Road Test: SEAT Leon
Could this Leon be the car to topple the Golf? Martyn Collins gets behind the wheel.
The launch of the latest Volkswagen Golf means it’s time for new sister cars, and first out of the blocks is SEAT, with the new Leon hatchback and estate.
Style-wise, it’s much of the same for the fourth-generation model, keeping Leon aficionados happy. But it’s narrower and lower than before and arguably a bit less distinctive.
At the front, the nose and lights follow the Tarraco SUV, which previewed the latest-generation SEAT family design. The Leon’s sharp shoulder line and rear haunches are new, as are the particularly distinctive tail lights, with their Audi-like ‘light beam’ animated greeting, which is another welcome styling touch.
The Leon range starts with the SE, with standard equipment including 16-inch alloy wheels, LED head and tail-lights, metallic paint and 8.25-inch touchscreen media system – it’s priced from £19,855. SE Dynamic will also appeal to fleet with 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. FR Sport includes a Winter Pack and 18-inch machined alloy wheels. Xcellence and Xcellence Lux trims are the range toppers, with unique bumpers and grille and 17-inch ‘Dynamic’ alloy wheels.
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, the SEAT’s high-mounted infotainment system is a little harder to operate. There’s also a choice of different views for the Digital Cockpit instruments; the conventional dials are the best option though. 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. However, other interior fittings, such as the door pulls are made from slightly harder plastic. That said, the driving position is comfortable and the FR’s sports seats are very 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 welcome legroom in the back. Bootspace remains the same at 380 litres.
Engine choices start with the 108hp 1.0-litre petrol, which is RDE2-compliant, escapes the 4% BiK surcharge and brings lower VED. Official WLTP combined fuel consumption is 47.1-52.3mpg, while WLTP CO2 is 123g/km, putting the 1.0 TSI in the 27% bracket for 2020/21. This is followed by the 1.5 TSI on test here, in 128hp form, with WLTP Combined consumption between 46.3-51.4 mpg and WLTP CO2 of 124g/km. A 148hp version of this engine is also available in mild-hybrid form. There’s also a 111g/km 2.0-litre TDi diesel, with 60.1-67.3mpg which is likely to be a much smaller seller.
The Leon feels willing and refined, with steering that is more responsive than the Golf’s and due to the FR’s sportier set-up, there’s very little body roll in corners. The downside to this is the Leon’s slightly firmer 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, the SE Technology trim, with its standard suspension set-up, might be the Leon fleet sweet spot.
As with the Golf, we have reservations over the Digital Cockpit and infotainment system. The Leon could steal the latest Golf’s thunder with its Spanish style and keener drive.
Key Fleet Model: 1.5 TSI 130PS SE Technology
Strengths: Good to drive, rear space, plenty of standard equipment
Weaknesses: Firm ride, infotainment system difficult to operate
Fleet World Star Rating