SEAT Leon

Sharp-looking family car is a good all-rounder

8.2
wowscore
This is the average score given by leading car publications from 19 reviews
  • Smart looks
  • Roomy interior
  • Fun to drive
  • Slightly noisy small diesel
  • Wind noise
  • Firm ride on largest wheels
 

£17,700 - £25,780 Price range

 

5 Seats

 

47 - 78 MPG

Review

The SEAT Leon is largely the same car as the Volkswagen Golf and the Skoda Octavia, but with a more stylish look. It’s a sporty family hatchback that rivals the Ford Focus and the Mazda 3 for being fun to drive as well as practical.

It’s a desirable car that, after four years on the market, needed a small nip and tuck which is exactly what SEAT gave it late in 2016. You’ll need a side-by-side comparison to spot the new bumpers and revised headlights, so to help you out we’ve done just that – check out our Seat Leon: New vs Old side by side.

Inside, much of the switchgear is shared with other Volkswagen Group cars and it feels superbly built with an easy-to-operate infotainment system. It may not be as inspiring as the stylish exterior may lead you to believe but everything is sturdily built.

Although it’s not as spacious as the Skoda Octavia, the SEAT has plenty of room for four adults, with a boot that should just about squeeze in all their luggage. Rear headroom is a bit limited in the three-door SC model with its sloping roof, but every other Leon model is decently spacious.

The most economical engine is the 1.6-litre diesel Ecomotive that gets fuel economy of 78mpg. At the other end of the scale the fast Cupra model can scrabble from 0-62mph in just 5.9 seconds.

Every SEAT Leon comes fitted with air conditioning, a 5.0-inch touchscreen infotainment system, a Bluetooth phone connection and remote central locking, but you need to move up to SE trim to get alloy wheels.

You can find detailed information in our SEAT Leon dimensions guide and can check out the possible paint-jobs using our Leon colours guide.

Despite the sharp exterior design, the interior is more sombre. The quality of the build is hard to fault, though, and the materials used are pleasingly tactile if not the classiest or softest-to-the-touch among rivals. The layout of the controls is extremely straightforward and there’s even a dedicated button that takes you straight to your connected phone, instead of fumbling through menus like in rivals.

SEAT Leon infotainment

All models get a touchscreen infotainment system with a five-inch screen. It’s fast to respond and the graphics are pleasingly colourful, but there’s hardly anything to do with it apart from exploring the different trip details such as fuel economy or remaining range.

More interesting is the optional Media System Plus. It’s a fairly advanced piece of kit that comes with voice commands as well as gesture controls so you no longer need to take your eyes off the road to operate the touchscreen. Not only that, but the screen grows to eight inches in size and the speed of operation is faster thanks to a brand-new processor. This system is shared with VW Group models and is arguably one of the best touchscreens in the business.

Should you get bored with the SEAT apps for the infotainment you can always connect your phone via SEAT’s Full link. It incorporates Apple CarPlay and Android Auto support and with the dedicated button on the dashboard you can quickly jump in and out of the app.

Keen mobile phone users will be pleased to know that SEAT offers an option called Connectivity Box. Opt for it and you get a designated area in front of the gear lever where you put your phone and it gets wirelessly charged (if supported by the device) and its signal is boosted by the car’s aerial.

SEAT Leon passenger space

There are no surprises here – space is good upfront with plenty of adjustment to the seats and steering wheel, so drivers of all shapes and sizes easily find a comfortable position.

It’s good in the back as well with space for two six-foot adults with legroom to spare. You can fit a third passenger in the middle but the seat isn’t as wide as the other two, so trips with three up in the back are best kept short.

SEAT Leon boot space

With all seats in place you have a 380-litre boot, or the same as in a VW Golf. Flip the rear seats down and the capacity increases to 1,210 litres which is average in the hatchback class, but also enough for most family needs. Small drawbacks are the high boot lip and the fact the rear seats don’t fold completely flat – a Skoda Octavia is the practical choice.

Our full breakdown of the SEAT Leon’s internal and external dimensions will help you decide if it’ll fit into your lifestyle.

VW’s Golf attracts praise for the way it drives, and the Leon is no different because underneath they are closely related. The Leon rides more softly than before, but that is not at the expense of handling dynamics. Out of the VW Group family hatchback trio (the Skoda Octavia, VW Golf and SEAT Leon), the Leon is the hatchback to go for if you’re a keen driver.

Cars equipped with the more-powerful engines get a sophisticated rear suspension setup that is a large part of the reason why the Leon feels so pleasingly agile on a twisty roads without compromising ride comfort. Yes, the steering is quite light and lifeless, but it’s accurate and entirely predictable so it will suit a large spectrum of drivers.

Even if the ride quality is good, the VW Golf edges the Leon by a tiny amount – the SEAT feels a bit jiggly on repeated high speed bumps, but it’s better than class average the rest of the time. What is more noticeable is the wind noise, particularly around those stylish-looking wing mirrors and there’s a substantial C-pillar that limits rearward visibility. However, none of the aforementioned niggles are deal breakers – the SEAT Leon is a great all-round performer with a lean towards sportiness.

Most buyers should find an engine they’re happy with in the Leon range. New for 2017 is a 1.0-litre petrol triple that is both zippy and cheap to run making it one of the best engines in the range.

