SEAT Leon review
The SEAT Leon is one of the best, if not the best, family hatchback blending style, practicality and an excellent drive
The SEAT Leon is a truly excellent car thanks to its classy looks and superb build quality. It's also backed up by low running costs and a great drive - no surprise then, that the SEAT Leon scooped the coveted Auto Express Car of The Year award in 2013.
Based on the lightweight Volkswagen MQB chassis, the SEAT Leon shares its underpinnings with the Volkswagen Golf, Audi A3 and Skoda Octavia. The advanced chassis means the third-generation Leon is shorter, wider, lower and features a longer wheelbase than its slightly ungainly looking predecessor.
The SEAT Leon is powered by a range of diesel and petrol engines. The petrol line-up kicks off with a 103bhp 1.2-litre unit, but buyers can also opt for a 138bhp 1.4-litre powerplant. Further up the range, a 178bhp is available, while the flagship Cupra has a powerful 276bhp engine under the hood.
In terms of diesels, buyers can choose their SEAT Leon with either a 1.6-litre or 2.0-litre TDI unit. The 1.6-litre engine can also be chosen with the SEAT Ecomotive technology, which thanks to 85.6mpg and 87g/km of CO2, puts it in Volkswagen Golf Bluemotion territory. In standard form, the 1.6-litre engine puts out 103bhp, while the 2.0-litre produces either 148 or 181bhp.
The SEAT Leon is available in four trim levels - entry level S, mid-range SE and FR, plus the flagship performance-orientated Cupra. For keen drivers seeking that bit more performance, A Cupra 280 Performance Pack version is also available.
SEAT offers the Leon in a variety of body styles. There’s a standard five-door hatch, the rakish three-door SC and an ST estate. SEAT has also just added four-wheel drive to the Leon range in the shape of the ST X-Perience.
Our choice: Leon 1.6 TDI SE
Engines, performance and drive
As soon as you pull away in the SEAT Leon, it's possible to tell it's a quality car - wind and road noise are muted, and the suspension does an excellent job of soaking up any uneven road surfaces. Overall, then, the SEAT Leon is enjoyable to drive irrespective of whether it’s in town, or hoovering up the miles on the motorway. The handling is good, too.
Thanks to the lightweight MQB underpinnings, the SEAT has shed 71kg and the result is direct steering. Unfortunately, it still can't match the dynamically excellent Ford Focus for sharp reactions.
SEAT fits the SE, FR and Cupra Leon models with an XDS electronic diff, which delivers sharper turn-in and improved traction. Like on the Leon’s rivals and sister cars, the stability control can't be deactivated, but given its composed handling, it barely cuts in. Opt for the four-wheel drive X-Perience model and the system adds more stability. Power is shuffled between the front and rear wheels effortlessly, so you never detect any loss of traction even in wet or slippery conditions.
The SEAT Leon comes with two different suspension set-ups - cars with more than 178bhp come with multi-link rear suspension, while models with lesser power make do with a basic torsion beam configuration. In the real world though, the difference is barely noticeable.
There are three petrol and two diesel engines to choose from in the SEAT Leon range, with highlights including a 103bhp 1.6-litre unit that's expected to be the biggest seller. The 103bhp 1.2-litre TSI petrol also provides smooth and punchy performance.
The 181bhp 2.0 TDI FR is a fantastic driver’s car, with a punchy diesel engine that's matched with great brakes, precise steering and impressive traction that helps it complete the 0-62mph sprint in just 7.5 seconds.
The 108bhp 1.6 TDI Ecomotive model offers the best fuel economy in the line-up without any compromises to acceleration or handling.
The SEAT Leon Cupra is also excellent, as it combines all the positive attributes of the standard car with a sizeable 276bhp - little wonder then, that it's the main choice for buyers seeking practicality combined with performance car pace for a reasonable price.
MPG, CO2 and running costs
Irrespective of fuel type, SEAT now fits a turbocharger to every engine in the Leon line-up. The units also feature direct injection and in terms of efficiency, improvements of up to 22 per cent have been made.
The lightweight Volkswagen MQB platform has also helped the Leon shed a few pounds, and it's 10 per cent more aerodynamically efficient than the previous model too.
On the S model, the two engines available are the 103bhp 1.2-litre TSI petrol, and the 103bhp 1.6-litre diesel. The petrol unit achieves 57.6mpg with 114g/km of CO2, while the oil-burner manages 74.3mpg with CO2 levels of 99g/km.
The 1.2-litre petrol engine is available on SE models, but buyers can also choose to combine it with the automatic DSG gearbox. CO2 emissions drop slightly to 112g/km, but the fuel consumption remains the same at 57.6mpg.
The SE and FR versions of the SEAT Leon can also be specified with the 1.4-litre TSI petrol engine - this 138bhp unit manages 53.3mpg with CO2 emissions of 119g/km.
The 1.6-litre diesel engine is also available on SE cars, but it can also be chosen with eco-friendly SEAT Ecomotive technology - with this fitted, the Leon manages an excellent 85.6mpg with 87g/km of CO2. The DSG gearbox is also an option, and when mated to the 1.6-litre diesel, it manages 72.4mpg with 102g/km.
