“The latest Leon blends a sporty drive, stylish looks and decent practicality better than ever before.”
The SEAT Leon is a rival for the Ford Focus and Vauxhall Astra. As part of the Volkswagen Group, the Leon shares its engine range, much of its technology and many mechanical parts with the latest Volkswagen Golf and Audi A3. However, unlike previous years – where SEAT has had to use older technology – the new Leon gets the very latest VW Group know-how, while remaining around 10 per cent cheaper to buy than the equivalent VW Golf. While still overtly stylish, the new Leon's design is also more practical than before, while both interior and ride comfort have been improved from the previous car. It also achieved a full five-star crash safety rating from Euro NCAP.
Using the Golf's underpinnings means that the Leon is the best SEAT to drive. Models with engines that produce less than 148bhp use a less-sophisticated rear suspension, but all models offer a comfortable and supple ride. The more powerful cars do enjoy better handling, but all cars have excellent, precise steering, powerful brakes and smooth gear changes. With that in mind, manual models tend to be better than the dual-clutch autos. The Leon is smaller than before, but has a longer wheelbase and wider track, making it very secure and stable in the bends, while the 184bhp 2.0-litre TDI FR model is one of the best diesel hot hatchbacks ever sold, the Volkswagen Golf GTD included.
The Leon is a sporty car, but the ride isn’t uncomfortable, and is certainly much better than the previous model. The standard seats are comfortable, while the sports seats fitted to FR models offer good side support. The interior has much better quality and space, while there's barely a whisper of wind noise, and relatively little tyre noise, even when driving on the motorway. Engines are quiet, too, although the diesel can be a bit noisy when cold. SEAT has also slimmed down the A-pillar for excellent forward visibility, particularly around the wing mirror, which is now mounted on the door. However, the view out the rear is compromised by the thick C-pillar.
While it looks more overtly stylish than the Volkswagen Golf and Audi A3, the Leon uses the same proven underpinnings, engine and technology, which have been developed at great cost by the VW Group. The new body is stiffer than before, with lots of airbags and stability control included as standard, which helped it achieve the top five star rating in the Euro NCAP crash safety test. Quality, in particular on the dashboard, has increased markedly over the previous Leon, and build quality of the cabin and fit-and-finish of the exterior body panels are genuinely impressive.
One of the criticisms of the previous Leon was its lack of practicality. This time around, there's plenty of space for the driver and front-seat passenger, with a good driving position and lots more cubby holes and cupholders. The rear doors open nice and wide, and there's lots of head and legroom for tall rear-seat passengers. The boot does have a high lip, but it's relatively deep, and boasts 39 extra litres of space over the old model. Unfortunately, the rear seats don’t quite fold flat, as the bases don’t flip forward. SEAT won't offer an estate model until late 2013.
Value for money
The Leon's trump car is that it undercuts the new VW Golf in price by around 10 per cent, depending on model. And while that's a good headline figure for the marketing men, it's great for buyers too, as the Leon has never had the very latest equipment enjoyed by the Golf, until now. There are three versions, S, SE and FR, and all are well equipped, including air-con, a colour touchscreen, and Bluetooth connectivity. All engines feature direct injection, and all models are lighter than before, by up to 90kg, which improves efficiency.
All of the engines in the Leon range feature direct injection and turbocharging to improve efficiency. The most popular car in the range, the 1.6-litre TDI Ecomotive, returns over 75mpg and emits less than 100g/km of CO2, yet remains a decent drive, with enough power not to have to work the engine too hard and compromise fuel economy. An even more frugal Ecomotive model, with emissions below 90g/km will join the range later. The current range-topping 2.0-litre TDI FR model is very powerful and a great driver's car, managing the 0-62mph sprint in just 7.5 seconds, while still managing to return more than 65mpg.