The new SEAT Leon SC 1.4 TSI FR costs almost £3,000 less than the equivalent VW Golf, and when we drove it in Spain recently, we couldn’t find much wrong with it. But this is the first time we’ve tried the car in the UK, and there’s still one thing we need to know: how does it cope with our appalling roads?
This question is particularly relevant to our FR test car, which comes with 15mm lower, firmer suspension. Add the slightly shorter wheelbase over the five-door Leon, and the three-door Leon SC certainly doesn’t glide over poor surfaces like the equivalent Golf. But it’s still very comfortable.
Less sophisticated torsion beam rear suspension is partly to blame – the 138bhp Golf gets fully independent multi-link rear suspension, but only SEATs with 180bhp-plus have this upgrade.
Thankfully, the SC FR handles well on a twisty road even without the more advanced suspension, although you don’t have quite as much fun as in a BMW 1 Series.
The 138bhp 1.4-litre turbo petrol engine is great; it’s happy to be revved, with enough mid-range punch not to need revving too hard. It’s surprisingly efficient, too, so there’s not much point in getting one of the noisier diesels unless you’re doing lots of miles.
Buyers using their Leon SC for long motorway drives are sure to be impressed by the refinement. Class leaders like the Golf don’t suffer so much wind and road noise, but it’s not far behind, and you can say the same about the interior quality. While it doesn’t feel as posh as a VW, it’s way ahead of the old Leon, with solid switches and soft-touch plastics.
The SC looks stylish, and our FR has a new bodykit, chrome exhausts and 17-inch alloys. We still think the Vauxhall Astra GTC is more stylish, although SEAT has created a sporty shape without affecting practicality too much.
The five-door offers more rear legroom, but the SC has just as much headroom, plus the 380-litre boot is identical. In all honesty, though, when the five-door only costs £300 more – and looks just as good – why wouldn’t you just pay the extra?