The old SEAT Leon was a very good car and surprisingly rewarding to drive. A nimble chassis, perfectly judged damping, and a wide range of engines ensured that it punched well above its weight, even when stacked against top-flight rivals like the VW Golf and Ford Focus
And yet it was never widely acknowledged as such, an omission that deprived many a family of its subtle charms. The new Leon is, according to SEAT, even better; they speak of it being a game changer, a bold statement from a company not usually given to hyperbole.
Bad weather prevented me attending the launch, but the ever-helpful SEAT Press Office did the next best thing and shipped a 1.2 TSI Leon to me to evaluate over the course of a week.
The exterior is contemporary and edgy and utterly sublime. It doesnt have (to my eye at least) a bad angle. True, the door mirrors might look a little contrived (and generate some wind noise too at higher speeds) but apart from that it is nigh on perfect.
Our test car is a standard S with just a few carefully chosen extras, one of which is 16-inch alloy wheels. I wouldnt bother personally – although they do fill the arches out better than the standard 15-inchers as ticking the options list is a slippery slope.
If you liked the exterior then you are going to love the interior. SEAT has used mid-market materials but executed them in a premium-market fashion, a clever trick that no-one else pulls off as convincingly as this.
The overall effect is Audi-esque in its simplicity and feel. It is exquisite. It works well too, with flawless ergonomics, a supportive and comfortable drivers seat, multi-adjustable steering wheel, and decent headroom.
The S is the most basic trim level on offer, but it isnt one that feels cheap. The air-con might be manual, but it keeps you cool via a six-speed (yep, count em, six speeds!) fan. You also get a 5-inch touchscreen (but, sadly, no sat-nav), Bluetooth, electric windows in the front, a six-speed gearbox, height-adjustable drivers seat, airbags galore, and remote central locking. Do you need more?
If so the SE level adds some reading lights, height adjustment for the front passenger, some leather and chrome, standard cruise control, electric windows in the back, 16-inch alloys, Hill Hold, and an electronic differential.
FR adds a whole lot more stuff, mainly sporting in nature. Trust me on this, though; buy a humble S and add judiciously from the options list.
Rear seat passengers arent ignored, and are given good seats and plenty of legroom. The boot is a very good size indeed and split-folds as youd expect, turning the Leon into an estate. Top marks for the interior; its hard to imagine how they could have improved on it without having to charge considerably more, cannibalising Golf sales in the process…
If you liked the exterior and loved the interior you are going to fall head-over-heels for the Leon when you drive it. Based on the Volkswagen Golfs chassis it has been primped and tweaked by SEAT engineers to make it their own.
With a kerb weight of just over 1,100kgs the Leon fairly dances along nimbly. The steering might lack feel but it is light and positive and utterly faithful; point the car at the apex and youll hit it time after time after time.
The ride is excellent, the brakes powerful and progressive, and the gearbox a delight to use. Snapping up and down the box is great fun, which is just as well as youll be using it a lot in the 1.2 as it is a bit light on torque, especially if you are used to driving a modern turbo-diesel.
The 1.2-litre TSI engine is a favourite of mine, being powerful enough for everyday use and very economical. I returned 50mpg in mixed use and I would expect the official fuel consumption figure of 57.6mpg to be available for those with a lighter right foot than me, which is quite rare in these eco-optimised days. CO2 emissions are 114 g/km, placing it in VED band C.
It isnt, as I have mentioned, overburdened with torque, delivering just 129 lb/ft. It does pump out 105bhp though and performance is decent rather than brisk: 0-62mph takes 10 seconds dead and the top speed is 119mph. The key is to exploit the chassis and carry speed wherever you can. By doing so youll save fuel and post some very good journey times into the bargain.
Keen drivers might want to step up into the 1.4 TSI but there really is no need to go any further. High-mileage drivers who plan to keep the car for a long time might (and I stress might) be able to make the diesel models wok financially but everyone else is better off with the sweet revving, lightweight, and cheaper petrol engine in their Leon.
Value for Money
My test car was a bottom-of-the-pile 1.2 TSI S, with an OTR price of 15,670. Thats cheap motoring given the magnitude of the rewards given.
Speccing it up to the same trim level as mine adds the Safety Pack (tiredness recognition and rear seatbelt reminder for 115), the Lifestyle Pack (16-inch alloy wheels and front fog lights with cornering function for 395), and the Comfort Pack (cruise control and rear parking sensors for 395), meaning youll have to write a cheque for 17,050. The equivalent Golf is well over 20,000. Need I say more?
The SEAT Leon is as close to a perfect car as Ive driven in a long time, losing out to the VW Golf
(which we awarded a ten out of ten when I drove it a few months ago) only in the minor details.
Yet it is cheaper, looks even better, and is less ubiquitous. If that makes sense to you then youd be daft to spend the extra on the German car. If it doesnt then you should stump up the extra cash and buy the Golf. Either way, you wont be disappointed.
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