£16,115 - £30,890 Price range
42 - 85 MPG
The SEAT Leon has always offered a tempting combination of Volkswagen Golf practicality, frugality and performance, with a lashing of extra styling pizzazz.
SEAT fans will be pleased to learn that the new Leon continues this trend. It benefits from all the attributes of the new Volkswagen Group MQB platform – such as lower weight and greater interior volume – and even steals the limelight from its VW cousin thanks to flowing styling and keen pricing. If you’ve already got the Golf on your shortlist, it might be worth taking a look at its Spanish equivalent.
Quality has taken several steps up inside over the old car. It’s a more sophisticated design than before – perhaps better even than the Golf’s dour cabin – and testers note the sort of quality, ergonomics and versatility that put more expensive cars to shame. Several mention the improved plastics, with soft-touch surfaces and plenty of gloss black and chrome detailing.
There’s far more room than in the previous model and a wide range of seat adjustments means that pretty much any driver can get comfortable. You can fit two adults in the back – plus a third, if they’re small enough not to mind the cramped middle pew – and there’s decent leg and headroom. The boot takes 380 litres of luggage – just like its Golf and Audi A3 cousins – though a few drivers note that the boot lip is a little high.
VW’s new Golf has been attracting the plaudits for the way it drives, and the Leon is no different. The experts note an increase in ride comfort over the old model, regardless of the trim level. Some cars use sophisticated multi-link rear suspension, others a cheaper torsion beam, but both offer a supple, yet sporty feel.
Some reviewers say the Leon can fidget over bumps, but rarely is it uncomfortable. Opinions are mixed on the steering – some say it lacks feel, while others describe it as “light but super direct”. One recurring complaint is wind noise, caused by those stylish looking wing mirrors. That issue aside, the Leon is generally pretty refined. Driving it is easy enough too with light controls, though rear visibility is hampered by the stylish design – that rear pillar is pretty thick and the belt line fairly high.
Most buyers should find an engine they’re happy with in the Leon range. On the petrol side, things kick off with a 1.2-litre TSI, rise through 1.4 TSI and 1.8 TSIs, and culminate in the rapid 2.0 TSI Cupra – pumping out almost 280 horses, and sneaking in at under 6 seconds to 60 mph.
Both the 1.2 and 1.4-litre units earn plenty of praise. Both are smooth and willing, and testers appreciate the refinement. Despite the small capacity, the 1.2 still slings you to 60 in ten seconds, and the car’s light weight aids a 57.6 combined MPG figure. The 1.4 offers even better performance and slightly lower mid-fifties economy. The 1.8 gives great in-gear acceleration but can sound a bit strained at high revs.
Diesel Leons have always been strong sellers and the 1.6 TDI and 2.0 TDI variants continue that trend. Most efficient is the 1.6 TDI Ecomotive, at 85.6 mpg. While frugal, several testers suggest private buyers would be better off with a regular 1.6 TDI. Real-world economy won’t be much lower but it’s almost a grand cheaper to buy and still nets you free VED. The 1.6 isn’t that refined in any guise, though. The 2.0 TDI is quieter and smoother, and in FR form it’s pretty brisk – 7.5 seconds to 60 is possible. At 67 mpg and with band B VED, it won’t be that tough to run, either.
Reviews say little on how the Leon drives with the 1.2 engine, but luckily we’ve seen it in several other Volkswagen group products. It never feels particularly rapid, mainly because power is delivered in a very linear fashion, but it emits a sporty exhaust note and revs smoothly to the red line. Testers suggest you actually drive it more like a diesel, benefitting from the useful low-revs torque. You’ll also see better economy this way.
Better still for some, economy is pegged at 54.3 mpg combined, with CO2 of 119g/km resulting in cheap annual road tax. Experts say that, driven sensibly, those high claimed fuel figures aren’t even too far off the mark, and it offers “excellent fuel economy in everyday driving conditions”.
The engine is refined, and like all new Leons, the quality of the shift on the six-speed manual transmission is praised.
When we say flash, that does have one caveat - you need to keep the revs up. Testers say that at low revs it can feel a little lethargic, with “very sluggish acceleration”. From the mid-range and above performance is more respectable, though keep your foot down and the engine can get “quite gruff at high revs”.
A manual gearbox is standard, and a seven-speed dual-clutch gearbox is optional. Not as punchy as the larger 2.0 TDI, the 1.6 is still expected to be the best-selling Leon - and with such great economy figures, that’s not really surprising.
A sport mode allows you to rev the engine almost as you would a petrol, with power not tailing off until over 4,000rpm. In addition, a sound generator changes the engine note entering the cabin, reducing the usual gruff rumble familiar to diesel owners.
While one tester does say that performance quickly tails off if you drop below 1,750rpm, keep the revs above this point and you’ll fly. 0-60 takes 7.5 seconds, top whack is 142 mph, and yet you can still aim for 65.7 mpg combined.
It’s worth also noting that the 2.0 TDI handles rather well - more powerful models like the 181bhp TDI get sophisticated multi-link rear suspension.
The Leon nets amongst the best scores for all cars tested in 2012, with class leading adult and child safety ratings of 94% and 92%. Whisper it quietly, but the Leon actually outpoints the Volkswagen Golf on which it’s based!
There’s a full set of airbags on offer – seven, as opposed to the usual six – along with a slew of gizmos, including electronic stability control, emergency brake assist and a braking torque distribution system that will brake an inside front wheel if it spins up on power.
Whichever model you choose, the Leon offers pretty good value. It’s cheaper than the equivalent Golf for a start, and provided you choose an engine suitable for your needs then you’ll be spending your money wisely.
The 1.2 is described as a fine budget choice, and should suit lower-mileage drivers. Both petrols offer good economy, perhaps reducing the need to go diesel, and if you plan on sticking to town driving, with lower miles, it’s likely to cost you less even over longer terms. 1.6 TDIs are a good choice for those pinching the pennies, though Ecomotive models are disappointingly expensive.
As ever, the top-end 2.0 TDI offers a compelling mix of economy and performance and Cupra petrols are about as fast as you’ll find for the money.
The Leon has gone from being an acceptable choice in the family car class to one of the best, and much of that can be put down to the new platform, shared with the Volkswagen Golf.
Quality, driveability and interior space have all taken leaps forward, making the new Leon a car that small families should seriously consider. The styling isn’t quite as flowing and distinctive as before, but the car itself is a vast improvement.
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