Road Test: SEAT Leon FR SC 1.4 TFSI
Sector: Lower-medium Price: £19,265 Fuel: 54.3mpg CO2: 119g/km
For a brand with affordable sportiness at the heart of its DNA, the Leon SC has been suspicious by its absence throughout the hatch’s 1998 debut. Now, for the first time, the Leon is available not only as a five-door hatchback, but as a capacious ST estate and this stylish SC three-door coupe, just like the Ibiza.
Five-door hatchbacks account for the bulk of sales in this segment, but the Leon SC gives SEAT a convincing lower-price alternative to the Volkswagen Scirocco, as well as a model to take on newcomers from Kia, Hyundai and Vauxhall.
Its five-door sibling is a good base, though. Of the Volkswagen Group’s latest C-segment cars, the new Leon is arguably the prettiest, especially with the optional LED headlamps and range-topping FR’s sportier styling. It’s also the cheapest car on the new platform, at £15,370 for the entry-level 1.2 TFSI SC.
At the sports-styled FR end of the range, though, it’s a great option for user-choosers. This gets the most powerful engines, including a petrol and diesel with 178 and 182bhp respectively, and there’s the option of a 148bhp 2.0 TDI and the 138bhp 1.4 TFSI tested here lower down the range. On-the-road pricing is also £4,000 cheaper than the equivalent Audi A3 S line.
The two cars aren’t identical mechanically, though. Cylinder on Demand, which allows the four-cylinder engine to switch to two-cylinder mode under low loads, isn’t available on the Leon yet – a contributing factor to the 15mpg and 9g/km CO2 difference between this and the A3. But with six gears and an Eco mode it’s not too hard to drag fuel economy up to around 40mpg on the motorway.
Broadly speaking, the two cars feel very similar to drive. The Volkswagen Group’s MQB chassis is excellent, achieving both excellent roadholding and high speed comfort while also shedding weight. Different engine options make the two cars hard to compare, but the Leon only weighs around 100kg more than an Ibiza, and the light petrol engine up front means it’ll change direction with the urgency of a much smaller car.
Opting for the SC does come with a sacrifice in rear passenger space, though. There’s a 35mm reduction in wheelbase – a lot of which is lost in the back – and a shallower roofline, but the rear bench feels less claustrophobic than on some of its rivals, including the Scirocco, and boot space is unchanged.
Trim levels radically alter the way the SC looks, and the more lowly models can look a little plain, but in FR form SEAT finally has exactly the mid-sized Coupe its range has always cried out for. With Cupra and Cupra R versions both likely to be in the pipeline, it’s a good brand-booster and great fun to drive with petrol or diesel power under the bonnet.
The Volkswagen Group’s latest direct-injection, turbocharged petrol engines offer a good blend of spirited low-rev performance and economy, provided the car they’re fitted to has six gears to lower the load on motorway trips. Cylinder on Demand would help, though. A good fit for SEAT’s sportiest-ever Leon.