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First drive: 2017 SEAT Leon 1.0 TSI. Image by SEAT.

First drive: 2017 SEAT Leon 1.0 TSI
SEAT updates Leon; not much changes, but there is a new 1.0-litre triple on offer.


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2017 SEAT Leon 1.0 TSI

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SEAT gives the entire Leon family - from basic S-grade five-door to rip-snorting 300hp Cupra ST 4WD estate - its midlife facelift and sundry other changes, in order to try and keep it sitting at the top table of the immensely competitive C-segment banquet. For most variants, not a huge amount has been altered, but, as well as more power for the Cupra models, the 1.6-litre diesel gets an additional 5hp for 115hp all-in - while the only genuinely new engine is a 1.0-litre three-cylinder turbocharged petrol option, as reviewed here.

Test Car Specifications

Model tested: SEAT Leon 1.0 TSI SE Technology
Pricing: Leon five-door from 17,455; 1.0 TSI SE Technology from 19,235; car as tested 21,245
Engine: 1.0-litre turbocharged three-cylinder petrol
Transmission: front-wheel drive, six-speed manual
Body style: five-door hatchback
CO2 emissions: 102g/km (VED 140 annually)
Combined economy: 64.2mpg
Top speed: 122mph
0-62mph: 9.8 seconds
Power: 115hp at 5,000- to 5,500rpm
Torque: 200Nm at 2,000- to 3,500rpm

What's this?

The 2017 model year SEAT Leon, a car whose major selling point - in amongst the surfeit of brilliant family hatchbacks that are on sale today - is and has always been its sharp, crease-lined bodywork, so the Spanish firm has decided not to go to town on changing a shape that has been winning plaudits since it launched way back in late 2012. Thus, the minimal (but rather effective, truth be told, when you're standing next to a 2017MY Leon) revisions are a lower and wider bonnet, leading to a bigger trapezoidal front grille and subtly reshaped bumper beneath. And then we've got LED lights, front and rear. 'Spot the difference' facelifts can be annoying, but when the car in question is inherently right to begin with, then we can better understand a manufacturer's reluctance to change a winning formula; SEAT, with the third-gen Leon, definitely qualifies for this category.

Inside is a similar case of airbrushing, then adding some more equipment in order to tantalise prospective customers. Ambient cabin lighting, fresh choices of trims and upholsteries, a new trim level (Xcellence Technology) and then the most obvious switch, which is the inclusion of an electronic handbrake, freeing up space on the transmission tunnel, all combine to gently evolve the interior's aura. Like any Volkswagen Group product, the overall quality of the fixtures and fittings is absolutely fine, while it feels superbly bolted together, but the Leon's cabin ambience simply doesn't match up to the crisp exterior appearance. It's a bit staid within and at the bottom of the specification tree - which we're testing here, as the engine we're sampling is only available as a fairly lowly SE Technology - the steering wheel feels thin in your hands and the fascia is just a touch greyscale (no, not the disfiguring disease from Game Of Thrones, but rather grey on grey on grey). Proficient and sturdy, yes, but particularly attractive, no.

So, we mentioned the new engine: it's one of those fashionable three-cylinder turbocharged petrol units that are all the rage, which are likely to become the default choice for people panicked out of buying diesels as punitive, forthcoming tax laws loom large. It has been used in the Leon on the continent prior to the facelift, but over here it's making its debut in the midsized 2017MY SEAT. It delivers 115hp and 200Nm, comparing favourably to the uprated 1.6-litre TDI (115hp/250Nm), with its claimed performance on a par, even if quoted emissions and economy numbers aren't quite as hot as the diesel's.

Elsewhere in the Leon line-up, the Xcellence Technology trim is pretty much bells'n'whistles and is ported over from the Ateca, where it has been a success, and it starts from 22,000 for a hatchback 1.4 TSI with 125hp. The amendments listed so far apply to all models in the family - the five-door, the three-door SC, the ST wagon and the X-Perience off-roading estate - while the Cupra flagships also get another 10hp (they started at 280hp and then went up to 290hp in early 2016), with the 300hp Cupra ST 4Drive DSG being essentially a Volkswagen Golf R Estate in a Spanish frock; it's comfortably SEAT's quickest-ever production car, dipping below the five-second barrier by running 0-62mph in a thundering 4.9 seconds... although, at 34,485, it hardly undercuts its illustrious cousin from Wolfsburg (34,655) by a huge margin.

