SEAT Leon SC 1.2 TSI SE – First Drive Review

Why would anyone put up with a rattly, smelly old diesel when they could have an engine like this instead?

Okay, so SEAT’s 1.6 and 2.0 TDI units are hardly as rattly and smelly as diesels of old, but driven back to back with the 1.2 TSI tested here it’s hard not to wonder why diesels are so popular.

And after driving around the Cotswolds for two hours and returning the same 50-odd miles per gallon figure as the all-singing, all-dancing Leon SC 2.0 TDI FR, we wondered some more.

SEAT Leon SC 1.2 TSI rear

The bare facts don’t look so good, with the DSG-equipped 2.0 TDI comfortably out-punching the diminutive 1.2 TSI on both performance and economy. 8.4 seconds to 62 mph plays 10, 131 mph plays 119, and the diesel will get you 64.2 miles to every gallon of diesel, compared to the petrol car’s 58.9 mpg combined figure.

But as our drive on motorway, town and country showed, there’s less in it in the real world. And in the real world, it’s also easier to appreciate the 1.2 TSI’s smooth, linear power output, its lack of noise, and its willingness to home in on the red line with a satisfaction the diesels can’t really provide.

SEAT Leon SC 1.2 TSI side

Our test car featured a DSG dual-clutch transmission, predictably fast, easy to use and smoother than a buttered Sean Connery. It has seven speeds but from the way it slips between each ratio, you’d hardly notice. While not as quick as the big-engined TDI it never felt particularly slow either.

Most noiceable though was the ease by which the SC scoots around bends with such a light lump under the bonnet. The 2.0 TDI felt leaden in comparison, the 1.2 bringing back a bit of that fun SEAT attitude we’d been expecting. The steering felt direct and nicely weighted, the 16-inch alloys oozed over bumps better than the 17’d FR, and on identical roads in identical weather the 1.2 just felt more alive.

SEAT Leon SC 1.2 TSI satnav

The cabin still feels a little dour and in unadorned SE trim it lacks the FR’s sense of occasion, but equipment levels are still high, it’s comfortable and spacious, and that exterior styling still looks great – even if the press images depict a red FR, rather than the blue SE we actually drove…

Price as tested: 18,805

Combined MPG: 58.9

CO2: 112 g/km

SEAT Leon SC 1.2 TSI engine


It’s reassuring to find you don’t need to spend top dollar to get the best Leon SC. Just like our test of the regular 5-door Leon in 1.2 TSI trim, we came away hugely impressed.

In reality, not many buyers will choose between the 1.2 TSI and 2.0 TDI, but that was just to illustrate how good the 1.2 really is. Had we compared it to the 1.6 TDI SE we tested on the same day, there’d be absolutely no contest. Unless you desperately need the extra 30 quid you’ll save in Vehicle Excise Duty each year by getting the 1.6 TDI or do huge motorway miles, the 1.2 TSI is a better car in every way.

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