SEAT Leon review

Our Rating: 
2005-2012 model
By Auto Express Test TeamComments

The eye-catching and dependable SEAT Leon is a desirable family car choice

Bold looks, excellent engines, plenty of standard kit
Firm ride, cheap cabin materials, bad blindspots

Probably the most important thing you need to know about the SEAT Leon is that it's based on the Volkswagen Golf, so you're guaranteed a reliable and practical family hatchback. With a cheaper price-tag and a focus on dynamic handling, you'll notice more poor quality plastics in the cabin and a firmer ride than in the Golf. The engine range is identical though, so you'll find the fantastic 1.2-litre TSI petrol engine and the smooth, efficient 1.6 TDI too. There are sporty FR models and an all-out performance Cupra version as well as ultra-efficient Ecomotive cars with tax-free CO2 emissions. 

Our choice: 1.2 TSI SE Copa

Engines, performance and drive


On the move, the SEAT backs up its sporty looks with composed and agile driving dynamics. All versions featuring direct steering, decent grip and strong body control. Better still, the brand’s clever, traction-boosting XDS electronic limited slip differential is standard across the range. However, the price you pay for sharp responses is a firm ride. The entry-level 1.2-litre TSI petrol provides keen acceleration, while the 2.0-litre TDI diesel blends plenty of punch with penny pinching running costs. Top of the performance tree is the scorching 261bhp Cupra R, which blasts from 0-62mph in only 6.2 seconds. All the Leon’s underpinnings come from the VW Golf, which means the slick DSG twin clutch gearbox is available as an option.

MPG, CO2 and running costs


If you want to run a SEAT Leon on a shoestring budget, then the ECOmotive models should be at the top of your shopping list. Available in S and SE guises, these eco-friendly machines combine a 1.6-litre TDI engine with stop/start technology to deliver 74.3mpg fuel returns and 99g/km CO2 emissions. However, even the racy 2.0-litre TDI FR+ will manage 55.4mpg and emits less than 135g/km of CO2. Unlike the Golf, there’s no pre-paid servicing package, so maintenance will be more costly. Predicted residuals are well up to class standards, with racy FR models suffering the least depreciation.

Interior, design and technology


Few family hatchbacks can match the SEAT Leon for eye-catching kerb appeal. It’s mix of sweeping lines, graceful curves and sharp creases make the Leon a much more stylish proposition than the bland VW Golf. Entry-level S trim cars get steel wheels, but all other models are fitted with alloy rims. The fire-breathing Cupra R is identified by its deeper front bumper, 19-inch wheels and centre exit exhaust. A recent update has improved cabin quality, but the cheap-feeling plastics and haphazard layout mean the SEAT still trails the Ford Focus and Golf for upmarket appeal.

Practicality, comfort and boot space


The Leon is available as a five-door hatchback only, so it boasts strong family friendly credentials. There’s easily enough room for five adults, although small side windows mean occupants in the rear feel a little hemmed-in. You’ll find a decent amount of storage in the cabin courtesy of the deep door bins, large glovebox and centre console tray, while the well-shaped boot will swallow 341-litres of luggage, which is more than both the Ford Focus and Mazda 3. A standard split/fold rear seat further boosts the SEAT’s versatility.

Reliability and Safety


Despite being based on the tough VW Golf platform, the SEAT could only secure a four star Euro NCAP score. It’s not short of safety kit, though. All versions get ESP, six airbags and active head restraints, while side air bags for the rear seat passengers are available as an option. The use of VW engines and gearboxes means the Leon should deliver a trouble-free ownership experience. Surprisingly, SEAT dropped to a disappointing 24th in our 2012 Driver Power survey, with the Leon itself sliding an astonishing 45 places, to a not very impressive 65th.

Last updated: 5 May, 2012