The other diesel engine in the SEAT Leon range is the 148bhp 2.0-litre TDI, and it's available on the SE and FR models. When combined with the standard six-speed gearbox, it emits 106g/km of CO2 and returns 68.9mpg - should the buyer opt to mate the engine to the automatic DSG gearbox, emissions rise to 117g/km and 62.8mpg.
The SEAT Leon FR also benefits from 181bhp TDI diesel, which manages 65.7mpg with emissions of 109g/km. When mated to the DSG system, emissions increase to 119g/km while mpg plummets to 60.1
The 1.8-litre petrol TSI unit is only available on the SEAT Leon FR, which emits a hefty 137g/km and returns 47.9mpg. With the DSG gearbox, emissions dip a little to 132g/km as does mpg to 48.7mpg.
The flagship SEAT Leon Cupra is powered by a 276bhp 2.0-litre TSI engine and it emits 154g/km of CO2 with a fuel consumption of 42.8mpg. With the DSG gearbox, it returns the same CO2 emissions and MPG.
Lastly, the real trump card of the SEAT Leon is a price tag that’s around 10 per cent cheaper than an equivalent Golf, plus predicted residuals that are every bit as strong.
Interior, design and technology
Despite it sharing the same MQB platform as the Volkswagen Golf and Skoda Octavia, some would say that the SEAT Leon looks better than its sister cars. It's not as understated as the Golf and not as dowdy looking as the Octavia. What's more, its sharper styling really gives it kerb appeal.
When designing the new Leon, the SEAT designers pushed the wheels further to the car's four corners - this means overhang has been reduced and the wheelbase has been extended; good news for rear passengers. The MPV-esque dimensions of the previous model SEAT Leon have been replaced with a more traditional hatchback shape, meaning there is now more space for luggage, too.
Another enhancement is the optional LED headlight upgrade. SEAT is currently offering the Tech Pack – which adds sat-nav, DAB digital radio and LED lights – for free on five-door Leon models. The daytime running lights are integrated into the headlamps and they cast a beam that’s as bright as xenons without dazzling most oncoming traffic.
Step inside the SEAT Leon and it's pure Volkswagen Group - there's plenty of dark grey plastic, and the dashboard features a subtle gloss black surround that's finished off with chrome trim. It's pretty restrained, but it feels well put together and the dash features an intuitive touchscreen control system that's easier to get along with than say, the plethora of buttons in the Ford Focus.
Four trim levels are available: S, SE and FR. The entry-level Leon S gets a touchscreen to control the audio and sat-nav (if you opt for it), as well as air conditioning and Bluetooth, for hands free phone calls.
Mid-spec Leon SE cars get SEAT’s XDS electronic differential lock system, front fog lights and a leather-wrapped steering wheel, while higher-end FR models get 17-inch alloys, a sporty bodykit, sports seats and sports suspension.
Top-spec SEAT Leon Cupra cars get plenty of racy details to underline their sporting credentials - these features include drilled aluminium pedals, twin oval exhaust pipes and titanium coloured 19-inch alloy wheels. Alcantara seats comes as standard but SEAT will offer buyers the chance to opt for bucket seats.
Practicality, comfort and boot space
Beyond the sharp body, the SEAT Leon is a very practical choice for buyers.
Its wide-opening rear doors make getting in-and-out easy, and rear passengers will appreciate the healthy amounts of leg and head space the Leon offers.
Unfortunately, the middle occupant on the rear-bench will have to contend with the large transmission tunnel, but that's not really a surprise.
In the front, there's plenty of space in the SEAT Leon, and the driver will benefit from a wide range of seat and wheel adjustment configurations. Look around the cabin, and there's also plenty of handy storage solutions - these include deep door bins, a large air-conditioned glovebox and a centre console integrated cubby.
In terms of boot space, SEAT quotes the official capacity at 380-litres, but our calculations reveal that the actual space available is an impressive 483-litres.
A point of concern could be that the rear seats in the SEAT Leon don't fold fully flat because the base of the bench is fixed. However, 1,210-litres of space is still on offer and in all honesty, the only black mark for practicality goes to the high load lip, which makes it awkward to lift in heavy items.
Reliability and Safety
The SEAT Leon was one of the first cars to use the MQB platform, and as this architecture will eventually form the basis of a huge chunk of the VW Group range, it will need to be reliable. Things have been going well so far, as there have been no reported problems with the new set-up.
The engine range is also shared with a number of other models, and things are looking good in this area, although if you do encounter problems, you may be disappointed with the service you receive from SEAT dealers. The brand’s franchises have finished bottom in our past two Driver Power satisfaction surveys, and there needs to be a shake-up if they want to meet the same high standards as the latest models achieve.
The Leon has a five-star Euro NCAP rating, and all cars come with seven airbags, including a driver’s knee bag, tyre-pressure monitors and stability control with emergency brake assist. SE models add hill hold and an electronic limited-slip diff.