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First Drive: SEAT Leon

By / 8 months ago / Latest News / No Comments

Could the new Leon be the car to topple the Golf in the lower-medium class? Martyn Collins goes for a drive.

SECTOR Lower Medium   PRICE From £20,955   FUEL 44.1-67.3 mpg (WLTP)   CO2 111-133g/km (WLTP)

The launch of the latest Golf means it’s time for new sister cars, and first off the blocks is SEAT, with the new Leon hatch and estate.

Style-wise, it’s much of the same for the fourth-gen model, keeping Leon aficionados happy. But it’s narrower and lower than before; we think the last car was, arguably, more distinctive.

At the front, the nose and lights follow the Tarraco SUV, which previewed the new-generation SEAT family design. The Leon’s sharp shoulder line and rear haunches are new. We particularly like the distinctive tail-lights, with their Audi-like ‘light beam’ animated greeting; another welcome styling touch.

Trim levels kick off with the SE, featuring standard equipment including 16-inch alloy wheels, LED head and tail-lights, metallic paint and 8.25-inch touchscreen media system – although it’s not available until the autumn. SE Dynamic looks like the key fleet trim, with 17-inch alloy wheels, dark tinted rear windows, Digital Cockpit and 10-inch touchscreen media system. We have the sportiest trim currently available, the FR, with lowered sports suspension and a more aggressive design for the bumpers.

Step inside and the angular design of the Leon’s dash and door cards makes the latest Golf’s design look very conventional by comparison. Look closer, and it follows the Volkswagen’s lack of physical buttons on the centre console, although it doesn’t work any better. In fact, with its harder-to-read graphics, we found the SEAT’s high-mounted infotainment system even more complex to operate. There’s a choice of different views for the Digital Cockpit instruments; the conventional dials are the best in our opinion. Neat interior features on this car are the plentiful stowage and the charging pad in the centre console for mobile phones.

The quality of the dashboard plastics is a step up from the previous Leon, and metal parts such as the door handles add to the more premium feel. Sadly, other interior fittings, such as the door pulls, are made from disappointingly hard plastic. The driving position is comfortable and the FR’s sports seats are supportive.

What you can’t argue about is rear space which, with the 50mm longer wheelbase thanks to the new MQB Evo platform, means 86mm more of welcome legroom in the back. Boot space remains the same at 380 litres.

Engine choices include the 1.0-litre petrol, but most fleet drivers will go for the 1.5 TSI we tested in 128hp form, with WLTP combined consumption between 46.3-51.4mpg. A 148hp version of this engine is also available in mild-hybrid form. There’s also a 2.0-litre diesel, which is likely to be a much smaller seller.

Head behind the wheel and this version of the Leon feels willing and refined, although the six-speed manual transmission was a bit clunky in use – could it be a problem with the test car, we wonder? The steering is more responsive than the Golf’s and with the FR’s sportier set-up, there’s very little body roll in corners. The downside is this Leon’s hard ride.

It’s no longer positioned as the value-for-money alternative to a Golf; our test FR model has a £23,515 list price. But while it may be perceived as the most desirable model, we think the SE Technology trim, with its standard suspension set-up, might be the Leon fleet sweet spot. We look forward to trying that and the similarly distinctive Leon estate versions.

The Lowdown
Key Fleet Model: 1.5 TSi 130PS SE Technology
Strengths: Good to drive, rear space, plenty of standard equipment
Weaknesses: Hard ride, road noise, infotainment system difficult to operate

The Verdict
The Leon could steal the latest Golf’s thunder with its Spanish style and keener drive. As with the Golf, we have reservations over the Digital Cockpit and infotainment system.

FW Star Rating

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Martyn Collins

Martyn has 18 years experience as a motoring journalist, working across a wide selection of B2B and consumer titles. A car enthusiast since his early years, Martyn has a particular interest in the latest models and technology and in his spare time enjoys driving his own Minis.