SEAT Leon 2.0 TDI FR

The all-new SEAT Leon FR gets the VW Group's powerful and efficient new 181bhp 2.0-litre TDI

Overall Auto Express Rating

5.0 out of 5

That the new Leon FR would look the part was never in question, even in five-door form. However, you really feel like you get value for money, not just with the improved interior, but with the depth of engineering that has gone into making the FR one of the best diesel hot hatches you can buy. The engine is superb, and is matched by a great chassis and some really nicely weighted controls. And that’s even before the Leon plays its ultimate trump card – it’s not only better equipped, cleaner and more powerful than the current Volkswagen Golf GTD, it’s cheaper, too. An enthralling back-to-back test awaits, when the new GTD arrives in summer 2013.

We have to wait until early 2014 for the high-performance Leon Cupras to arrive. So until then, SEAT hot hatch fans will have to content themselves with the diesel-powered Leon FR, which is available to order now but won’t arrive with UK customers until April next year.

But that wait might well be worth it. The diesel-powered flagship certainly has the promise of a seriously competent everyday hot hatch, mixing a 0-62mph time of 7.5 seconds with fuel economy of more than 65mpg.

Like all new Leons, the FR gets the same iteration of SEAT’s ‘Arrow Head’ design language that makes it stand out in the crowded hatchback C-segment. The creased bonnet leads into a pair of angular headlights, which can be had with full LED technology – a first for the segment and a decent one-up for SEAT over its sister brand Audi.

More creases add interest to the car’s wedge-shaped profile, while the rear of the FR model gets nice Alfa Romeo Giulietta-style LED tail-lights and a twin exhaust.

The overall look of the FR, even in five-door form, is seriously stylish, especially next to the Audi A3 and Volkswagen Golf, which also use the same MQB platform as the Leon.

Despite being shorter than the outgoing Leon, there’s lots more space inside and a bigger boot. Quality is way up on the old car, with the interior boasting vastly improved materials, from the soft plastic on the dash top to the gloss black and chrome detailing.

All Leons get a central touchscreen, which on the FR is also used to control the SEAT Drive Profile that lets you adjust the response of the steering, throttle and even the engine sound.

And while there’s no mistaking the 2.0-litre TDI as a diesel, especially when you start the engine from cold in Sport mode in particular, the engine makes a noise that’s uncannily like that made by the petrol-powered Mk5 VW Golf GTI, with a whoosh of turbo overscoring a nice, gruff engine note.

The engine produces GTI-worrying performance, too. It has a relatively wide power band for a diesel unit, giving a really decent slug of torque from just under 2,000rpm right up to around 4,000rpm, and producing more than enough power to poke the traction control into life accelerating out of our test route’s tighter bends.

Keeping the engine within that rev range is easy, too, with a super-slick six-speed manual matched by great brakes, which no longer have the harsh grab of the previous sporty Leons.

The ride is way better than the old model, too. On engines over 148bhp, the Leon uses a multi-link rear suspension - rather than a torsion beam on lower spec cars - which gives a firm but very supple ride. It has a wider track than the old car, too, and is 15mm lower than the rest of the new Leon range, ensuring plenty of mid-corner stability.

Also worth a mention is the steering. The wheel itself has a nice, thin rim and is relatively light but super direct, even with the heavier diesel engine in its nose, which bodes well for the petrol-powered Cupra models.

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