The Auto Trader expert verdict:
The SEAT Leon is like a Volkswagen Golf under the skin, but with its own character. The cabin isn’t quite as special.
Reasons to buy:
- Distinctive, sporty looks
- Well-equipped broad range of models to suit all needs
- Golf heritage gives confidence
How good does it look?
Nothing else on the road looks like a SEAT Leon. Its styling, based on the Salsa concept car, has lasted well and still looks modern, though SEAT’s chief designer Luc Donckerwolke is going down a different route with more recent models. All the pillars are too large, and some of the windows are too small, so visibility is a big problem. Style, not practicality, was in the minds of the designers when they created the Leon.
What's the interior like?
SEAT interiors are not usually made from very high-quality materials, but the design is usually interesting, and that’s the case with the Leon. The heavily-cowled instrument panel is particularly attractive. The large centre tunnel takes up quite a lot of space in the rear, and the interior mirror is badly placed, blocking a lot of the view through the windscreen.
How practical is it?
People buy Leons for the style, and possibly the price, rather than for practicality. At 341 litres its luggage volume is nearly the same as that of its close relative, the Volkswagen Golf, but both lag well behind the Ford Focus and Vauxhall Astra. The tailgate opening is narrow near the bottom and the load sill is slightly too high for comfort.
What's it like to drive?
SEAT sets its cars up to handle safely rather than in an exciting manner, so enthusiasts are unlikely to be stimulated by a Leon’s dynamics. For several years the high-performance models were too stiff for British roads, but SEAT changed its policy, and since 2009 the quicker models have been much smoother and more effective through bumpy corners. Now the road noise is more of an issue than the ride.
How powerful is it?
The 261bhp 2.0 TSI Leon Cupra R is the most powerful car SEAT has ever put into production, covers 0-62mph in 6.2 seconds and has a top speed of 155mph. The next sportiest model, the Leon Cupra, is no longer in production so if the Cupra R is too rich for your blood (and your money) it’s the Leon FR and FR+. These models boast a winning combination of performance and practicality which appeal to head and heart. The petrol line-up’s 208bhp 2.0-litre TSI boasts performance which doesn’t fall far short of the Cupra R – covering 0-62mph in 6.9 seconds with a top speed of 145mph. The 123bhp 1.4 TSI FR is, as might be expected, somewhat slower with a 0-62mph time of 9.8 seconds and 122mph. The final turbocharged model in the line-up is the 104bhp 1.2-litre TSI with a 0-62mph time of 10.9 seconds and 116mph top speed. If performance doesn’t matter there’s a more pedestrian alternative in the shape of the 84bhp 1.2 TSI with 14.1seconds 0-62mph time and 107mph top speed. As for diesel, there is a choice of 168bhp and 138bhp 2.0-litre engines as well as a 104bhp 1.6-litre diesel engine which can be specified in green Ecomotive form. These offer a good range of performance though not in the same ballpark as the Cupra R and 2.0-litre TSI.
How much will it cost me?
The Ecomotive is the pick for the most frugal Leon buyer. Its 1.6-litre diesel engine returns an average 74.3mpg and emitting just 99g/km CO2 output, is tax and congestion charge free. The pair of 2-litre diesel versions each returns around 60mpg. Even the Cupra R should still you hit the mid-30s mpg with the 1.4-litre models adding a further 10mpg on top of that.
How reliable is it?
The expensive bits of the Leon, such as the engines and transmissions, are designed by Volkswagen, so it’s reasonable to expect that they will last a long time. That applies even to the FR and Cupra models, so expect durability with these too. There have only been two manufacturer recalls, affecting the flywheel in early 2006 cars and a small number of Leon’s fitted with the DSG semi-automatic gearbox in 2009.
How safe is it?
Euro NCAP last tested the Leon back in 2005, but as the car has remained basically unchanged since then the results are still relevant. SEAT had to accept a four-star rating for adult occupant protection because of the risk of injury to the driver’s legs and knees. There was better news in other areas, the Leon achieved four stars for child occupant protection and an impressive three out of four for pedestrian protection. Electronic stability programme (ESP), anti-lock brakes (ABS) and brake assist are fitted to all models, so you don’t have to pay extra in order to feel more secure.
How much equipment do I get?
There are plenty of generously-equipped versions to choose from, especially now the current car is five years into its lifespan. The range starts at S and runs through S Copa, SE Copa, FR and FR+ with Cupra R the top trim. The S sits on 15-inch steel wheels but comes with air-con and a host of safety equipment including Anti-Lock Brakes and Emergency Brake Assist as well as six airbags. S Copa adds 16-inch Elio alloy wheels (to the 1.2-litre TSI), front fog lights with cornering function, multifunctional steering wheel, Dual Zone Climate Control, Bluetooth, Cruise control and Electric heated mirrors. SE Copa adds SEAT Media System 2.2 with DAB and touch screen sat-nav, rear parking sensors and automatic lights and wipers. FR versions come with twin chrome exhaust pipe, silver-painted door mirrors, LED rear-light clusters, sports seats and steering wheel. The FR+ adds 18-inch Ibera alloy wheels, the SEAT Media System 2.2, as above Bi-xenon headlights with Adaptive Front-lighting System and front parking sensors. The Cupra R boasts 19-inch Potenza alloy and a specially configured suspension, front grille bumper logos rear wheelhouse mouldings, bucket sports seats and aluminium-covered pedals. It also has parking, rain and light sensors.
Volkswagen underpinnings, Spanish style and a generous heap of well-priced equipment options applied to a host of models covering most needs. The FR models are particularly appealing for their superb mix of fun and practicality.