SEAT Leon 2008 review

The latest Leon features a host of fuel-saving modifications.

Overall Auto Express Rating

4.0 out of 5

There’s no doubt that the Leon ECOmotive is more about saving money today, rather than the environment tomorrow. But that will be enough to attract cost-conscious buyers. As a fuel-efficient car without any compromises, it comes highly recommended – providing the Spanish marque doesn’t set the price too high. There’s even talk of the technology becoming standard across the Leon’s diesel range. Let’s hope it does, and that SEAT firmly establishes eco-friendly motoring for all, not just those who can afford the premium.

How far does one tank of fuel take you in your car? Chances are it won’t be able to match SEAT’s latest green machine, which, on a single fill, can make it from London to Barcelona.

That’s more than 900 miles for the most economical model in the sporty Leon line-up. Couple the lengthy range with reduced CO2 emissions, and this could be the SEAT that finally offers driving thrills to those with an eye on their wallets and the environment.

Video: watch CarBuyer's video review of the SEAT Leon

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Badged ECOmotive, it is all about the evolution of existing engines, rather than developing new technology. As a result, there’s no electric motor or hydrogen fuel cells under the bonnet. Instead, the existing 103bhp 1.9-litre oil-burning powerplant has been tweaked for economy, and gets a revised engine management system and the latest diesel particulate filter.

Throw in a set of low-resistance tyres and a five-speed gearbox with extra-long ratios, and the result is a combined fuel figure up from 56mpg to 62.8mpg. What’s more, CO2 emissions have been slashed from 135g/km to 119g/km and weight reduced from 1,405kg to 1,320kg.

SEAT bosses are yet to confirm costs, but expect to pay more for the Leon’s green credentials. The premium could be as little as £350, or as much as £850, over the standard £13,645 1.9 TDI. At worst, buyers will have to cover at least 30,000 miles a year to recoup the cost.

So is the new ECOmotive worth the extra? The reduction in weight shaves 0.4 seconds off the 0-62mph time – which is now 10.9 seconds – and despite the switch to harder tyres and smaller wheels, it retains the sporty character we’ve come to expect from the Leon range.

In fact, it’s only the revised gear ratios that detract from the overall package. Third, fourth and fifth have all been lengthened for economy – fifth by a substantial 16 per cent. On motorways, that is a bonus, but tackle a back road, and you’ll constantly be forced to change down. Even at 50mph, the SEAT struggles to pull in top gear.

However, on our test route in the Spanish hills, the ECOmotive averaged a respectable 52mpg, and a superb 64mpg on the open road.

Ultimately, with only a sticker on the boot indicating that the model is different from the rest of the Leon range, the ECOmotive really lacks the visual catchet of Toyota’s celebrity-endorsed Prius, or even Volkswagen’s Bluemotion range of models.

Despite this, SEAT’s claim about its efficiency seems genuine. What’s more, with Band B annual road tax and possible exemption from the capital’s Congestion Charge scheme – depending on where London Mayor Ken Livingstone sets the bar – the frugal Leon is a sensible bet for motorists aiming to beat soaring fuel costs and do their bit for the planet.

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