SEAT Leon review
The Auto Express Car of the Year 2013 goes to the all-new SEAT Leon, which offers a similar drive to the Mk7 VW Golf
The SEAT Leon won Car of the Year at the 2013 Auto Express awards. It was the combination of great looks, a practical interior, low running costs and fun that made the 2013 SEAT Leon an award winner, as well as its unmatched ability to leave rivals – the BMW 1 Series, Skoda Octavia and VW Golf – in the shade.
The third-generation SEAT Leon is shorter, wider, lower and has a longer wheelbase than the outgoing model. It’s the third car to be built on the Volkswagen Group’s advanced, lightweight MQB platform that underpins the Mk7 Golf and new Audi A3 but will eventually form the basis for almost 30 cars, ranging from the all-new Polo to the next-generation Passat. It’s by far the best-looking car of the trio, too, and it even undercuts its VW brother by around 10 per cent across the range.
The new SEAT Leon also gets new petrol and diesel engines, a lower kerbweight than before and, although it is smaller than the car it replaces, it still offers more interior space and a bigger boot, too. It’s more comfortable, thanks to a much more supple ride, while quality has also been improved, with much better materials used for the interior and extremely precise bodypanel gaps.
An entry-level three-door SEAT Leon SC is available, priced at just over £15,000 new; although we prefer the added practicality of the five-door car. It rivals cars like the three-door Hyundai i30 and the Vauxhall Astra GTC. It gets a 35mm shorter wheelbase and a more steeply raked rear windscreen for a sportier, more aggressive profile, which does sacrifice a bit of head and legroom in the back.
The value displayed across the range is strikingly obvious in the SEAT Leon FR trim; the improved interior and depth of engineering has made the FR one of the best diesel hot hatches on the market, despite costing £1,300 less than the 1 Series.
There are further changes in the pipeline for the Leon line-up: SEAT has been evaluating the viability of a 300bhp, four-wheel drive Leon Cupra R model that could drop the 0-60mph time to around five seconds. The Cupra R would become the fastest car in the range. Then there’s the new SEAT Leon ST estate, set to be debuted at the 2013 Frankfurt Motor show ahead of it’s 2014 release. The addition of the ST estate will be the first time the Leon is offered in a choice of three body styles.
SEAT has also been busy working on designs for a Leon hybrid that could return an impressive 176.6mpg and emit just 36g/km. Whilst there may be no plans to put the SEAT Leon Verde plug-in on the production line, its electric capabilities highlight the millions SEAT has spent on a four-year research project to facilitate the wider use of electric vehicles.
Our choice: Leon 1.6 TDI SE
The new Leon is inspired by the IBE concept and is the first SEAT to get the new simplified ‘S’ logo and the firm’s reinvented ‘Arrow Head’ design language. The profile is dominated by two horizontal lines, while a crease down the middle of the bonnet and flat-edged wheelarches create a crisp, modern and athletic look. The rear door handles are now on the door panel rather than hidden in the C-pillar, while optional new all-LED front lights are a first in the C-segment.
The interior is a much more interesting place to be than the sober A3, and quality isn’t far behind, either. The interior styling update helps the SEAT Leon feel much more upmarket than before. Three 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 range-topping FR models get 17-inch alloys, a sporty bodykit, sports seats and sports suspension. The extensive list of options includes 18-inch alloy wheels, full leather upholstery, satellite navigation, and full LED headlamps. The only slight criticism is that, while forward visibility is good, the kicked-up C-pillar does hamper your rear three-quarter visibility.
The Leon, in general, is a sporty car but it doesn’t compromise on ride comfort. It has exactly the same platform, engines and gearboxes as the latest Golf. There are three petrol and two diesel engines to choose from, with highlights including a 104bhp 1.6-litre diesel Leon Ecomotive that is expected to be the biggest seller, plus the smooth and punchy 104bhp 1.2-litre TSI petrol. The top-spec 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 SEAT Leon Ecomotive is also the only model to get the more complicated multi-link rear suspension setup, rather than a simpler torsion beam, but both give a slightly firm ride. All versions come with a five-speed manual gearbox as standard, but a seven-speed DSG automatic is available as an option. All versions get SEAT’s Drive Profile system, which allows you to adjust steering and throttle response. A faster SEAT Leon Cupra, due in 2014, will be powered by a 2.0-litre TSI engine with as much as 261bhp.
As the new Leon is based on the same platform, features the same powertrains and has the same tech as the new Golf and A3, there’s no reason why the SEAT Leon shouldn’t prove to be extremely reliable. However, SEAT finished a disappointing 24th out of 30 in the 2012 Driver Power reliability survey, while the second-generation Leon finished 65th in the Top 100, having slid down the chart by 45 places in 12 months. Its biggest problems seem to be its disappointing practicality and frustration with its ride quality. As for safety, the Leon has a five-star rating from Euro NCAP, thanks to the use of more high-strength steel in the body, standard-fit stability control and a full complement of airbags.
Although it’s actually 52mm shorter than the car it replaces, the new Leon is more spacious. That’s because it has a more traditional hatchback shape this time, with its wheels pushed out further towards the four corners of the car, and a 58mm longer wheelbase. This ensures more space on the inside, with wide-opening rear doors and plenty of leg and headroom for tall passengers. There’s also lots of space for front seat passengers, and lots of adjustability for the seat and wheel, giving a comfortable driving position. What’s more, the increase in space means the SEAT Leon is well equipped with plenty of storage cubbies that make it a practical car to live with.
Forward visibility is good, but the large C-pillars do interrupt the view rearwards. The boot is 39 litres bigger than before, at 380 litres – it’s bigger than the Golf’s and considerably larger than that of a Ford Focus or Volvo V40. It’s a nice, deep shape, too, although the high lip makes it harder to load heavy items and the rear seats don’t quite fold flat, either. If you do need more space, though, a Leon ST estate will be made available towards the end of 2013.
Every engine in the Leon range is now turbocharged and features direct injection, with some units up to 22 per cent more efficient than the engines they replace. The MQB platform has also cut weight by 90kg from the previous car, and it’s also 10 per cent more aerodynamic than before. The 1.6 TDI Ecomotive returns average fuel consumption of 74.3 mpg and emits just 99g/km of CO2, which makes it very cheap to run. The entry-level 1.2 TSI engine manages 57.6mpg and emits 114/gm, while the 1.4 TSI can do 54.3mpg and 119g/km. But even the top-spec FR TDI diesel still returns more than 65mpg and emits 112g/km, despite being capable of a going from 0-62mph in 7.5 seconds. An even more frugal Ecomotive model, which emits 89g/km, will join the range later in 2013. Lastly, the Leon’s real trump card is a price tag that’s around 10 per cent cheaper than an equivalent Golf, plus predicted residuals that are every bit as strong.