REVIEW DATE: 26 Feb 2008
SEAT's Leon bears virtually no resemblance to its popular predecessor. Is this a step too far or a bold revolution? Jonathan Crouch reports
Cynics may call it essentially a Volkswagen Golf in a sharper suit, but stop and think about just what a good thing that is. SEAT's Leon brings German build quality together with Spanish flair to offer a regularly overlooked and rather refreshing option in the over-crowded family hatchback sector.
You can never get too much of a good thing - according at least to SEAT. A similarly swoopy basic look is used on all of their mainstream models - Toledo, Altea and this Leon. Of the three, it's this car that's the most stylish interpretation of ex-Alfa man Walter da Silva's original thinking. Look at it closely: assuming the interior quality and the handling holds up, do you really still want a Golf?
As you might expect given this car's heritage, 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 five and six-speed manual gearboxes are also a real joy to use, with mechanical precision and a lovely slick feel to the action.
On plusher models, there's the option of the Volkswagen Group's latest-generation DSG automatic gearbox - one of the smoothest and fastest-reacting 'boxes we've ever tried - though it suits the petrol engines better than this diesel.
Prices sit mainly in the £13,000 to £20,000 bracket common to this class of car, which, if you're interested, is about £500 less, model for model, than you'd pay for a comparable VW Golf. And engines? Well diesel buyers get to choose between a 103bhp 1.9-litre unit (which you can also order in eco-friendly 'ECOmotive' guise where it puts out just 119g/km of CO2). A more hi-tech unit is the infinitely preferable 138bhp 2.0 TDI, also offered in 168bhp guise in the sporting FR version. The petrol powerplants open with a 101bhp 1.6-litre and a 125bhp 1.4-litre TSI, with the FR performance model getting a 200bhp 2.0 FSI unit and the flagship Cupra offering a 240bhp version of this engine.
"Overall, there's a lot to like about the Leon.."
This is a well-equipped car, too. Even in its most basic form, Leon buyers will get air-con, electric windows, electric and heated wing mirrors, a CD player with six speakers, split folding rear seats, 16-inch wheels and a trip computer.
In an attempt to differentiate the Leon from its MPV siblings, SEAT have created a driving position that sees you sit right down low in the car. This is one of the reasons why the driving feels quite sporting, far more so than in the Spanish maker's Altea or Toledo models.
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. Although there's no armrest in the back and the bench is a little flat, you wouldn't feel hard done by undertaking a longer journey here.
Although there's no armrest in the back and the bench is a little flat, you wouldn't feel hard done by undertaking a longer journey here. 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. Weight has gone up by a mere 8kg, helped in no small part to innovative panel stamping procedures and an acrylic rear side window that incorporates the door handle.
Both the front seat and the steering wheel are multi-adjustable and there's plenty of headroom up front even for taller drivers. The nose curves rapidly out of view and shorter drivers may want to specify parking sensors. 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. All-round visibility isn't a Leon strong point, the three-quarter view being hampered by thick pillars and the rearward view consisting of a number of headrests.
As you'd expect, there are no nasty surprises when it comes to cost of ownership. Insurance groups range between 5 and 9 for the standard models and between 12 and 17 for the more sporting FR and Cupra variants. Residuals won't be quite as good as those of a Golf but they're not too far off. And running costs? Well, opt for, say the 2.0 TDI diesel and you should average about 47mpg while putting out no more than around 161g/km of CO2.
Overall, there's a lot to like about the Leon. It's good looking, spacious and very good value. SEAT's only problem is that all those comments also apply to the comparably priced, more MPV-orientated Altea. You pays your money.
The results below show the top LEON deals on buyacar
|Seat Leon 1.4 TSI SE 5dr hatchback|
|Price £15,094||Save £2,746|
|Seat Leon 2.0 TDI 184 FR 5dr diesel hatchback|
|Price £18,621||Save £3,754|
|Seat Leon 2.0 TDI FR 5dr DSG diesel hatchback|
|Price £18,823||Save £3,812|
|Seat Leon 1.8 TSI FR 5dr hatchback|
|Price £17,256||Save £3,329|
|Seat Leon 2.0 TDI FR 5dr diesel hatchback|
|Price £17,851||Save £3,534|
|VIEW MORE DISCOUNT LEON DEALS|
|For LEON RANGE|
|OVERALL||7.4 OUT OF 10|
|Space / Versatility||8|
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