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First drive: SEAT Leon FR+. Image by SEAT.

First drive: SEAT Leon FR+
Here's another SEAT trim realignment, but one that creates a cheaper way to silver wing mirrors.

   



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| First Drive | Loughborough, England | SEAT Leon FR+ |

Overall rating: 4.5 4.5 4.5 4.5 4

It's the new pair of Leon FR models that provide most interest, rather than the range-topping FR+ cars. SEAT has basically engaged in some trim wizardry to shift more motors, effectively turning FR into a natty trim level for lower powered engines, with FR+ reserved for the hot stuff. Clever move. Or rip off? You decide...

Key Facts

Pricing: £18,205 - £22,615
Engine: 1.4-litre turbocharged petrol
Transmission: six-speed manual, front-wheel drive
Body style: five-door hatchback
Rivals: Honda Civic Type-S, VW Golf GT, Renault Mégane GT
CO2 emissions: 145g/km
Combined economy: 45.6mpg
Top speed: 122mph
0-62mph: 9.8 seconds
Power: 123bhp at 5,000rpm
Torque: 148lb.ft at 1,500rpm

In the Metal: 4.5 4.5 4.5 4.5 4

As we were saying above, this is the latest in a line of SEAT trim shuffles designed to make you, the sporty punter, spend a little bit extra but get more in return. FR is now a trim level, essentially replacing Sport and available with either the 123bhp 1.4 TSI petrol engine or the ubiquitous 138bhp 2.0-litre TDI unit.

It's probably a shrewd move, because Sport trim Leons (previously known as Reference Sport, and probably something else before that) were always a little too discreet in their embellishment for our taste; FR cars are more flamboyantly dressed up, most notably by way of silver mirror caps, and inside, the flat-bottomed steering wheel. FR+ cars get bigger wheels, more kit, and the proper performance engines.

Driving it: 4 4 4 4 4

If the lower two FR cars - the 1.4-litre petrol in particular - have an issue it's the thorn in the side that those silver mirrors become: raised expectations. The small turbocharged petrol engine has a lovely rev-happy character but very little torque, so initially it feels too lacklustre to carry its FR badges.

For that reason it's the diesel we prefer. It's not as riotous to thrash, but far, far less effort to make feel quick. There's urge to the diesel that, at least for a moment in the first few gears, puts it in hot hatch territory. The same can never be said for the petrol option.

The FR+ versions are as was: quick. Despite the lack of overall polish, the Leon is still a more rewarding and more intuitive car to drive than the Golf, and that's especially the case with the hot stuff; the FR+ cars - 208bhp petrol and 168bhp diesel - hit a sweet spot in the range by being effortlessly quick but half affordable.

People sniff at electronic 'differentials', but the Leon's XDS system really makes the car near idiot-proof without taking away any of the weight and feel if the steering; it's surprisingly difficult to understeer in this thing. Yes, we still like the Leon. Well, apart from its ride, which has never been quite right - especially the harder suspended ones like these.

What you get for your Money: 4 4 4 4 4

It's a bit of a swizz if you were previously in the market for an FR, because you'll now have to pay £1,070 more for an FR+ to get the same power. SEAT would argue that the £2,500 of extra kit justifies the premium.

In the case of the lower pair, buyers are getting a hot (looking) hatch that's relatively cheap to buy, fuel and insure. The hotness comes courtesy of 17-inch alloys, sports seats, climate control, rear parking sensors and, of course, those mirrors. FR+ cars get an inch more wheel, bi-xenon headlights, a better infotainment system and front parking sensors.

Worth Noting

Geek stat alert: a de-badged FR can be distinguished from the back by way of its slightly different LED rear light clusters. There are currently "no plans" to filter them down through the range. But they probably will.

Summary

Whatever you feel about the badge shuffle and (good value kit bundle or clever way of making you spend more?), it hasn't really made the SEAT Leon any better or worse - it's still a quality, value hatch that's good to drive and look at.


Mark Nichol - 8 Sep 2011



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2011 SEAT Leon FR+. Image by SEAT.2011 SEAT Leon FR+. Image by SEAT.2011 SEAT Leon FR+. Image by SEAT.2011 SEAT Leon FR+. Image by SEAT.2011 SEAT Leon FR+. Image by SEAT.

2011 SEAT Leon FR+. Image by SEAT.2011 SEAT Leon FR+. Image by SEAT.2011 SEAT Leon FR+. Image by SEAT.2011 SEAT Leon FR+. Image by SEAT.2011 SEAT Leon FR+. Image by SEAT.



2011 SEAT Leon FR+. Image by SEAT.
 

2011 SEAT Leon FR+. Image by SEAT.
 

2011 SEAT Leon FR+. Image by SEAT.
 

2011 SEAT Leon FR+. Image by SEAT.
 

2011 SEAT Leon FR+. Image by SEAT.
 

2011 SEAT Leon FR+. Image by SEAT.
 

2011 SEAT Leon FR+. Image by SEAT.
 

2011 SEAT Leon FR+. Image by SEAT.
 






 

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