Used SEAT Leon review

A full used buyer’s guide on the SEAT Leon covering the Leon Mk2 (2005-2012) and Leon Mk3 (2013-date)

More small family cars are sold across Europe each year than any other type of vehicle, so when SEAT launched an all-new Leon in 2012 the stakes were high.

It was a move that worked well for the Volkswagen subsidiary as SEAT posted its best results ever in the UK. The third take on the Leon formula looked distinctive and offered Volkswagen Group underpinnings with a sharp suit – at prices rather more palatable than for an equivalent Golf.

So it was no wonder we crowned the smart SEAT Auto Express Car of the Year in 2013. The question is, how does the Mk3 stack up as a used buy three years later?

Models covered

The SEAT Leon has been on sale since 1999 and is now in its third generation. We’re focusing on the Mk2 and latest Mk3 in this review. 

  • SEAT Leon Mk2 (2005-2012) - Stylish hatchback still makes plenty of sense as a used buy  
  • SEAT Leon Mk3 (2013-date) - Stylish family hatch still stands out from the crowd and looks great value used

SEAT Leon Mk3 

History

The Leon five-door hatch hit showrooms in March 2013; four months later there was a super-stylish three-door SC edition, and by autumn 2013 an estate (called the ST) had been launched. Each came with 1.2, 1.4 or 1.8-litre TSI petrol engines or there were 1.6 and 2.0 TDI diesels. The 1.6 TDI Ecomotive offered from January 2014 had CO2 emissions of just 87g/km, while the Cupra that arrived at the same time offered up to 276bhp, which was enough to take it from 0-62mph in just 5.7 seconds. December 2014’s X-Perience was a Leon estate with a 2.0 TDI engine and four-wheel drive.

A refreshed Leon is due to land in showrooms in February 2017, offering a 1.0-litre TSI petrol engine option, luxurious Xcellence trim level, lots of driver assistance systems and a step up in connectivity.

Prices

Two-year-old cars will be between £10,000 and £18,000 depending on specification, while a four-year-old Leon will be in the £8,000 to £12,500 bracket.

Visit our sister site BuyaCar for the latest used SEAT Leon prices and deals

SEAT Leon Mk3 reviews

SEAT Leon in-depth reviewSEAT Leon 1.0 TSI SE Technology reviewSEAT Leon 1.2 TSI reviewSEAT Leon 1.6 TDI Ecomotive reviewSEAT Leon 2.0 TDI FR reviewSEAT Leon X-Perience reviewSEAT Leon Cupra in-depth reviewSEAT Leon Cupra 280 reviewSEAT Leon Cupra 290 reviewSEAT Leon ST in-depth reviewSEAT Leon ST 1.6 TDI SE reviewSEAT Leon ST 2.0 TDI FR reviewSEAT Leon Cupra long-term test reviewSEAT Leon SC FR long-term test reviewSEAT Leon X-Perience long-term test review

Which one should I buy?

The 1.2 TSI feels underpowered in the cut and thrust of everyday driving, but all other Leon engines have enough muscle to cope. That said, the 1.8 TSI and 2.0 TDI options are brilliant for any occasion – as is the DSG box.

All Leons are well equipped – even the base S edition features air-con, Bluetooth, heated mirrors, powered front windows, a multifunction steering wheel and tyre pressure monitoring. Move up to SE and you get alloys, cruise control, electric rear windows and hill hold assist. The FR has dual-zone climate control, parking sensors all-round, privacy glass, electric folding mirrors, sports seats and an upgraded stereo. 

Alternatives to the SEAT Leon Mk3

Most car manufacturers offer a Leon rival so you are spoiled for choice. The easiest to recommend is the Ford Focus thanks to its wide model range, ready availability, great driving experience and low prices. The spacious and well equipped Vauxhall Astra also represents good value for money.

Closely related to the Leon are the VW Golf and Audi A3, which are easy to applaud but more costly. While they don’t share the SEAT’s distinctive looks, they have most of its other characteristics, plus posher cabins.

For reliability and value check out the Hyundai i30 and its cousin the Kia Cee’d, while the Toyota AurisHonda Civic and Volvo V40 are also well worth a look. 

What to look for: 

Rattling trim

The door trims can creak and rattle a bit, but (somewhat unusually) the noise tends to go away, rather than become worse, if everything is left alone.

Map updates

In some countries SEAT offers a navigation software update service called Mapcare. But this isn’t available in the UK, where a new SD card will cost £150. 

Rear lights

The tail-light clusters can suffer from failed seals, which allows moisture to get in and leads to condensation. Dealers are aware of the issue. 

Headlights

Many (but not all) Leons have LED headlights. They’re more durable and use less power than conventional lights, but are no brighter. 

Interior

It’s typical Volkswagen Group inside the Leon – everything is clearly laid out but it’s all rather sombre. Cabin space is good as long as you view this as a four-seater, and a generously sized boot adds to the practicality; it can stow 380 litres with the rear seats in place, or 1,150 litres with them folded. 

Running costs

The Leon Mk3 needs to be serviced every 12 months or 10,000 miles. The first check-up is £179 and the second £239, after which things alternate between minor and major at £159 and £269 respectively.

Leon engines are fitted with a cambelt that has to be replaced every five years or 80,000-120,000 miles. Expect to pay £329 to have the belt replaced on a petrol engine and £399 on a diesel. It’s recommended that the water pump is replaced at the same time, which adds another £130. The brake fluid should also be replaced every three years; dealers charge £49 for this service. 

Recalls

Throughout 17 years of selling Leons in the UK, SEAT has issued just seven recalls, across two generations of cars. Those campaigns (the most recent was in 2011) covered the Mk1 and Mk2; the Mk3 has yet to be recalled, and SEAT says it’s unaffected by the dieselgate emissions scandal.

Since the beginning of 2013 when the Leon Mk3 made its debut, SEAT has issued a total of just three callbacks – one for the Mii and two for the Ibiza, because of potential airbag glitches and fuel leaks.

Driver Power owner satisfaction

Fourth place in our Driver Power 2015 satisfaction survey was a mightily impressive result. In 2016 the SEAT dropped to 23rd, but that’s still pretty good. The highlights were in-car tech (third), handling (17th) and performance (15th). Build quality scores (136th) were disappointing, although 85th for seat comfort wasn’t great, either.

Verdict

Creating something that stood out from the crowd in this competitive market was never going to be easy. But it’s fair to say that SEAT succeeded with its sharp-looking Leon and, even four years after we first saw it, the car looks superb, especially in three-door SC form. There is a wide choice of engines, transmissions, bodystyles and trims available, so there’s a Leon for everyone, whether your focus is on economy or performance, practicality or sportiness.

Considering low-mileage Leons are available for less than £10,000, the Volkswagen Golf is suddenly looking a bit too expensive – especially when in some ways the SEAT is the superior car.

Click through to page two for our full buyer’s guide on the SEAT Leon Mk2 sold from 2005 to 2012…

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