Hot FR and Cupra models steal the limelight in the SEAT range, but the brand is no stranger to green variants, either. Its Ecomotive line-up includes the capable Leon hatch, which offers truly impressive economy figures without diminishing the appeal of the standard model.
That is especially the case with the styling – as it looks just like a regular Leon. Subtle badging and a blanked-off grille are the only clues to its eco credentials. And it takes keen fans to spot the lowered ride height of its sports suspension, which is designed to enhance aerodynamics.
Video: watch CarBuyer's video review of the SEAT Leon
A facelift in 2009 ensures the SEAT still looks fresh, even beside the futuristic Honda. Neat touches include the hidden rear door handles, and this eco version has attractive 16-inch alloy wheels.
Inside, the dash is as curvy as the bodywork, and the depth of the windscreen ensures a bright and airy feel. There’s lots of room up front, too, but while the SEAT borrows switchgear from owner VW, some parts of the cabin feel cheap. Still, it outclasses the Insight in terms of overall quality.
The seats are much more comfortable, with plenty of lateral support and adjustment, while rear passengers get far more head and legroom than in the Honda. And although the official figures suggest the Leon’s boot is less practical, it has more user-friendly proportions.
On the road, the Ecomotive instantly impresses. While the 1.6-litre TDI diesel clatters on start-up, it soon settles down once on the move. And thanks to a healthy dose of torque low in the rev range, it feels more responsive on the road.
Adding to this impression is the five-speed manual box. With every gearchange, it gives the SEAT another hit of acceleration – and that helps to make it a more rewarding driver’s car than the Honda, with its frustrating CVT transmission.
Through corners, the hatch is more confident, with the sports suspension doing a good job of controlling body movement. The trade-off is a slightly stiff ride – the Leon can occasionally crash into potholes or larger ruts, and becomes a little tiring on the motorway. But there’s more feel through the steering than in the Honda, while the brakes are better weighted, too, even if the initial bite can feel a little over-responsive.
What really impresses is how clean the SEAT is. It undercuts the Honda by 6g/km, putting out 99g/km of CO2. That means owners pay nothing for road tax and are exempt from the London Congestion Charge, unlike those who choose the Insight.
Officially, the Leon should return 74.3mpg, but as with its rival, we were unable to match this. In our hands, the Ecomotive returned 46.1mpg – that’s 7.6mpg more than the Insight. So the conventional SEAT has the edge for efficiency, cabin quality, space, driver appeal and running costs.
Chart position: 1WHY: With less than 100g/km of CO2 and 74mpg-plus combined economy, the Leon is impressively green. Factor in the stylish design, roomy cabin and decent driving dynamics, and it really appeals.