If you’re not convinced by the look of the latest Volkswagen Golf and find the Ford Focus a bit too mundane, then the Seat Leon is worth a look. After all, it takes many of the best mechanical and technological bits from the Golf and wraps it up in a stylish Spanish package that is far more attractive.
The Leon stands out as one of the nicest hatches on the market right now. The interior, a weak point in previous, is far better in this generation and includes some novel features like a wrap-around ambient light bar. This illuminated strip runs from the front doors and around the base of the windscreen. It neatly integrates the blind spot warning system for the driver, highlighting the side where an object is, and it results in a far more effective way of operating.
Furthermore, the 10-inch touchscreen display sits high on the dashboard and is arranged in a way that makes it easy to use at a glance, thus reducing the amount of time you need to take you eyes away from the road. There is a wireless charging pad, two USB-C ports and a good sense of space.
And the Leon is even more appealing thanks to the addition of a plug-in hybrid variant to the lineup, as it boasts a useful electric driving range with respectable performance to match. All told, the Leon e-Hybrid has a total power output of 201bhp thanks to a combination of a 1.4-litre turbocharged four-cylinder petrol engine and an electric motor. The latter gets its power from a 13kWh lithium-ion battery positioned behind the rear seats and below the boot floor. It’s charged via an access port on the passenger-side front wing and can be fully topped up in as little as 3 hours 42 minutes thanks to its 3.6kW onboard charger. Boot capacity decreases by 100 litres due to the battery, with space lost through the overall height of the boot. Still, at 270 litres it remains a useful size, and it’s possible to fold down the rear seats to gain more room if required.
The real benefits of ownership come when you maximise the charging capabilities of the battery and keep it topped up as much as possible. When at its fullest, the Leon e-Hybrid can cover up to 37 miles using pure electric power, and it does so nicely thanks to its 113bhp electric motor. If you happen to be an urban or city dweller and don’t have to undertake a long commute, you could end up saving a small fortune on fuel costs.
Providing there’s some charge in the battery, the Leon will start its drive in the electric mode, and you can select a pure EV mode that will continue using the battery until it full depletes. At this point, the four-cylinder petrol engine spools into life, and you carry on with your journey without any interruption. There is a clear battery indicator on the digital instrument display, and it is also possible to save a preset level of charge within the battery for a later part of your trip, such as if you need to enter a low emission zone.
The combustion engine alone has an output of 148bhp and transmits its power to the front wheels through a six-speed automatic gearbox. Performance is adequate, though using only petrol power it’s not as scintillating as its dynamic exterior styling might suggest. When you begin to demand more from the engine, it can start to sound strained, while the lack of more gears in doesn’t help matters at higher cruising speeds.
If you want to focus less on fuel economy and prefer to have some fun, utilising both combustion and electric motors simultaneously gives you the full 201bhp, making the Spanish hatchback feel much brisker. The boost of the electric motor’s instantaneous power adds to the low-down grunt, and it’s easy to feel an inside wheel scrabbling for grip at times.
We’d stop short of describing the Leon e-Hybrid as a hot hatch in this mode, but for the occasional bit of fun, it does perform well. The ride quality on the 17-inch wheels that come as standard with the FR spec represents a decent balance between comfort and dynamism. But if looks are more your thing, go for the FR Sport specification as it adds larger 18-inch machined alloys wheels that look great.
The Leon e-Hybrid does get a bespoke suspension tune that takes into account the added weight of the plug-in hybrid system, as it adds around 200kg to the overall weight. Start chucking it into corners with more gusto and you’ll soon start to feel that extra mass make itself known. Not that it overwhelms the car, but it doesn’t have quite the same sharpness and crispness to the steering as something like the Cupra Leon, but as it stands this battery-aided Leon is the most potent to carry the Seat badge.
With its sharp lines, smart interior and good driving manners, the Seat Leon e-Hybrid is undoubtedly one of the most appealing hatchbacks in the segment. A plug-in hybrid powertrain not only adds a dollop of outright performance, but it also gives the potential for the Leon to be as frugal as it can be fast. Providing your driving habits fit with the car’s hybrid abilities, the initial high cost of entry will quickly begin to repay itself with hefty fuel savings.
Model: Seat Leon e-Hybrid FR
Engine: 1.4-litre four-cylinder petrol with 85kW electric motor
Power: 201bhp system maximum
Torque: 350Nm system maximum
0-62mph: 7.5 seconds
Max speed: 136mph
WLTP fuel consumption: 217.3-235.4mpg
WLTP CO2: 27g/km