/need/must have even better performance, you can turn to the Leon Cupra, which is due for launch sometime in 2014.
Price, value for money & options
Seeing as the Leon is about 10 per cent cheaper than the Golf (model dependent), and you get all the latest accessories and equipment, you’d be hard pressed to claim it isn’t good value for money. All three of the specifications – S, SE and FR – come well equipped, including air-conditioning, a colour touchscreen, and Bluetooth connectivity. All SE and FR models also get an upgraded touchscreen sat-nav that has an integrated proximity sensor whose buttons disappear when you don’t need them. The range of engines all offer great performance and efficiency – especially as it weighs 90kg less than the previous model. Resale values should also be good in the used car market when you start looking for a good second-hand deal.