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First drive: SEAT Leon. Image by Andy Morgan.

First drive: SEAT Leon
SEAT's Spanish Golf brings more style, space and good value in its third incarnation.

 



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| First Drive | Malaga, Spain | SEAT Leon |

Overall rating: 4 4 4 4 4

SEAT's new Leon builds on the appeal of its predecessors with good looks and value. The big-selling 1.6 TDI engine offers sub-100g/km CO2 and 72.4mpg capability for those that want an economical yet enjoyable family hatchback.

Key Facts

Bentley SEAT Leon 1.6 TDI SE
Pricing: 18,490
Engine: 1.6-litre four-cylinder turbodiesel
Transmission: front-wheel drive, five-speed manual
Body style: five-door hatchback
Rivals: Ford Focus, Vauxhall Astra, Volkswagen Golf
CO2 emissions: 99g/km
Combined economy: 72.4mpg
Top speed: 118mph
0-62mph: 10.7 seconds
Power: 105hp at 3,000- to 4,000rpm
Torque: 250Nm at 1,500- to 2,750rpm

In the Metal: 4.5 4.5 4.5 4.5 4.5

Always a stand out choice in the marketplace, the new SEAT Leon's style distances itself even further from the generic family hatchback norm. It's a fine looking car, the edgy detailing and balanced proportions holding real appeal - and of course it looks its best in FR trim. That's not offered on this big-selling 1.6 TDI model, but even in more lowly guise it's a head turner.

Inside it's more of the same from SEAT. That means a simple, functional dashboard, which might lack the frills of its rivals but feels well built and all works decently enough. There's some evidence of cost cutting with hard feeling and scratchy plastics, but it's largely out of sight. It's as spacious inside as its rivals too, a slight wheelbase stretch improving things here, and the boot's a decent shape - if accessed over a high lip.

Driving it: 3.5 3.5 3.5 3.5 3.5

The key figure in the 1.6 TDI engine isn't its power output, but its CO2 emissions. It's currently the lowest emitting Leon available, the 99g/km it offers set to be bettered again by an economy special Ecomotive edition next year. So the 105hp isn't going to set your world on fire, but then it's not going to heat up the planet either. And the compromises aren't as great as you might expect. Peak torque of 250Nm is delivered from just 1,500rpm and while it reduces again at 2,750rpm it's not such a narrow window as to have you searching the five-speed manual gearbox for go. That's no bad thing, as the shift isn't particularly clean or quick, the five-speeder working best when you're not hurried.

So it's not fast, but then neither will it embarrass you on the road, and even if it is working hard you'd be pushed to tell. Refinement is exceptionally good, the 1.6 bettering its 2.0-litre relation in hushed progress, the engine barely ever heard in the cabin. That's matched with supremely well suppressed wind and road noise (on the glass smooth Spanish tarmac at least), meaning that, although you'll not get there first, you'll get there relaxed.

Even without masses of power there's fun to be had. The steering wheel has a thin rim, which hints at some feel - even if the reality isn't that rich in detail - though response to input is quick and accurate. Here, with less than 140hp on offer, the Leon gets torsion beam rear suspension rather than the multi-link design of the higher powered cars. There's little perceptible difference on the road - at the sort of speeds it's likely to be driven at, anyway; the Leon's ride is supple yet controlled.

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

This SE 1.6 TDI model is anticipated to take the majority of UK sales and SEAT is being typically generous with specification across the range. S versions make do with air conditioning, steel wheels and a colour media system with Bluetooth; SE builds on that with alloy wheels, front fog lamps with cornering function, cruise control, a leather steering wheel and gear knob as well as XDS (an electronic 'differential' lock) and hill hold control among the driver aids. Like for like it's around 2,000 less than the equivalent Volkswagen Golf.

Worth Noting

The Leon now proudly displays its rear door handles, losing one of the visual tricks of its predecessor. That's deliberate, as this five-door model will be joined by a three-door 'SC' variant early next year. It'll be shown at the Geneva Motor Show in March, and promises to ape the Ibiza's quite different look between its three- and five-door offerings. There'll be an ST (Sport Tourer) late in 2012 too, if you'd like a Leon with more load space.

Summary

SEAT's Leon is a big seller in the UK and the Spanish company hopes to grow that even further still with the new car. Good looks are in its favour, as is the fact everyone understands it's basically a Volkswagen Golf underneath its less restrained bodywork. It's is usefully cheaper than its German cousin too, and right in the mix with its other mainstream competition. With sportier, sharper styled and more practical models coming the model mix will get richer too, so the Leon is a strong choice in the competitive family hatchback marketplace.


Kyle Fortune. Photography by Andy Morgan - 21 Nov 2012









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2013 SEAT Leon. Image by SEAT.2013 SEAT Leon. Image by Andy Morgan.2013 SEAT Leon. Image by Andy Morgan.2013 SEAT Leon. Image by Andy Morgan.2013 SEAT Leon. Image by Andy Morgan.

2013 SEAT Leon. Image by Andy Morgan.2013 SEAT Leon. Image by Andy Morgan.2013 SEAT Leon. Image by Andy Morgan.2013 SEAT Leon. Image by Andy Morgan.2013 SEAT Leon. Image by Andy Morgan.



2013 SEAT Leon. Image by Andy Morgan.
 

2013 SEAT Leon. Image by Andy Morgan.
 

2013 SEAT Leon. Image by Andy Morgan.
 

2013 SEAT Leon. Image by Andy Morgan.
 

2013 SEAT Leon. Image by Andy Morgan.
 

2013 SEAT Leon. Image by Andy Morgan.
 

2013 SEAT Leon. Image by Andy Morgan.
 

2013 SEAT Leon. Image by Andy Morgan.
 






 

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