New car road test: SEAT Leon
SEAT's third-generation Leon looks much like its predecessor but is fresh from the ground up. Jonathan Crouch reports.
THE Leon made its name as a sporty selection and the latest line-up is powered by a series of downsized yet powerful TDI diesel and TSI petrol engines, ranging from 1.2 to 2.0 litres. All the engines feature efficient direct injection and turbocharging. The 1.6 TDI generates 105PS and 250Nm of torque. The extensively re-engineered 2.0 TDI develops 150PS and 320Nm of torque. This same unit is offered in sporty FR form with 184PS and a potent 380Nm of torque. Petrol people will find a 1.2 TSI with 105PS, 1.4 TSI with 140PS and a 1.8 TSI with 180PS with a combination of direct and manifold injection.
Transmission options range from five- and six-speed manual gearboxes or the twin-clutch six- and seven-speed DSG sequential gearboxes. The chassis of the Leon is simple in its architecture with MacPherson strut front suspension, while the rear uses torsion beam suspension for engines up to 150PS. Go for a more powerful model and you get a multi-link rear set-up.
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The Leon FR hot hatch features an interesting function called SEAT Drive Profile. This allows the driver to vary the power steering, throttle control and even the engine sound via a sound actuator using three modes: eco, comfort and sport. There is also a facility to tailor the settings according to the driver's preference. The interior ambient LED lighting changes according to setting: white in eco and comfort modes, red in sport. No red mist please.
DESIGN AND BUILD
The Leon is built on the Volkswagen's Modularer Querbaukasten architecture, which, in layman's terms, means it's built on the same chassis as an Audi A3 and the next generation Skoda Octavia and Volkswagen Golf. This allows the company to alter wheelbases and track widths to suit different cars. With the Leon the proportions look rather peachy, with a slight shift of the visual weight of the cabin over the rear wheels compared to the last car. With more bonnet and deeply sculpted sides, the Leon now looks a lot sharper and more aggressive, with real edge to the detailing around its lights and grille.
At 4.26 metres, the new Leon is five centimetres shorter than its predecessor, which means it's easier to park, but through clever packaging and a six centimetre longer wheelbase, SEAT has managed to improve interior space, especially in the back. Despite a shorter rear overhang, the 380-litre luggage bay is 40-litres bigger too. Certain design cues remain, such as the "Lnea Dinamica" that runs rearwards over the wheel arches and the trapezoidal C-pillars, both ensuring you'll still recognise this design as a Leon. It just looks like the "after" shots in those muscle magazines. The cabin looks cleaner too, with a dashboard that no longer appears so obviously built down to a price, the biggest deterrent to the old Leon.
MARKET AND MODEL
Pricing sees this car pitched in the usual Focus bracket, which means a span between £16,000 and £23,000 across S, SE and FR trim levels. SEAT has always had to box a little bit clever with the Leon's pricing. With sporty versions of both the Skoda Octavia and the Volkswagen Golf on offer, the Leon has to occupy the middle ground, its proposition sweetened by decent equipment as standard.
In the UK line-up that includes air conditioning, twin halogen headlamps with electric adjustment, an MP3-compatible six-speaker CD player, integrated hands-free phone with Bluetooth audio streaming and a colour touchscreen interface. In addition, every new Leon comes with seven airbags, anti-lock braking, traction control, electronic stability control with emergency brake assist, active front head restraints, ISOFIX with Top Tether anchorage, and remote central locking.
A lot has been devoted to the vehicle's infotainment hub, the basis of which is formed by the media System Touch set-up, including a CD radio with an SD card slot, four speakers and a five-inch touch screen.
Go for plusher trim level and you get the media System Colour package featuring more in-screen colours and higher quality, with a CD drive and six speakers as standard (FR eight speakers). It connects devices via Bluetooth, USB or aux-in.
COST OF OWNERSHIP
The Leon has always been a vehicle that has carried an extremely reasonable asking price that is in turn backed up by solid residual values. Couple that with some of the most fuel-efficient engines in the VW Group parts portfolio and the end result is one of the most cost-effective family cars that is in any way sporty. The downsized engines offer decent punch when you get the turbochargers up to speed and excellent economy when driven with a little more restraint.
At the greenest end of the spectrum, the Leon 1.6 TDI 105 PS with Ecomotive Technology returns 74.3mpg and 99g/km CO2, while even the most powerful version at launch, the 2.0 TDI 184 PS FR, boasts a startling average consumption figure of 65.7mpg, with 112g/km CO2. And that's despite having more torque than a Porsche Cayman R, helping it to complete the 0-62mph benchmark in a rapid 7.5 seconds.
No Leon will exceed 140g/km of CO2. In fact, every engine bar the 1.8 TSI 180PS puts out less than 120g/km.
The latest Leon looks a very promising package indeed. Better looking than before, classier inside and out, with super-efficient engines and the retention of its sporting appeal, it's exactly the car the Spanish brand needs to resurrect its fortunes in this sector.
A preview event for the SEAT Leon is on Friday, February 1, at Bristol Street Motors' Derby dealership in Locomotive Way, Pride Park (DE24 8PU), starting at 3pm. For more details call 01332 399000.