Like with most cars of this type, you have a wide range of petrol and diesel engines to choose from in the Leon. The 1.6-litre diesel is the big-seller, and although it’s fairly gutsy, it is quite buzzy at lower revs and also sounds very boomy at motorway speeds. To our minds, the 1.0-litre three-cylinder petrol engine is a far better bet. It does feels a little 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 150PS 2.0-litre diesel is another decent choice, as it delivers plenty of power and it’s infinitely quieter at motorway speeds than the vocal five-speed 1.6 diesel. The strongest mixture of performance and efficiency comes from the 184PS diesel, which has an urgent surge of power between 1500 and 3000rpm. It’s not a particularly satisfying engine to rev hard, though, because of its gruff note when using full power.
Of all the engines, the punchy, sweet-revving 150PS 1.4-litre petrol motor is our favourite, because of its intoxicating combination of impressive economy, excellent refinement and strong performance. We’ve also had a go in the 300PS Cupra hot hatch version, which was fitted with four-wheel drive and a six-speed twin-clutch automatic gearbox. It 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 turbocharged 2.0-litre 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.