Seat has been playing a blinder over the last few years not only expanding its product offering with a range of SUVs but turning out some genuinely great cars at the same time. One of the pillars of that success has been the Seat Leon, its hatchback rival to the likes of the Kia Ceed, Ford Focus and Volkswagen Golf. Now there’s a new version of the Leon and judging by my experience with it, there are quite a few competitors that should be concerned.
This is the fourth generation of Leon, and while it’s safe to call it new, it does carry over some of the good bits from the previous version beneath its skin. That also means it is almost identical in size to the last car. That’s no bad thing in the age where seemingly every new car grows in size. That does also mean that the boot isn’t any larger, measuring in at 380 litres which puts it around the class average. Folding the rear seats down lets that space grows to 1,210 litres - again not the largest but it enough to be able to fit in a mountain bike or cover off an enthusiastic shopping trip to Ikea. You can also have the Leon in estate form which has 620 litres of cargo volume.
With the sportier FR spec seen here, the Leon gets larger alloy wheels and a bodykit featuring more stylish bumpers to emphasise the performance look. A new face for the Leon is reminiscent of the Tarraco, Seat’s flagship SUV, and the LED headlights add to the distinctive appearance. A light bar runs the full width across the rear linking the two light clusters. It looks impressive at night and features an animation sequence when you unlock the car similar to what Audi employs on some of its vehicles. It’s a bit Knightrider. That feature is cool enough to overlook the two fake chrome exhausts that Seat includes in the rear bumper. Furthermore, when unlocking the car at night, you are also greeted by a ‘Hola’ message projected onto the ground from the LED puddle light housed within the door mirrors.
The five-door Leon feels reasonably spacious inside thanks to the design of the cabin. Models featuring automatic transmissions get a small rocker switch to replace the usual gear selector. As a result, there is the impression of more room around the centre console and between the front seats. It makes a lot of sense because the mechanism for selecting forward or reverse gear is now done electronically in these latest cars. Small paddles on the back of the flat-bottomed steering wheel still allow you to shift gears manually.
That free space makes it easy to throw your phone onto the wireless charging pad that comes as standard on the FR model, although, it’s best to have a grippy case on your phone as it has a tendency to slide around when you corner which prevents it from recharge. As an alternative, you can use one of the four USB-C ports that are in the car. Android Auto and Apple Carplay support mean that you can use Google Maps or Waze for navigation beyond the usual phone functionality.
Other impressive features inside the Leon are the 10-inch touchscreen display and a 10.25-inch digital instrument cluster. The menu system and layout for the infotainment system are reasonably easy to use although there are no longer physical dials for the temperature inside the cabin. Instead, touch-sensitive bars along the base of the screen enable you to make it cooler or warmer. One aspect of design that stands out for its execution is the driver’s blind spot warning system. In most cars an amber light appears in the door mirror to alert the driver to an object in their blindspot. In the Leon, this system is now integrated into the strip of interior ambient lighting that circles the dashboard and windscreen area and lights up on the respective side. It’s a clever way of doing it and enhances its effectiveness.
For some time now Seat has positioned the Leon as a sporty alternative to the more conservative Volkswagen Golf which is reflected in how the Leon drives and handles. In this FR spec, the suspension is firmer and ride height is a touch lower compared to the standard model. On the one hand, this setup enhances the Leon’s appearance but detracts from the overall ride comfort. On poor road surfaces the suspension can feel nearly too stiff. Big bumps intrude into the cabin, and the larger 18-inch wheels contribute to what was a lot of road noise at times. The Seat clearly does not use as much sound-insulating material as its Volkswagen Golf and Skoda Octavia stablemates. For a more compliant ride, even on 17-inch alloys, opt for the SE Dynamic version which doesn’t have the sports suspension.
There’s a good spread of engines available with the Leon, starting with a 1.0-litre, three-cylinder petrol that produces 109bhp. Joining that is a 1.5-litre four-cylinder with 128bhp and 148bhp and the latter will also come as an eTSI mild hybrid version. The range-topping petrol is a 2.0-litre TSI with 187bhp while a plug-in hybrid with a 1.4-litre petrol engine and 13kWh battery will produce 201bhp and travel up to 38 miles on electric power and should prove economical to run. On the diesel side, two versions of the improved 2.0 TDI Evo engine produce outputs of 113bhp and 148bhp. I’m driving the latter and if you’ve thought diesel is dead then you may want to think again as this reworked engine is a considerable improvement over the previous Leon generation and consistently delivered excellent fuel economy figures during my time behind the wheel. I covered well over 120 miles before the digital gauge for the 50-litre fuel tank even hinted at moving.
With attractive alternatives like the segment heavyweights of the Volkswagen Golf and Ford Focus and more value-based cars like the Kia Ceed and Vauxhall Astra, not forgetting the excellent Skoda Octavia, the Seat Leon has its fair share of rivals. However, the Leon is better than it has ever been and it’s far from being a ‘cheap alternative to the Golf’ these days. It has all the right ingredients to be a class leader.
Model: Seat Leon FR 2.0 TDI
Price: £23,935 (114bhp SE Dynamic)
Engine: 2.0-litre four-cylinder diesel
0-62mph: 8.6 seconds
Max speed: 136mph
WLTP Fuel consumption: 64.2-56.5mpg
WLTP CO2: 116-132g/km