Ten Point Test

Auto Trader Ten Point Test rating: 81%

The Seat Leon is the five-door hatchback for those looking for something different; something with plenty of flair and Spanish verve.

And while power-hungry petrolheads might chase the range topping, 240bhp Cupra model, there’s a real risk they might miss this; the sublime FR.

We spent a week with one to find out what the fuss is about.

1. Looks 8/10

Buyers looking for a classic three box family car should walk on past their local Seat showroom – the Spanish manufacturer doesn’t do conventional. Rather than praising its practicality, it hides it to add to Seat’s sporty image. The rear door handles, for example, are hidden in the door pillars for a smooth look, while the tapered side windows give no hint to the space in the cabin. The Leon’s sides are scalloped and the bonnet is awash with curves. Naturally, as this model is the sporty FR – Formula Racing – model, there’s a host of go-faster trimmings, including front and rear bumpers which are shared with the faster Cupra model, FR badging and a set of 17-inch alloys.

2. Looks inside 8/10

The flair continues in the cabin with plenty of curves to brighten up the otherwise bland dash and a chunky-looking – and feeling – steering wheel. There’s the obligatory smattering of FR branding around the interior, including the dials, seat backs and steering wheel. The controls glow a piercing red when the lights are on, and can be tricky to read.

3. Practicality 7/10

The Leon’s sporty pretensions hide the fact it’s a practical five-door hatch, with hidden rear door handles which need pointing out to passengers getting in for the first time. The boot release is the rear Seat badge, but once the tailgate is lifted, the Leon’s decent sized 341-litre boot is exposed. It’s not class-leading, but big enough for a couple of suitcases (fold the seats and space expands to 1,166 litres) .The narrow and high sill hampers access however. Taller drivers, or those who like to adjust the seat base to higher positions may find the sloping roofline and huge rear view mirror restricts forward visibility.

4. Ride and Handling 9/10

It might be a hot hatch, but the Leon FR’s ride is pretty good. It sits 7mm lower than standard Leons, but 7mm higher than the range-topping Cupra model. The steering is responsive and offers plenty of feedback, giving the driver an indication of what the wheels are up to. There’s massive amounts of grip, allowing the driver to make the most of the fantastic chassis, which it shares with the Volkswagen Golf GTi.

5. Performance 9/10

There are two 2-litre engines available with the Leon FR: a 168bhp diesel and a 197bhp petrol. Both are good performers, offering a fun drive, although those seeking outright thrills would be better served by the petrol unit, which is shared with the Golf GTi. There’s a massive amount of low-down pull and it’s eager to rev. The power can be transmitted to the front wheels via a six-speed manual or DSG sequential automatic gearbox as fitted to our test car. The DSG (Direct Shift Gearbox) can be used in either fully automatic or semi-automatic modes with the steering wheel-mounted paddled. The gear changes are virtually instant, and the DSG is one of the best gearboxes available at the moment. The Leon FR can accelerate to 62mph in 7.3 seconds (7.2 for the DSG version), while both car’s top speeds are 142mph, while the manual diesel FR boasts an 8.3 second 0-62mph dash and a 135mph top speed.

6. Running Costs 8/10

At a shade over £17,000, the Leon FR is around £4,000 cheaper than the equivalently-specced Golf GTi and insurance groups are markedly lower – 17E for the Golf, but just 14E for the Seat. Seat says the Leon FR we tested should cover 35.8mpg, but our combination of fast A-road driving and congested city centre commutes dropped this to around 26mpg. Emissions of 190g/km of CO2 place it in tax Band F, which currently costs £205 per year.

7. Reliability 9/10

No major worries here. Seat is part of the VW/Audi group, and is assembled with the same care and competence. The Reliability Index says Seat perform better than most with respect to the frequency and costs of repairs.

8. Safety 7/10

The Leon has scored four out of five stars in the EuroNCAP crash test programme – less than the full five many of its rivals achieve. The Leon FR has six airbags as standard, with the option of rear side ‘bags. It also features a plethora of other systems, including traction and stability control, ABS and brake assistance.

9. Equipment 8/10

Given the Leon FR’s comparative bargain price tag, there’s plenty of kit as standard. Buyers will receive dual zone climate control, an MP3-compatible CD player, 17-inch alloy wheels, cruise control, tyre pressure monitoring system, remote central locking and all the safety and sporty bits previously mentioned as standard. Other equipment is available on the options list, with much of it bundled as part of various packs. The gearbox is an expensive option at more than £1,000, but it’s well worth the extra outlay.

10. X-Factor 8/10

Fast, fun and ferocious, the Leon FR is arguably the pick of the Leon range. It might not be as fast as the Cupra version, but it handles better and is tremendous value for money.

Key facts

Model tested: Seat Leon FR 2-litre T FSI DSG
On the road price: £17,695
Range price: £12,280 – £19,440
Date tested: September 2007
Road tester: Stuart Milne