SEAT Leon Review
The SEAT Leon is a sporty-looking, practical family car with a brilliant range of engines, but it trades some comfort in the name of being fun to drive.
What's not so good
SEAT Leon: what would you like to read next?
Think of the SEAT Leon as the Spanish chorizo to the Volkswagen Golf’s German sausage and you won’t go far wrong. The two cars are essentially the same underneath but the SEAT has spicier looks and is better to drive at the expense of some of the Golf’s comfort.
You can have the SEAT as the SC three-door, Cupra 300 hot hatch, ST estate and X-perience jacked-up four-wheel drive estate – but the most popular is the five-door SEAT Leon reviewed here. The Leon was launched in 2012 and updated in 2017 with refreshed styling and some minor equipment changes, including a larger infotainment screen.
You’ll find the eight-inch screen is one of best touchscreen systems on the market and is fitted to all but the basic model but, unfortunately for SEAT, it isn’t enough to make the interior feel anything more than drab. It’s a sea of black and grey plastics that makes the stoically sensible cabin in the VW Golf look almost stylish and the Peugeot 308’s cabin like a boutique hotel.
The good thing is that you’ll find the SEAT Leon interior easy to use – all the controls are sensibly laid out and despite looking a bit dull, feel pretty good. The dash is covered in quality, squidgy plastics, although some of the plastics in the back are cheaper – but it’s the same story in the Golf.
The SEAT Leon’s a spicy chorizo to the VW Golf’s humdrum German sausage
The SEAT Leon is practical too. There’s space for four adults and the flat back seat means even a fifth person in the rear won’t feel too hard done by. The 380-litre boot is a decent size, but it does without the a 12v socket. There’s also a high aload lip, so it’s trickier to slide heavy luggage into place.
But an aching back will hopefully be your worst injury because the Leon’s a safe car. It scored five stars when it was crash tested back in 2012 and, although Euro NCAP’s testing procedures are even tougher now, the SEAT has automatic emergency braking fitted to prevent collisions to all but the entry Leon.
Fortunately, braking isn’t all the car can do for you, because you’ll find the Leon is a surprisingly fun small car to blast down a country road, with limited body lean and plenty of grip.
The best engine for such activities – in fact, the best engine full stop – is the 150hp, 1.4-litre petrol which is quick, smooth, and returns more than 40mpg in real-world driving. It’s so well balanced you should only consider the clattery 1.6-litre diesel if you do a huge mileage, although which ever model you choose the Leon is never quite as quiet and comfortable as a VW Golf.
So the SEAT Leon is a sensible family car with sporty looks and a drive to match. The interior might lack the exterior’s inspiration, but it is well built and practical.
The Leon might have a sporty sloping roof line but headroom in the back is pretty good. Unfortunately, it’s not all that easy to lift a large child seat through its fairly small back doors
The Leon combines bundles of practical features and a big boot in a surprisingly sporty package – a bit like a running shoe that doubles as a hiking boot
You shouldn’t have much of an issue getting comfortable in the SEAT Leon. Even S models have a height adjustable driver’s seat and a steering wheel that adjusts up and down, as well as in and out. Even so, it’s worth upgrading to SE Technology models, which add height adjustment for the passenger seat and lumbar adjustment for the driver’s chair, which should make it a bit more comfortable on long journeys.
Your passengers in the back won’t be complaining, despite the Leon’s sporty exterior. Even adults who sit straight will find headroom is decent and knee room is pretty good, too. Even with three in the back, it’s not bad – the back seat’s flat cushion means a third passenger doesn’t feel perched like they can in some cars. All in all, it’s much better in the back than a Ford Focus.
Fitting a standard child seat in the SEAT Leon shouldn’t be an issue, but getting a huge group-one seat – suitable for kids up to four years old – squeezed through the small back doors is a little trickier.
Basic models have a decent amount of interior storage. You get large door bins, a smaller storage area next to the steering wheel that’s great for spare change and a tray in front of the gear stick with a USB socket that’s perfect for your phone. For £160 it can even offer wireless charging for your smartphone. In between the two front seats you get two cup holders, a storage cubby and another lidded storage area under the front centre armrest.
Spend a bit extra on an SE Technology model and you can make full use of the Leon’s interior space – it adds a couple of cupholders for the back seat, along with an air vent for your rear-seat passengers. You also get a storage box under the driver’s seat that’s an ideal place for storing valuables, and pockets on the backs of the front seats.
