Review of the new SEAT Leon S Emocion



star rating 7.2 out of 10 (7.2 out of 10)

REVIEW DATE: 27 Aug 2009

SEAT's Leon S Emocion is aimed at cost-conscious younger buyers but there are benefits for everyone. Steve Walker reports.

Seat Leon


SEAT's 'Auto Emocion' tagline is meant to tell us a number of things. One is that SEAT is Spanish; owned by Germans yes, but Spanish in its roots and attitude. Even Brits with a working knowledge of Spanish that extends to ordering a fried breakfast and enquiring as to the price of that sombrero will also glean that 'Auto Emocion' is chiefly about emotional cars. For emotional, don't read temperamental: that would be bad for business. Instead, it's meant to be about flair, Latin vibrancy and youthful exuberance - the stuff that younger buyers are supposed to like. What they like even more is a good deal and SEAT's Leon S Emocion has that base covered.

SEAT has been shaped by its Volkswagen Group owners to do the things with which German brands tend to struggle. It's being positioned as a younger, trendier alternative to Volkswagen and Skoda. The Leon family hatchback is particularly convincing in this role. Based on MKV Volkswagen Golf underpinnings, it marries the resulting engineering competence with a swoopy, curvy exterior. Performance models at the top of the range provide the hot hatch kudos but they will be on the expensive side for the majority of younger buyers. The S Emocion models come from the opposite end of the Leon spectrum and bring those exciting looks within a more accessible price range.

Performance from the S Emocion engine options is modest. The 100bhp 1.6-litre petrol unit can spirit a Leon to 60mph in 11.7s before hitting a 114mph top speed. The 1.9-litre TDI diesel has 103bhp and is slightly faster over the 0-60mph increment, but still within a second of that Emocion. It's clocked at 11.3s. What will make more difference in the real world is the diesel's 250Nm of torque at 1,900rpm (the petrol has 148Nm at 3,200rpm). It's a comparatively old-fashioned unit and not the most refined you'll encounter but that torque gives it a satisfying punchy feel at low revs.

"Value for money speaks to car buyers whatever their age"

As you might expect given this car's heritage, it's pretty much like a Golf to drive but with firmer suspension for a ride and handling compromise aimed at SEAT clientele who are supposedly more appreciative of a sporty feel and less likely to have back complaints or teeth that are in danger of being shaken out. The standard cars like the S Emocion models are comfortable on most surfaces - much better for many than the sporty FR and Cupra derivatives, cars that really let you know you're in a hot hatch with their hard ride.

There's good feel through the electric power steering and the manual gearboxes are a joy to use, with mechanical precision and a lovely slick feel to the action. In an attempt to differentiate the Leon from its MPV siblings, SEAT has created a driving position that sees you sit low down 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 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. 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 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. Visibility out the back isn't great either, but the latest models improve the situation with an expanded rear screen.

The S Emocion models sit above the entry-level S cars and below the SE level which affords access to some of the more desirable engine options in the Leon. There's a price premium of just over £1,000 required to upgrade from the petrol to the diesel car and the standard specification on both is pretty generous.

All of the S Emocion Leons come with air-conditioning, remote central locking, a CD stereo, electric front windows, steering wheel audio controls and an AUX input for connecting an MP3 player. There are body-coloured mirrors and door handles outside along with 16" alloy wheels. Safety equipment includes ESP stability control and ABS brakes along with front, side and curtain airbags.

Younger buyers will appreciate the low insurance costs of the Leon S Emocion models. The petrol engine falls into group 5 and it's group 6 for the diesel. Fuel economy is less impressive from the petrol unit. By modern standards, 37mpg isn't great from a 100bhp family hatchback and emissions are pegged at 169g/km. The diesel is better and its 56.5mpg will do much to justify the price premium to higher mileage drivers. CO2 emissions for the oil-burner are 135g/km.

SEAT is at the centre of its Volkswagen Group parent company's attempts to engage with younger buyers. The Leon family hatchback fits well within this plan thanks to its adventurous styling and sporty driving experience but of all the models in the Leon range, it might be the affordable S Emocion derivatives that have the best chance of parting the youth of today from their hard-earned cash.

Value for money speaks to car buyers whatever their age and with decent equipment levels, a low upfront price and affordable insurance costs, the S Emocion Leons have got it. The engines on offer aren't the Leon's finest but the overall package is dynamic, sporty and surprisingly practical.


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Performance star rating 6 out of 10 6
Comfort star rating 8 out of 10 8
Handling star rating 8 out of 10 8
Economy star rating 7 out of 10 7
Space / Versatility star rating 8 out of 10 8
Styling star rating 7 out of 10 7
Equipment star rating 6 out of 10 6
Build star rating 7 out of 10 7
Depreciation star rating 6 out of 10 6
Insurance star rating 7 out of 10 7
Value star rating 9 out of 10 9
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