Good-looking Leon with a touch of verve
Keith Ward SEAT of Spain is celebrating 60 years as a carmaker, originally collaborating with Fiat, but now part of Volkswagen.
The Leon is fast emerging from the shadow of its VW Group stablemates which share its basic platform – the Golf, Audi A3 and latest Skoda Octavia. It is the Leon which continues to pick up media and consumer awards and at the wheel it is not difficult to see why. It played a part in SEAT UK selling nearly 8,500 cars in September this year – more than in any other month in the Spanish subsidiary’s 28year history on these shores.
It follows a record full year in 2012, figures surely owing something also to the brand’s vigorous marketing deals and competitive pricing, which tends to undercut that of its VW siblings. An ST estate version of the Leon has recently joined the three-door SC and the five-door hatch sampled here. For the five- door, a choice of three petrol and three diesel engines and three levels of trim pitch prices between £15,670 and £22,375. Ours was the mid-rated but punchy 150 PS, 2.0-litre diesel, targeted to account for three out of 10 customers. Top FR trim adds such as exclusive badging, LED tail lights, twin chrome exhaust, 17-inch alloys, tinted rear windows, sports seats with red-stitched upholstery and steering wheel to match, aluminium door sills, dual-zone climate control, sports suspension, upgraded eight-speaker audio with DAB-equipped radio (which still does not work in a third of the UK) and front and rear parking sensors. In addition, our sample came with options including Navigation, LED headlights, even bigger 18-inch alloys, skinny spare wheel, automatic wipers and lights, heated front seats and headlamp washers, raising the price from £21,265 to £22,410.
The Leon FR looks good inside and out, marred slightly by a handbrake lever off-set alongside the passenger seat. On the road it feels high on driver appeal. Suspension, steering and throttle response can be altered via the FR “drive profile” to suit your mood and driving style. There’s a nice enough verve to the 150 PS unit, yet it returned over 50 mpg in our hands and its low CO2 rating is tax friendly – a free VED disc the first year, then only £20 annually after that. Those wanting extra power can step up to the 184 PS diesel. A fixed rear bench seat is designed for three, but the middle passenger has to straddle a central floor tunnel.
The boot is commendably wider and deeper than average for its class, but the rear seatbacks drop forward to form a sloping, rather than flat, extension to the floor, with an awkward step in it.
The hard rear parcel shelf does not raise high enough on its suspenders with the hatch open, so it can catch your forehead when you reach in to load your shopping.
However, the growing army of SEAT fans will find the Leon’s pros far outweighing the cons. Due for delivery in January 2014 a new Leon Ecomotive version emitting only 87 g/km, so VED-free, from a 1.6 diesel with special gearing. From £19,360.
POPULAR CHOICE: The SEAT Leon FR 2.0 TDI 150 PS five-door hatchback.