SEAT Leon

First Report: The future’s bright as dramatic orange hatch joins our fleet!

  • The interior isn’t quite up to VW quality, but I prefer the SEAT’s lower-set driving position. By far the best thing about sitting in the front of the Leon is its sports seats. Although they don’t offer as much support as you’d find from some beefy Recaros, they are more than adequate – and on long trips they’ve proved suitably comfortable as well.
  • Open the tailgate, and the Leon’s boot is fine – with the seats in place, it offers 341 litres of space. But you have to be forceful with the hatch to get it to latch – and if it doesn’t shut properly, you may not notice from the outside. It shows up on the dash display, so you have to get out again.

Put on your shades – the Auto Express long-term fleet has been Tangoed! Our new SEAT Leon FR is finished in head-turning Lumina Orange paint. Not only will it be impossible to lose in a car park, it never fails to raise a smile among passers by – especially in the depths of winter, when it stands out so much against the dreary grey skies.

The colour combines well with the optional gloss black 18-inch alloy wheels and subtle bodykit, and ensures the FR looks every inch the hot hatch. Adding to the sense of occasion are the hidden rear door handles, brushed metal mirror casings and twin exhaust tailpipes.

I know some members of the Auto Express team reckon the rims have an aftermarket appearance, but as long as they are kept clean, I think they look great. What’s more, if the Leon was finished in a more subtle shade, it wouldn’t hold as much appeal for me – I simply love the attention this car gets.

Look past the outrageous colour scheme and you might be surprised to learn that there’s a 168bhp 2.0 TDI diesel engine under the bonnet. Available in various models across the VW Group, this unit won’t be the first choice for enthusiasts –but in the real world it makes a lot of sense. And I already love the flexibility it provides.

With 350Nm of torque available from as low as 1,800rpm, you don’t have to worry about changing down a gear for a burst of acceleration.

It sounds sporty, too, apart from the clatter on start-up. We’ve averaged economy of 42mpg so far, but this should rise as the unit loosens up.

The suspension doesn’t need to be run-in – it’s already more comfortable than previous hot Leons. Make no mistake, the set-up is still stiff compared to most mainstream family hatchbacks, but it’s only a problem when the surface is particularly rutted or broken. This is really welcome, as the car has to do more than its fair share of commuting.

The improved refinement hasn’t come at the expense of handling agility, either. The sporty suspension and clever electronic differential mean the SEAT really comes into its own along twisty back roads.

A comfortable and well equipped interior is just as important as a capable chassis in a daily driver, though – and I’m a big fan of the FR’s layout. I particularly like the low-set driving position and flat-bottomed steering wheel.

Standard equipment on the hatch is generous, but that didn’t stop us specifying a few extras. Parking sensors and a Bluetooth hands-free phone connection were essentials, while we also upgraded the audio system. The latter sounds great, although you need an extra cable if you want full control of your iPod.

Less impressive is the sat-nav, which has already started to play up. On one recent journey, it told us our destination was more than 3,300 miles away – my portable Garmin provided a much more accurate figure of 110 miles! A trip to the local dealer for a software check-up is definitely beckoning.

The only other blemish on the Leon’s copybook so far is the appearance of some stone chips on the bonnet and front bumper. I’m not sure if they are the result of the amount of grit on the roads from the recent bad weather, or down to the lacquer being soft. I’ll keep my eye on this – we don’t want to ruin that dazzling paintjob!

Extra Info

I recently spent a couple of weeks in the Leon, and I’ve become a big fan. It took me to west Wales and back with ease, averaging 45mpg on the M4 and proving a lot of fun on the twisty back roads around Pembrey.

Disappointingly, SEAT’s dedicated iPod lead hadn’t arrived in time for my trip, so I didn’t get full control over my MP3 player. But in every other respect, the car makes a lot of sense. It’s a great all-rounder, and the Leon looks fresh despite its advancing years – especially in orange.

Sam Hardy Deputy motoring editor

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