The SEAT’s 380-litre boot matches the VW Golf’s for capacity and is bigger than the Vauxhall Astra (370 litres) and the Ford Focus (316 litres), although the Skoda Octavia’s 590 litre capacity makes them all look a little silly.
You’ll find the SEAT Leon has a decent number of boot features too. You get hooks for your shopping, a couple of smaller storage areas on the side of the boot and tie-down hooks for your luggage, but no 12v power socket and no adjustable boot floor as standard. The latter can be solved if you buy the storage pack (up to £205 depending on model), which includes the moveable floor – plus a box under the passenger’s seat, a boot divider net and a foldable front passenger seat.
Annoyingly, even if you buy the pack and set the floor in its highest setting, there’s still a sizeable boot lip to drag objects over that you don’t get in a VW Golf. That said, the boot is big enough for a large and two small suitcases.
With the rear seats split 60:40, you get 1,210 litres of space and with the false floor you get a flat floor, although you’ll still have to negotiate the tall load lip to get a bike in with both its wheels attached.
The SEAT Leon is a small family car that’s easy to drive and also quite fun, but firm suspension means it’s jiggly in town
The SEAT Leon is a brilliant car if driving for fun is your bag
The SEAT Leon is a hoot to drive, so to get the best from it you really should pair it with a peppy engine – such as the four-cylinder 150hp 1.4-litre petrol. It has all the power you need at legal speeds and it even sounds pretty sporty when you work it hard. It’s also clever, so if you’re just pootling around it can rest half its cylinders to save fuel, only turning them back on when you accelerate. The whole process is imperceptible, but means the Leon can return claimed fuel economy of 57.6mpg, or around 45mpg in the real world.
If you’re only ever going to use the car in town, there’s a case to be made for the 115hp 1.0-litre petrol. It’s cheaper than the 1.4 to buy and, with official fuel economy of 64.2mpg, should also be cheaper to run. It only has three cylinders, so is noisier and not as smooth as the larger petrol – it’s also slower and needs working hard to get up to motorway speeds.
If you rack up a huge mileage, then you’re in luck – SEAT Leon’s range of diesel engines is also very good. The 115hp 1.6-litre is the cheapest to buy and the cheapest to run – officially, it’ll return fuel economy of 70.6mpg and has enough mid-range power for overtaking on the motorway. It can also tow caravans and trailers of 1,800kg in weight – more than either of the petrols.
The 150hp 2.0-litre diesel is worth considering if you want a decent turn of speed, but not at the expense of fuel economy.
The SEAT Leon is easy to drive in a variety of conditions and is even fun on a country road, but the payoff for this is that the suspension is quite firm.
You’ll notice that most in town. It’s not that it’s overly bumpy, but it isn’t as comfortable as a Volkswagen Golf. FR models are a little bit firmer still.
The other thing you’ll notice is that the driver’s seat sits pretty deep in the cabin – the low slung position makes the car feel more sporty, like you’re cocooned in the interior, but the downside is that your view out the high-set glass – particularly the rear window – isn’t brilliant. Cranking up the height adjustable seat will solve this to an extent, of course.
In every other way, you’ll find the SEAT Leon feels at home in town. The steering wheel is easy to turn and the pedals have a nice light action. Rear parking sensors are a £275 option on S and SE models and fitted as standard to the rest of the range. Or, for between £385 and £660 depending on model, you can have the park assistance pack, which adds front sensors and a rear-view camera.
The manual gearbox is notchy, but precise and nice to use, however, if you’ll be spending a lot of time in the city, the quick-shifting seven-speed automatic is a really good option to consider.
Clear the busy city and the SEAT’s firmer suspension starts to pay off in the country – because it does handle very well, in fact, it’s really good fun hurtling down back roads. It helps that you can really feel what’s going on both through the steering and through your bottom in this low-slung seat. In fact, it’s an absolute blast.
At motorway speeds, the firm suspension settles down and it doesn’t highlight bumps quite like it does in town. What you do start to notice, though, is a bit of tyre and wind noise. It is not too bad, but it’s just not as quiet as the VW Golf.
Active cruise control is an £150 option across the range. With it fitted, the Leon can brake and accelerate to match the speed of the car in front, returning to a preset cruising speed when the way is clear.
The Leon’s cabin feels solid and – providing you avoid entry-level cars – well equipped, but it isn’t all that exciting to look at