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First Drive: 2020 Seat Leon


27 Aug 2020

The Seat Leon always seems to get overshadowed by the Volkswagen Golf, despite being more or less the same mechanically. The question is, is the popular choice always the right choice? Well, not necessarily...

Sibling rivalry can be a powerful thing. Imagine always doing your best at everything, but you still get constantly overshadowed by your slightly more popular brother. I mean, Jamie Murray is a very talented and decorated tennis player in his own right, but just because little bro has managed to bring back a shiny tin vase from south west London on a couple of occasions, nobody pays the blindest bit of notice.

It’s a similar predicament for the Seat Leon. Traditionally, it’s always been a hugely capable car, which deserves plenty of plaudits and popularity, but whenever a new one is released, all anyone can talk about is the release of the new Volkswagen Golf, which usually happens at around the same time. Doesn’t seem fair to us that such a good car should be overshadowed in such a way, so for the rest of this review, we’re not going to mention ‘the G word’. After all, it’s only fair to judge the car on its own merits.

So, is the Leon still a good car? Oh yeah. You better believe it. Better than ever.

Firstly, the most important stuff where the family is concerned. There’s slightly more space in the back than average, and the boot is slightly bigger than average, so compared with its rivals, it has better-than-average practicality. Sure, there’s a load lip that you’ll need to haul your luggage over, and the 60/40 split rear seats don’t lie flat when you fold them, but for outright space, it’s very hard to fault.

It also comes with most of the kit required to keep the family comfortable, entertained and safe. Entry-level SE trim comes with air-conditioning, four powered windows, rear parking sensors alloy wheels, metallic paint, keyless go, cruise control, six airbags and automatic emergency braking. SE Dynamic trim adds front parking sensors and darkened rear windows, while FR gets sporty styling touches, rain-sensing wipers and three-zone climate control. The FR First Edition, meanwhile, has a rear-view camera and adaptive suspension.

On the infotainment front, the SE gets a 8.25-inch touchscreen system that brings together DAB radio, Bluetooth and Apple Carplay/Android Auto, while all the other versions get a digital instrument panel and a bigger 10-inch touchscreen with built-in navigation. We’ve not tried the former, but the latter looks good with graphics that are sharp and modern, and it’s mainly fairly easy to use, although the ambiguous design of one or two of the on-screen icons means it’s not immediately clear what they do, causing you to get lost once in a while. The fact that there are very few other controls on the dashboard means you have to access the touchscreen to do pretty much anything, which is more distracting than using physical buttons and knobs.

The cabin has a reasonably high-grade feel, too. Most of the main parts feel suitably touchy-feely, although there are still quite a few places where the finishes aren’t quite so appealing, while the colour scheme could be accused of being rather grey and monotone. It feels pretty posh compared with most cars in the class, but it’s not up to the standards of the very poshest.

On the road, too, the Leon impresses. There’s a distinctly firm edge to the ride, especially in the FR form that we tried the car in, which has a lowered sports suspension. That means you feel more of big lumps and bumps than you would in many rivals, and you’re jostled around in your seat more over smaller ones, too. But while other cars in the class are more comfortable, the Leon stops short of being uncomfortable. The payoff for that firm ride, though, is really impressive body control, and with bullish grip and responsive, well-weighted steering, it feels impressively darty and eager when skipping from bend to bend.

The engine we tried was a little cracker, too, that being the 1.5 turbo with 128bhp. It’s a fraction hesitant if you let the revs drop below 1,500rpm, but after that, it’s perky, responsive, and capable of a decent turn of pace when called upon, and what’s more, it stays impressively smooth and quiet. Refinement is pretty good otherwise, too, although there is a bit of road noise on the motorway.

So, while the Leon isn’t perfect, it’s now stronger in most areas than it’s ever been, and is a much more well-rounded as a result. It’s also competitively priced and should be economical to run, and that completes a very tempting package. So, will you buy one of these or spend a bit extra and go for the ‘you-know-what’? Well, only you can decide that, but it’s certainly true that the two cars are now closer in ability than they’ve even been before.


27 Aug 2020