SEAT Leon

24 Aug, 2005 12:31pm Oliver Marriage

It is not only sports cars and coup�s that are turning on the style these days. Family hatches are discovering fashion, too! First there was the dynamic Vauxhall Astra, and then Citroen stunned everyone with its bold C4. Now, SEAT's new Leon has landed in the UK - and it looks set to make an equally big impression.

Verdict

The new Leon is a real step forward for the Spanish marque. Blessed with good looks and even more attractive pricing, the new family hatchback has plenty of showroom appeal. The styling hasn't compromised practicality or driver comfort, and the car is equally good on the road. Only the mediocre refinement detracts.
It is not only sports cars and coup�s that are turning on the style these days. Family hatches are discovering fashion, too! First there was the dynamic Vauxhall Astra, and then Citroen stunned everyone with its bold C4. Now, SEAT's new Leon has landed in the UK - and it looks set to make an equally big impression.

The Spanish company is actually referring to its new model as a five-door coup�, a description that's not entirely misleading. A low roofline - along with Alfa Romeo-style rear door handles hidden in the C-pillars - helps give the Leon a long, lean look to complete the maker's three-car line-up.

That's why the newcomer's nose is so familiar, as this design has already been seen on the Altea and Toledo. The cabin is equally distinctive, with a more sporting driving environment than those of other compact family cars.

Yet there is nothing wrong with the interior headroom or seating position, either - only the centre console draws criticism. While the layout and instrument clarity are pleasing, the expanse of bare plastic looks odd and the quality of the materials is not outstanding. And although there is plenty of room in the rear, the boot lip is high, so it is less user-friendly than some rivals.

Under the bonnet, five engines will initially be available. The 1.9 and 2.0-litre diesels are familiar, as are the 1.6 and 2.0 FSI petrol units. The flagship uses the Golf GTI's 2.0T FSI, but here it is detuned to 182bhp. However, there are rumours of a possible hot 230bhp Cupra arriving next year.

It should be an enticing prospect, because even in 1.6 Reference trim as tested here - one of five spec levels offered - the Leon is fun to drive. The 101bhp engine is not in the first flush of youth; neither economy nor emissions are particularly impressive. But performance is respectable, and the five-speed gearbox shifts neatly.

SEAT's engineers have adjusted the Golf-derived suspension to deliver a sporty feel, making the Leon agile and responsive. It is well balanced, although let down slightly by light steering.

However, our biggest gripe is the lack of refinement. The ride is firm and the cabin relatively noisy; both the Ford Focus and Citroen C4 would be better propositions for offering comfort over long distances. Still, neither of these rivals can match the SEAT's value for money. Prices start at £11,295, with diesels available from £12,995.

Key specs

The Leon's dynamic new look should help it win sales when the car appears here next month. The latest model, built on the same platform as the VW Golf MkV, is 131mm longer but only 19mm taller than its Golf MkIV-based predecessor.

AEX 1337
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