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The Auto Trader expert verdict: ★★★★★ ★★★★★ 4.0

The Seat Leon shares most of its oily bits with the Volkswagen Golf on which it’s based, and it also competes with other mid-size family hatchbacks like the Ford Focus and Vauxhall Astra, to name but a few. It’s praise indeed, then, that even in a class that’s full of seriously impressive cars, the Leon is one of the more appealing options.

Reasons to buy

  • Sporty exterior design
  • Good economy and performance
  • Excellent value for money

Running costs for a SEAT Leon 4/5

Compare the Leon’s prices with those of rivals such as the Ford Focus, Vauxhall Astra, Volkswagen Golf and Peugeot 308, and you’ll like what you see, as they’re among the lowest of the lot. The car’s desirability on the used car market also means that resale values are pretty strong, and this means better protection for your investment over a long-term ownership period, or if you’re a finance customer, lower monthly bills. The Leon also has the edge over most rivals for service and maintenance costs, and while it’s not the most efficient car of its type, it really isn’t far off, so you won’t be paying an abnormal amount in fuel and tax. All in all, this will be a very affordable car to own, and will represent excellent value for money.

Reliability of a SEAT Leon 3/5

According to the 2019 JD Power Vehicle Dependability Survey, things couldn’t look any more average in this area. Seat finished slap-bang in the middle of the table of manufacturers, right on the cusp of the industry average (just ahead of it, actually). Should anything go wrong with your Ibiza, Seat offers an also-very-average three-year/60,000-mile warranty.

Safety for a SEAT Leon 4/5

All versions of the Leon are fitted with an impressive slice of standard safety kit that includes seven airbags, electronic stability control and, importantly, automatic emergency braking complete with pedestrian protection. The high-end Cupra Lux versions add a safety pack that includes a tiredness recognition system and seatbelt reminders for the rear seats, while the Xcellence Lux version also adds lase assist, high beam assist and traffic sign recognition.

How comfortable is the SEAT Leon 4/5

With the exception of the Skoda Octavia, you’d be hard pushed to find a car of this ilk that strays too far from the unifying dimensions of the class, and the Leon is no exception. There’s a pretty generous amount of head-, leg- and shoulder room for four, although in common with nearly every car in this class, there is also a transmission tunnel running down the middle of the car, so anyone sitting in the middle rear seat will be left with the question of where to place their feet. You also get a boot that’s similar in size to a Volkswagen Golf's, so the Leon matches the vast majority of its rivals for space and practicality.

Thanks to the simple dash layout and clean design, everything is easy to use, and the touch-screen infotainment system is pretty easy to find your way around. But although most of the cabin materials look and feel of decent quality, and there’s a sufficient amount of soft-touch plastic to give you a general feeling of well-being, it’s still true that the materials feel harder and cheaper (particularly on the door trims and in the lower recesses of the cabin) than those in a Golf, and a few other rivals besides.

On the road, there’s a lot to like about the way the Leon behaves. Balancing ride comfort and handling ability is always a delicate compromise, but the Leon finds a really nice sweet spot between both attributes, keeping life impressively civilised but providing enough sharpness to keep things feeling secure and entertaining. The FR models have a sports suspension that trades a wee bit of comfort for a bit of extra sharpness, but these will still be plenty comfortable enough for most.

If you want maximum engagement from your Leon, the Cupra’s bespoke adaptive suspension makes it feels wonderfully crisp in the bends, while additional clever electronic traction aids help maximise grip and stability. It’s great fun to fling around on any sort of road. And, while the ride does have the edge you expect from a hot hatch, the Cupra is actually quite a bit comfier than many of its hardcore rivals.

Features of the SEAT Leon 4/5

The Leon range is well-equipped from the off, with even the basic SE-trimmed models fitted with alloy wheels, air-con, cruise control, Bluetooth, metallic paint, front fog lights with cornering function, leather steering wheel and gear knob, four electric windows and a touchscreen infotainment system with DAB, Bluetooth and full smartphone integration courtesy of both Android Auto and Apple CarPlay. SE Dynamic adds bigger wheels, rear privacy glass, sat-nav and front and rear parking sensors, while FR trim earns you a sporty exterior makeover, full LED lighting, climate control and automatic lights and wipers. The FR Black Edition adds menacing exterior styling as well as a digital cockpit (instead of analogue dials) and heated seats, while Xcellence trim adds leather upholstery, adaptive cruise control, keyless go, wireless phone charging and a reversing camera. Xcellence Lux trim adds a few extra bits of safety kit, while the relationship between sporty Cupra and Cupra Lux models is similar.

Power for a SEAT Leon 4/5

To our minds, there’s not a lot wrong with the entry-level engine on offer in the Leon, a turbocharged 1.0-litre three-cylinder petrol with 115 horsepower. It feels a tiny bit stuttery at the very bottom of the rev range, but keep the dial upwards of 1500rpm and it feels really perky and responsive. It’s also impressively smooth and quiet unless you really extend it to its limits, but it’s so eager lower down that you’ll barely ever have to. The slickness of the six-speed manual gearbox helps towards a rewarding driving experience, too. The two other mainstream petrol options are 1.5 turbos with either 130- or 150 horsepower, and so far, we’ve only tried the more powerful of the pair. It’s a real cracker, too, because it provides a properly impressive mix of performance, economy and refinement.

Diesel buyers choose between a 115-horsepower 1.6 and a 150-horsepower 2.0-litre. The 1.6 feels fairly gutsy, but it is quite buzzy at lower revs and also sounds quite boomy at motorway speeds. The 2.0-litre is much more like it, as it delivers lots of muscle and is infinitely quieter.

We’ve also had a go in the Cupra hot hatch version, which has a 2.0-litre turbo petrol engine with a whopping 290 horsepower channelled to the front wheels via a twin-clutch automatic gearbox. It’s a bit of a schizophrenic experience, but in a good way. Select the Normal mode, and the car feels undeniably brisk but actually pretty docile in the way it delivers its power, while the gearbox stays smooth and relaxed. Things get progressively more intense as you get sportier with the driving modes, and if you select Cupra - the most hardcore of the lot - it turns into an absolute raging lunatic. The gearbox keeps the engine working to its limits at all times, and because the engine thrives on revs, this delivers truly electrifying pace. Not quite as much pace as the very hottest of hot hatches, perhaps, but it’s really not far off.