SEAT Leon petrol engines

The 1.2-litre four-cylinder remains the cheapest proposition and it’s decent , even if refinement takes priority over sheer performance. It has short gear ratios which make it feel lively and it cracks 0-62mph in ten seconds. SEAT says it can average 57mpg, but that number is difficult to match in congested city centres where you need to use nearly all of the engine’s power to keep up with traffic. CO2 emissions of 114g/km result in £30 annual road tax.

The new 1.0-litre petrol engine is a perfect match for the Leon thanks to its low weight and exciting character. It loves to rev and sounds good even if you’re squeezing out every drop of performance out of it. And you would be more often than not because, equipped with this lightweight engine, the Leon darts around corners with impressive agility, egging you to press on. This newly developed engine is good on fuel too, averaging 64mpg as well as being kind to the environment with low CO2 emissions of 104g/km for a £20 annual road tax bill.

One step up is a 1.4-litre that, with either 125 or 148hp, is easily powerful enough for most needs. The 125hp will feel near identical to the 110hp 1.2-litre performance-wise because of the little power difference between the two, but it manages to average one more mile with each gallon of fuel for a combined figure of 58mpg.

The 148hp version is a better bet – it has a pleasing hot-hatch-like exhaust note and, thanks to clever cylinder-on-demand technology, running costs are impressive for the performance on offer. The 0-62mph acceleration time drops to eight seconds while combined fuel economy is second best in the petrol range at 60mpg. Annual road tax for both 1.4-litre engines outputs is £30.

SEAT Leon diesel engines

Diesel Leons have always been strong sellers and the 1.6-litre and 2.0-litre variants continue that trend. Most fuel efficient is the 1.6-litre Ecomotive, at 78 mpg. While frugal, it costs a bit more than the regular 1.6-litre that’s nearly as fuel efficient – it can average 67mpg. Performance is decent for the modest 115hp output, with 0-62mph coming up in 10.9 seconds.

The 2.0-litre TDI is quieter and smoother and the 148hp version serves as the best all-round performer in the range. The short sprint takes 8.4 seconds and average fuel economy is 64mpg.

The same engine in FR form is pretty brisk – with 184hp it takes 7.5 seconds to reach 62mph from a standstill making it as fast as you’d ever need a family hatchback to be. With a combined fuel economy figure of 65mpg it’s also inexpensive-to-run and it has the same CO2 emissions as the 148hp version for £30 annual road tax.

There aren’t many reviews of the 1.2 just yet, but on paper it’s certainly an appealing package. At 57.6 mpg combined it touts the sort of figures that wouldn’t appear out of place on a diesel from only a few years ago. It can also hit 60 mph in only ten seconds, and the 90 kg lighter body means the relatively small unit doesn’t have much weight to pull along.

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.

The turbocharged, 1.4-litre petrol, expected to be one of the strongest sellers, endows the Seat Leon with punchy performance. There’s 138 horsepower at your disposal and with only 1,156kg to haul along, testers describe performance as “gutsy”. The bare figures look even better for a fairly humble model: 0-60mph takes only 8.2 seconds, and it’ll do 131mph flat out.

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.

If you’re looking for an economical Leon, then the 1.6 TDI could be the engine to go for. Combined mpg is as high as 74.3, and with CO2 of only 99g/km, you won’t pay a penny for road tax, nor congestion charging in London (well, until Boris changes the tax threshold, anyway…). There’s 104 bhp at your disposal and the 60mph sprint will flash by in under 11 seconds.

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.

While diesels aren’t often recommended for lower-mileage buyers, the 2.0 TDI gets plenty of praise for other reasons - mainly, performance and fuel efficiency. More than one tester describes it as “a diesel hot hatchback”. Part of that is down to selectable driving modes.

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.

These are general, non-engine specific reviews of the new Leon. They give a good overview of the car without going into detail about a particular engine or model.

The Seat Leon isn’t the bargain of the family hatchback class – that accolade is reserved for the Vauxhall Astra – but it does come with a decent range of standard kit and reasonably priced options such as the £200 Convenience Pack Plus which adds rain-sensing wipers, an auto-dimming rearview mirror and auto-headlights.

SEAT Leon SE

We’ve already established that the basic model comes with some decent equipment, but the SE adds many things. The cabin feels more upmarket thanks to a leather-wrapped steering wheel and gear lever as well as soothing ambient lighting. Further changes inside include a rear seat central armrest and a cleverer seat-folding mechanism. You also get cruise control to ease those long journeys.

SEAT Leon FR

This is the most sporty version before the Cupra and adds climate control, LED headlights, adaptive cruise control, front and rear parking sensors, larger alloy wheels and a more aggressive body kit.

Seat Leon Xcellence

New for 2017, this trim level aims to add some premium appeal and classy touches to the dynamic Leon. You get leather or Alcantara-suede upholstery along with higher quality trim inserts and the whole interior gets bathed in colorful ambient lighting. On the outside this top-spec Leon gets slightly redesigned bumpers with more chrome, rear LED indicators and SEAT’s confusingly named keyless entry and go system called KESSY also features as standard.

Conclusion

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, while the distinctive styling turns heads. The 2017 model also brings a raft of technology making the SEAT Leon a car that small families should seriously consider.

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