How does it drive?

While the SEAT's angular exterior has always been easy enough for buyers to spot, the Leon's sprightly chassis is not immediately apparent - but it's there. And plonking a small-capacity, lighter engine into the nose only helps matters. The Leon 1.0 TSI therefore has nice, clean turn-in, a neutral chassis with loads of grip and yet pliant enough dampers to ensure that it doesn't hop, skip and jump down poor quality roads. It is a tiny fraction less comfortable than its group analogues - the Golf, the Audi A3 and the Skoda Octavia - as the pay-off for its excellent dynamics, but not by enough to make the ride comfort a deal breaker.

The bigger problem is that the one-mode steering on this three-cylinder car feels light and numb, something that can't be levelled at the bigger Leon models with wider front tyres and multimode steering. The lack of feel you get from this set-up means you don't have the utmost confidence throwing the SEAT into the corners, which paradoxically you need to do in order to maintain pace because it doesn't feel a particularly lively engine. A sub-ten-second 0-62mph time ought to translate into a bit more pep out on the roads, but the 1.0 TSI comes across as sluggish. And that's because it has too many overdrives: half of the six-speed manual's ratios see the output shaft of the gearbox spinning faster than the input shaft. OK, Merc offers three overdrives on its automatic, but that's a nine-speed item that's usually paired to a sodding great turbodiesel with mammoth torque; fit such a long-legged gearbox to a little petrol triple propelling a C-segment hatch and the result is a car that feels flat in terms of acceleration.

It's a nice engine, though, smooth and free-revving and possessed of that throaty little snarl that all these three-pots emit. And, jumping straight out of this and into the five-speed 1.6-litre TDI confirmed that we'd definitely have the petrol over the derv-drinker, because the 1.6 felt really lacklustre in comparison. Problem is, as pleasant as the 1.0-litre is, it's only slightly more than two grand to step up to a 150hp 1.4 EcoTSI (with the clever Active Cylinder Technology) in desirable FR specification... and that's precisely what we'd advocate you do. And it's also what SEAT predicts you'll do, too, as it's the 1.4 TSI FR five-door that's expected to be the best-seller in the UK, for very good reason. It's the sub-Cupra Leon sweet spot.


We've always liked SEAT's C-segment Leon hatch and so a midlife update that brings in freshened looks, a slightly better-equipped interior and some new choices for the drivetrains only means good news for fans of the Spanish car. It remains one of the first motors you should be looking at in this particular market segment and the 1.0-litre petrol engine is certainly an appealing choice, although we would say some of these cars at the lower end of the scale have less inspiring steering and underwhelming cabin finishing, compared to the models nearer the top of the Leon food chain. But, even in lowlier specification, the aesthetic updates ensure it remains one of the class 'lookers' and this three-cylinder motor is a good, affordable way into owning one of these very likeable SEAT hatchbacks.

4.5 4.5 4.5 4.5 4.5 Exterior Design

3.5 3.5 3.5 3.5 3.5 Interior Ambience

4 4 4 4 4 Passenger Space

4.5 4.5 4.5 4.5 4.5 Luggage Space

4.5 4.5 4.5 4.5 4.5 Safety

4 4 4 4 4 Comfort

4 4 4 4 4 Driving Dynamics

4 4 4 4 4 Powertrain

Matt Robinson - 1 May 2017    - SEAT road tests
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2017 SEAT Leon. Image by SEAT.2017 SEAT Leon. Image by SEAT.2017 SEAT Leon. Image by SEAT.2017 SEAT Leon. Image by SEAT.2017 SEAT Leon. Image by SEAT.

2017 SEAT Leon. Image by SEAT.2017 SEAT Leon. Image by SEAT.2017 SEAT Leon. Image by SEAT.2017 SEAT Leon. Image by SEAT.2017 SEAT Leon. Image by SEAT.


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