REVIEW DATE: 17 Apr 2009
SEAT's first common-rail diesel engine looks a good fit in the Leon FR hot hatch. Steve Walker reports.
The fun of a performance hatchback used to come bundled up with big bills but manufacturers are increasingly coming up with cars that can take some of the strain off the bank accounts of boy and girl racers. They're doing it with our old friend diesel and, in the case of SEAT and its Leon FR 2.0 TDI, some very clever engine technology.
SEAT has brought us fast Leons before and fast diesel ones too. The Cupra hot hatchback models and the less highly-strung FR derivatives are a cornerstone of the brand's sporty offering, so it makes sense for them to be kept up with the times. To this end, the latest diesel-powered Leon FR comes with the Volkswagen Group's advanced 2.0-litre common-rail injection diesel engine.
Diesel anoraks will be quick to point out that it's not power that's the key to the performance of oil-burning engines, it's torque. The 2.0-litre TDI unit in the Leon FR packs a hefty 168bhp which looks a little bit anaemic next to the 198bhp buyers of the 2.0-litre TSI petrol powered FR model have to play with. The tables are turned, however, when we look at the diesel's 350Nm of torque compared to the 280Nm of the petrol. This superior twisting force will translate into a more muscular feel for the diesel engine at low to medium engine speeds.
It prompts a different, more relaxed driving style than a petrol engine that some customers will prefer. The Leon FR TDI can perform the 0-62mph sprint in 8.2 seconds but it'll feel best when you squeeze the throttle to overtake a dawdler on a B-road or power up the on-ramp to join a motorway. The latest Leon FR models also come with the XDS electronic differential which mimics the action of a mechanical limited-slip differential to help it deploy its power more effectively.
"Few affordable cars combine its level of practicality, performance, parsimony and panache"
As you may already be aware, this Leon is based on Volkswagen's fifth generation Golf and, surprise, surprise, it's pretty much like a Golf to drive with a compliant suspension set-up that offers a decent ride and handling compromise, at least when riding on smaller wheel-and-tyre combinations. There's good feedback too, through the electric power steering. The FR TDI is available with the standard six-speed manual gearbox or the excellent six-speed DSG automatic with its wheel-mounted paddle shifters.
The latest Leon has been revised slightly and the FR 2.0 TDI benefits from the full package of alterations. Visually, you'll struggle to spot any differences but take our word for it, the rear window is larger to assist with that longstanding Leon bugbear, rear visibility. There's also a neat redesigned dash. Far more significant tweaks take place beneath the skin where the suspension has been made 20 per cent softer even on the sporty FR models. ESP stability control is a welcome addition to the standard equipment list. The Leon is a good deal bigger than you might expect for this class of car and this extra space is particularly noticeable in the rear where there's plenty of knee-room, even if you're transporting six-footers. The rear tailgate opens wide to reveal a load bay that's a little awkwardly shaped for bulky items but is otherwise perfectly adequate for this class of car.
Both the front seat and the steering wheel are multi-adjustable and there's plenty of headroom up front even for taller drivers. The windscreen pillars are annoyingly chunky which means that you'll probably be doing a fair bit of see-sawing in your seat as you negotiate roundabouts. One can almost excuse this feature due to the fact that the windscreen wipers park vertically into the pillars - a rather neat trick that helps with the vital showroom wow factor.
The sticker price looks like a reasonable piece of business. The FR styling kit is worth the premium alone, comprising exclusive bumpers front and rear, racy 17" alloy wheels (with 18" versions as an option), sports seats, white instrumentation, twin stainless steel exhaust pipes, an FR-specific steering wheel and gearlever, plus a number of further FR logos inside and out. The redesigned dash on the latest cars also incorporates iPod connectivity.
The on-board computer is fun to play with whilst sitting in traffic and will give you the opportunity to note quite how little fuel you're consuming compared to the guy in the bland econobox sitting in front of you. Climate control and a six-CD multichanger also ease the tedium of those moments when the road isn't exactly something out of a SEAT brochure. Standard safety equipment includes anti lock brakes, traction control, front and side airbags and ISOFIX child seat mounts. The whole package is then protected by remote central locking with deadlocks, an immobiliser and a volumetric alarm.
The difference in the driving experience between the petrol and diesel versions of SEAT's Leon FR hot hatch might be a matter of taste but the difference in running costs is much more clear-cut. The FR 2.0 TDI can return 53.3mpg on the combined cycle with emissions of 139g/km. Pick the 2.0 TSI petrol engine, however, and you'll be looking at 34.9mpg and 190g/km. High mileage drivers will quickly feel the benefits of the TDI's superior economy.
The SEAT Leon FR 2.0 TDI looks a supremely talented all rounder. Few affordable cars combine its level of practicality, performance, parsimony and panache. It's one of those deals that has you repeatedly looking for the catch but there isn't one. Products this strong aren't too thick on the ground.
The results below show the top LEON deals on buyacar
|Seat Leon 2.0 TDI FR 5dr DSG diesel hatchback|
|Price £18,597||Save £4,038|
|Seat Leon 1.4 TSI SE 5dr hatchback|
|Price £14,916||Save £2,924|
|Seat Leon 1.4 TSI FR 5dr hatchback|
|Price £16,103||Save £3,282|
|Seat Leon 2.0 TDI 184 FR 5dr diesel hatchback|
|Price £18,398||Save £3,977|
|Seat Leon 1.6 TDI S 5dr diesel hatchback|
|Price £14,558||Save £2,812|
|VIEW MORE DISCOUNT LEON DEALS|
|For LEON 2.0 TDI FR|
|OVERALL||7.5 OUT OF 10|
|Space / Versatility||8|
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