Seat Leon Hatchback (2012 - ) Expert review
Read the SEAT Leon hatchback (2012 - ) car review by Auto Trader's motoring experts, covering price, specification, running costs, practicality, safety and how it drives
- Sporty exterior design
- Low weight gives good economy and performance
- Represents good value for money
- Dull interior plastics
- We miss the hidden rear door handles
- No alloy wheels on the S model
At a glance
The third SEAT Leon is less curvaceous than previous versions, with sharp lines replacing the rounded features and rear window of the old car. It looks great though, and will stand out when compared with more conservatively styled rivals from Volkswagen, Ford and Vauxhall. Even entry-level Leons have an athletic stance, as well as body-coloured mirrors, tinted windows and a chrome grille, but it’s worth upgrading to the FR version if you can afford it. You need at least an SE model to get standard alloy wheels, and sporty FR models look even better, with unique bumpers and twin exhaust pipes; they look sharper still if you choose bright paintwork and snazzy all-LED headlamps. The latter have a triangular daytime running light which really sets the car apart on the road.
This was the area which needed most improvement over previous Leons, and SEAT has succeeded in bringing the interior up to scratch. The infotainment and sat-nav system is now right at the top of the central console, at the same height as the instrument cluster, so it is much easier to reach (and read) while you're on the move. The materials all look and feel decent, with plenty of soft-touch plastic, and there are crisp and clear white and red displays. It's not as well built as a VW Golf, and the dark colours used do make it seem a tad dull, but the simple dash layout and clean design mean that it's really easy to use. Tech-lovers will want the Media System Plus, with a 5.8-inch display featuring a touch screen with pinch-to-zoom and finger-swiping, as well as crisp graphics. The standard system is ok, but can take a while to respond to you inputs, and it not as sharp as the latest systems. While the cabin isn’t quite as plush as the Volkswagen Golf or Audi A3’s, it’s not far off, and certainly beats the Vauxhall Astra and Ford Focus for desirability.
Despite its good looks, the Leon does well in this area. The 380-litre boot is bigger than that what you'll find in the Ford Focus and Vauxhall Astra (316 and 370 litres, respectively) and overall the Leon is well suited to families: there’s plenty of room for adults in both the front and rear seats. There is a transmission tunnel down the middle of the car though, so anyone sitting in the middle seat will have to straddle their feet either side. If you want a more versatile family car then the Skoda Octavia and Peugeot 308 can both squeeze more luggage into the back, though. The Leon also has quite a high loading lip too. All trim levels feature tyre pressure monitoring as standard, to alert you of a puncture, but only FR trim gets front and rear parking sensors. SE trim levels and above feature front fog lights, which illuminate in sharp bends to aid your view into the corner.
Ride and handling
The Leon is based around the same all-new platform first used in the 2012 A3 and Golf. With it comes greater refinement, comfort and a reduction in weight. Each model in the Leon range has shed an average of 90kg. This lightweight diet can be felt at the wheel, thanks to a keenness to change direction and a greater sense of agility than you get in some of its porkier rivals. Versions with 148bhp or less have a simpler suspension setup than the more powerful versions, but S and SE models provide a good blend of ride and handling. FR models are fitted with SEAT Drive Profile, a system which lets you choose from Eco, Normal, Sport and Individual throttle sensitivity and steering weights. In Sport mode, the backlighting turns from white to read, and in DSG auto models the gear changes happen at higher revs, but there’s no getting away from the firmer ride that the FR’s sports suspension brings - it's firm but controlled, although most buyers are likely to prefer the standard setup and smaller wheels of the SE versions.
There are three petrol engines, with 108, 148 and 178bhp, and the same number of diesel motors with 103, 148 and 181bhp. SEAT has covered all the bases here, but the 1.6-litre diesel is the big seller in the UK. Happily, this engine works well here. The small diesel can feel lethargic in some cars we’ve tested, but the Leon’s meagre weight gives it an extra lease of life. The same can be said for the 1.2-litre 108bhp petrol, which hits 62mph in ten seconds flat and feels surprisingly keen, meaning that buyers of the lowliest Leon shouldn’t feel shortchanged. The 148bhp diesel feels grown up, with plenty of power for motorway driving and reasonably good refinement. Sitting at the top of the range, the 181bhp diesel has an urgent surge of power between 1,500 and 3,000rpm (0-62mph in 7.5 seconds) which makes overtaking effortless, but it’s not a particularly satisfying engine to rev hard, partly because of its gruff note when using all its power. At the top of the range sits the Cupra version, with a special 2.0-litre petrol turbo engine. It comes with a seriously rapid 276bhp, and feels extremely fast - although sometimes it can struggle to put all of that power through the front wheels, despite a standard trick differential.
The Leon is fitted with a stop/start system and energy recuperation as standard, and every model apart from the hot hatch Cupra emits less than 139g/km of CO2. The top-selling 1.6-litre diesel emits 99g/km and averages 74.3mpg, and even the 181bhp diesel emits 112g/km while managing 65.7mpg. The 1.2-litre petrol is thrifty, too, with figures of 114g/km and close to 60mpg, at least according to the official government figures. Strong residuals have been predicted, with the 148bhp diesel FR model expected to retain of 44 per cent of its value after 36 months/30,000 miles (Focus 40 per cent, Astra 32 per cent).
The outgoing Leon had a good reputation for reliability, and the latest model has undergone serious testing to make sure it will also be up to scratch. It shares much of its mechanical technology with the A3 and Golf, for a lower price. These engines have all been blooded in a wide range of cars, so should be free from any hidden faults. Seat offers fixed price servicing to keep the cost of replacing parts reasonable, however the standard warranty is only three years - rather than the five, or even seven year cover offered by some of its family car rivals.
The Leon earned the maximum five stars in Euro NCAP crash tests, scoring well in the front and side impact tests, as well as providing good protection against whiplash in a rear-end impact. All versions are fitted with stability control, as well as twin front, side, curtain and driver’s knee airbags. SE and FR models add SEAT’s XDS system, which brakes an inside front wheel if it spins during hard cornering, improving traction.
The Leon range is well-equipped from the off, with even the basic S-trimmed models fitted with air-con, Bluetooth, five-inch touchscreen infotainment system, six speakers and remote audio controls. Step up to SE and you’ll get 16-inch alloys, front fog lights with cornering function, cruise control, rear electric windows, leather steering wheel and gear knob, front armrest and ambient lighting. More sports-orientated folk should opt for the FR, with 17-inch rims, LED taillights, dual-zone air-con, front and rear parking sensors, tinted rear glass, folding door mirrors, eight speakers, sports seats and SEAT Drive Profile. The Leon also boasts the first full-LED headlights fitted in a family hatchback. These arrays of LED bulbs produce a light that more closely represents daylight and a clean, unbroken beam, but will also set you back close to a grand. Other options include sat-nav, leather upholstery, heated seats, adaptive cruise control and other goodies.
The Leon provides great value and a fun drive, but it also has a fairly upmarket feel. Its interior and equipment are now reasons to buy a Leon, too, and it’s a serious contender in the fiercely fought hatchback sector. If you like the styling, then we'd say it was well worth checking out ahead of its sister cars from VW, Skoda and Audi.