SEAT Leon review: what’s it like to live with?

We've picked up the keys to a new SEAT Leon, and it's time to test its mettle

What is a SEAT Leon really like to own? Publishing director James Burnay will be spending the next year with the car to find out, in this real-world review. He'll be living with the car on a daily basis to find out what we can't from a normal review - what it's like to have one.

I think I’m on to a winner with my new car in more ways than one. You see, I’ve taken custody of the SEAT Leon, and I’m going to spend the next 12 months giving it a workout that should prove why our sister site Auto Express gave the car its Car of the Year 2013 award.

I picked up our SEAT Leon from Currie Motors Barnet in north-west London, where sales manager Theo Kyriacou gave me a guided tour of the car – and it left me suitably impressed. We’ve gone for the 1.2 TSI petrol manual in SE trim with a few choice extras, including the Technology Pack.

This pack adds stylish LED headlamps, sat-nav and a DAB radio and, while it’s usually a £1,915 option, if you order a Leon SE or FR before the end of 2013, you can upgrade to the pack for no extra charge. We’ve also chosen the Convenience Pack (automatic lights and wipers, and an auto-dimming main mirror), the Safety Pack (a tiredness recognition system and rear seatbelt reminder), plus front and rear parking sensors and Driver Assist, which adds automatic high beam adjustment and Lane Assist. All of our extras add £3,330 to the Leon’s £16,790 list price, although a total of £20,120 is still pretty reasonable when compared with some rivals.

As I live in the London suburbs, I tend to do lots of short journeys that are broken up by plenty of traffic-light stops. So when I found out that our car’s 1.2 TSI engine came with stop-start as standard, I was excited by the fact I’d be saving fuel – and the pennies – every time I came to a stop.

However, the system did take a bit of getting used to, largely because the engine is so quiet. Several times I have assumed the Leon has been switched off, when in fact the engine has been running very quietly. I then try to start the engine – pretty difficult when it’s already running – leading to a delay of a few seconds. Invariably, this has been at times when I would least like to make this sort of mistake – usually when traffic lights have gone green and people behind are getting impatient. But I have since got to know the system, so now I have the confidence either to drive away or let the engine restart itself.

My wife was concerned about how the little 1.2 TSI would cope with a full load, but she needn’t have worried, as the turbocharged engine is surprisingly able. I haven’t found it wanting, even when I’ve needed to get away from the lights in a hurry, and a camping trip with our two girls also showed it in a good light. We packed the SEAT Leon out with a tent, table and chairs, stove and food, and it coped well on all kinds of roads.

The six-speed gearbox is smooth enough, and if you activate the ‘economy tip’ function, it suggests when to change gear. I’ve found this pretty useful and a good reminder of how quickly you should run through the gears.

And what’s the result of running this small petrol engine with stop-start technology? Well, I’ve driven 2,850 miles and returned 41.4mpg. This is around 17mpg shy of SEAT’s claimed figures, but it’s still pretty good considering the Leon’s regular urban habitat.

One function that I’ve switched off is lane assist, which makes the steering wheel vibrate if it thinks you’re about to stray out of your lane. I can see how this could be useful, but it’s irritating if you’ve just overtaken someone on a quiet stretch of the motorway and haven’t indicated when moving back in.

Another irritation is the fact that the door mirrors on SE models don’t fold when you lock the car. But at this point I’m really nit-picking to find negatives about the Leon. It has really impressed, and it looks set to continue putting in a performance that justifies why Auto Express gave it the Car of the Year award.

SEAT Leon 1.2 TSI SE
Owned sinceJune 2013
Price new£16,790
Engine1.2-litre petrol, 103bhp
Emissions and tax114g/km, £30
Options Safety pack (£115), Technology pack (£1,915), Convenience pack (£100), parking sensors (£430), metallic paint (£475) and Driver Assist (£295).
Insurance£350 for a 42-year-old from Banbury, Oxfordshire, with three penalty points. Quote provided by AA (0800 107 0680).
Mileage so far2,850
Fuel Economy41.4mpg
Costs so farNone
Problems so farNone

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