If you’re after a practical family car with some style, then for a long time the obvious choice has been the Seat Leon, and the arrival of a new model hasn’t changed that. The Spanish brand’s compact car is now based on the VW group’s MQB platform, the underpinnings found in the new VW Golf, Audi A3 and Skoda Octavia. That means it’s better than ever, and alongside the stylish looks, vast range of engines and excellent build quality the new Leon adds value for money pricing to the mix. And that means it’s a hard car to resist – especially in £16,790 1.2-litre TSI SE guise.
The old Leon only came as a five-door hatchback, with rear door handles that were confusingly hidden in the window, but the latest example will be available as both three and five door hatches, as well as a practical estate – all with handles in obvious places.
This one’s not as bold, but the Leon is still a standout car in the class, and if style sits high on your list of priorities then the Seat is worthy of your attention. Full LED headlamps feature as an option (a first for the segment) and the interior design is, as ever, full of flair and has some slick detailing.
The new Leon is shorter than its predecessor by 46mm but has a wider track and a longer wheelbase so there’s more room inside than ever, and thin A-pillars help to bolster that feeling of roominess. The rear seat has extra shoulder and legroom so it’s now perfect for growing families. Those who like to take advantage of the local sales will be glad to know the boot’s larger too, an extra 39 litres of space taking the total up to a useful 380-litres overall.
Performance & handling
We’ve seen the 1.2-litre TSI engine plenty of times before, but familiarity does nothing to diminish our praise for the unit. Smooth and keen to rev, it may be fairly small in capacity, but the turbocharged four-cylinder punches far above its weight.
But it isn’t as simple as just picking an engine and trim level, as there’s a range of output and model-dependent features to choose from too. On SE and above you’ll benefit from the standard-fit XDS electronic differential, and FR spec cars come with Seat Drive Profile. The latter allows you to tailor the feel from the throttle, steering and, if fitted with the excellent DSG gearbox, the shift patterns too.
Engines in the range that have less than 148bhp make do with a torsion beam rear axle and those with more grunt have an independent rear setup, so it’s all a bit of a minefield. It’s worth noting that unless you’re planning on scything round a track, then the rear suspension choice will make little difference to your day to day life.
Economy & environment
Stop start and an energy recovery system is standard across the range, and if you opt for the 1.6-litre TDI 105 using Ecomotive technology then you can enjoy some staggeringly low running costs. When the flagship Ecomotive model itself appears, the figures will be even better, but until then the headline numbers are 74.3mpg and 99g/km. That makes it road tax free in the UK, and owners will be making infrequent visits to the pumps. Even the 1.2-litre petrol isn’t a bad shout, emitting only 114g/km and managing 57.6mpg (versus 112g/km and 58.9mpg for the DSG-equipped version).
Equipment & value
Prices start at £15,670 for the Leon range, and in general it’s more expensive than a comparable Ford Focus but cheaper than a Vauxhall Astra. It trounces both for residuals though, by as much as 12 percent compared to the Vauxhall, and boasts a substantial standard kit list. Entry-level S models come with air conditioning, colour media system, Bluetooth and seven airbags while SE adds 16inch alloy wheels, cruise control, rear electric windows and the XDS electronic differential to that list. Another £1,545 gets you FR spec which gives 17-inch alloys, dual zone climate control, parking sensors and Seat Drive Profile.
With seven airbags as standard, along with Electronic Stability Control and tyre pressure monitoring it’s no surprise the new Leon is regarded as a safe car. EuroNCAP would agree, awarding the car the full five stars and scoring it 94 per cent for adult and 92 percent for child occupants.
The old Leon always felt a little inferior to the Golf it was based on; it was all too easy to see where costs had been cut. That’s still the case with the new car – if you look hard enough you’ll find scratchier plastics and lower rent fabric – but now that gap is now much smaller. The engines have been improved in terms of efficiency and performance across the board, the Leon is without doubt still the looker of the group, and the range is to be further bolstered by a practical estate and racy three-door. And that all adds up to a very convincing package indeed.
Model tested: SEAT Leon 1.2 TSI SE
Engine: 1.2-litre turbocharged four-cylinder
Acceleration: 0-62 in 10.0 seconds
Top speed: 119mph
Emissions: 114g/km CO2