Following its Volkswagen Golf sibling into the mid-size family hatchback market, the SEAT Leon keeps the strengths of the thoroughly Teutonic VW but with a youthful sense of flair and striking design.

What is it?

This is the third generation of the Leon to be offered in UK showrooms. It makes an appealing case for itself in this competitive market segment, with Spanish makers SEAT pushing the boat out with high levels of technology, attractive design both inside and out, and a range of powerful yet impressively clean and economical engines. Buyers can specify either a 1.2, 1.4 or 1.8-litre turbocharged petrol engine, or a 1.6 and 2.0-litre diesel.

What is it like to drive?

Sharing its underpinnings with the VW Golf and Audi A3, the new SEAT Leon delivers broadly the same driving experience: sure footed handling, good body control in corners and a general feeling of security and stability. While it might not engage a driver in the same way that a Ford Focus does, the Leon never feels inert, responding to inputs from the (pleasingly well shaped) steering wheel crisply.

Even the smallest engines in the range offer useful power so you won’t feel shortchanged by the cheap option. The 2.0-litre diesel will suit those who spend most of their time on the motorway thanks to bags of pulling power and a useful sixth gear which knocks the revs down substantially. This aids fuel consumption while also hushing engine noise, which can percolate into the cabin somewhat intrusively under acceleration.

FR models, such as the one tested here, have firmer suspension settings for a more sporting demeanour. Though it gives the ride a harder edge, it never becomes uncomfortable, even over more rutted surfaces.

What is it like inside?

While on first acquaintance the sharp angles and trapezoidal design details may seem like a contrived attempt to create some distance between the Leon and its straight-laced VW sibling, it’s a very cohesive cabin design that provides some real visual interest. The quality of construction is high, too, with dense, soft touch plastics and a solid feel to all the switchgear. There are some cheaper feeling elements, namely the plastics used on the lower parts of the centre console, but on the whole it feels like a premium product.

Adding to the up-market feel is the equipment list. Even entry level models are equipped with Bluetooth connectivity, a five-inch colour touchscreen, air conditioning and a six-speaker stereo with a multitude of external input ports for MP3 players. Venture up the model range and you’ll find all-round parking sensors, cruise control and full LED headlamps – a first for a car in this market sector.

Is it practical?

This new Leon is usefully larger inside than the previous model, despite actually being slightly shorter overall. The five-door model tested here has a spacious cabin for both front and rear passengers, with plenty of head, shoulder and leg room.

The boot is also larger, now 380 litres. Deep and usefully rectangular in shape, it has no intrusions into the load space from the rear wheel arches. Only the slightly high lip may prove a bugbear when loading bulkier items.

Should I buy one?

Absolutely. Whereas with the previous generation the Leon was something of an also-ran next to its rivals, key improvements in refinement, space and emissions now see it ranked amongst the best. Fun to drive, exciting (as far as hatchbacks go) to look at and comfortable on long journeys, the Leon is an extremely rounded offering from a company that has rediscovered its mojo of late. It’s also well equipped and is good value compared to both more expensive competition like the Golf and Audi A3, but also against traditionally more affordable options such as the Kia C’eed.

Convinced? Why not browse SEAT Leons now.

The facts

SEAT Leon FR 2.0 TDI

Price: £21,385
Engine: 2-litre, turbocharged, diesel
Power: 148bhp
Top speed: 134mph
0-62mph: 8.4 seconds
Fuel economy: 68.9mpg (combined)
Emissions: 106g/km CO2

Daljinder Nagra


April 20, 2013