What is it?
The new SEAT Leon is a mid-life refresh for brand’s biggest-selling model.
Subtle styling changes, new engine option, updated tech.
The revamp to the SEAT Leon is all that is needed to keep a top-contending model competitive – it remains a must-try for any family hatch buyer.
When the SEAT Leon launched in 1999, it established the Spanish brand as a mainstream contender. It has since become SEAT’s best-selling model, in one of the most competitive sectors in the market where its rivals include top-ten fixture cars such as the Ford Focus and Vauxhall Astra.
The market is changing, however, with more and more buyers defecting from traditional family hatches to SUVs – SEAT is adding two more to the Ateca it launched in 2016. So the Leon needs to evolve to stay in the game.
And that is exactly what the latest package of changes, applied to the third-generation Leon launched in 2012, comprise. This mid-life refresh is not about major headlines but a host of upgrades, mostly making use of the new technology launched in more recent newcomers such as the Ateca. The biggest news is the availability of a 1.0-litre three-cylinder petrol engine previously only offered to continental buyers.
The new Leon arrived in showrooms in February, the revamp applied at the same time to all three versions – three-door SC, five-door hatch and ST estate, while also extending to the range-topping off-road pitched Leon X-perience. For the purpose of this review, however, we are focusing on the core five-door hatch.
Exterior and interior
SEAT describes the new exterior look as ‘subtle changes’, which is fine as the canvas the designers have to work with is so good anyway. The Leon has long been considered one of the best-looking family hatches on the market, with a purposeful profile based on sharp crease lines – notably on the bonnet and flanks.
The revamp seeks to add a little more sportiness to those looks. A slightly bolder front end gains a lower bonnet, wider grille and a redesigned bumper. The new technology is in the form of LEDs in the headlights, indicators and fog lights – yes we know the previous Leon had LED headlamps, but apparently the new ones offer triple the light intensity of their predecessors.
Equally, the Leon’s interior has been much praised for its cockpit-like feel, with the instruments grouped towards the driver and all placed close together, being very easy to use. Here again, it’s about subtle improvements, with new finishes and ambient lighting in a choice of eight colours which “occupants can adapt according to their mood.” Does one really get in a car and think “I’m not very happy this morning, so I’ll change the lighting from orange to blue”?
Seriously, however – it’s a very effective interior and does not require much in the way of improvement, although the major update (replacing the manual handbrake with an electric one) does free up lots of between-the-seats space.
The Leon was one of the first new models launched on the VW Group’s flexible MQB platform and thus there is plenty of space for front and rear passengers and their luggage. At 380 litres the boot is some 64 bigger than in a Focus, and 10 more than the Astra. Drop the rear seats and it extends to a gargantuan 1,470 litres, though loading requires humping one’s luggage over a rather high rear sill.
Propulsion choices for the Leon remain plentiful, drawing on the many options in the VW Group engine catalogue. The five petrol units available range from 1.0 to 1.8 litres and 115 to 180hp, while there are three diesels, a 1.6-litre with 115hp and a pair of 2.0-litre units with either 150 or 184 horses.
Of this eight just two are changed over the previous model. The 1.6 diesel has had its power increased by five horses to 115hp, while improving economy and emissions, while there is a completely new-to-the-UK unit in the form of a 1.0-litre three-cylinder TSI. This is an impressive little engine, its sub 10-second 62mph sprint feeling enthusiastic while the combined cycle fuel economy is comparable to the diesels and the emissions figure of 102g/km best in the range.
SEAT expects, however, that the 1.4 petrol, with its clever ability to shut down two cylinders when cruising to save fuel, will remain the most popular choice amongst retail buyers. Fleet drivers meanwhile will go for the smallest diesel.
Six speeds are general across the transmission range, whether in manual or in the auto gearbox, though the 1.6-litre diesel has a five-speed manual ‘box and there are seven with the 1.4 EcoTSI engine and the auto-equipped 1.6 TDI.
On the road
Both of the most popular engines and the new 1.0-litre came under The Car Expert’s gaze during the launch event, and it is to little surprise that all behaved impeccably. They combine smooth, almost silent progress with eager pick up and smooth shifts whether through manual or DSG transmissions.
All testers of family hatches know that the Ford Focus offers the most effective chassis, but the Leon comes very close to bettering it, adding to the car’s generally sporty profile. A series of twisting bends is accomplished in fine style with precise turn-in and fine control through the apexes with plentiful grip. Equally, cruising at speed limits the Leon is assured, effectively smothering road surface imperfections.
Five trim levels are on offer across the five-door range, including a new top-level XCellence grade. But perhaps most notable is the excellent safety package.
Standard safety features extend to multi-collision braking and a new tiredness recognition system, that reacts to changes in the inputs to the steering wheel and sounds a warning. DSG (automatic) models gain a host of extras including a lane-keeping function and even the ability to slow the car to a stop if the driver does not react after a certain period.
Other new technology options available with the Leon are headed by connectivity. These range up to a hub that maintains full functions of any smartphone through the car while wirelessly charging said phone at the same time.
The SEAT Leon has always been regarded very highly and the package of updates applied to the latest model simply enhance a quality package. It’s thoroughly practical while offering more personality than its perhaps more mainstream-regarded sister, the Volkswagen Golf. Buyers in the market for a family hatch should have the Leon high on their consideration list.
SEAT Leon five-door – key specification
Models tested: SEAT Leon Technology 1.0 TSI 115hp six-speed manual, 1.4 EcoTSI 150hp seven-speed auto, 1.6 TDI 115hp seven-speed auto.
On Sale: Feb 2017
Engines: Petrol 1.0, 1.2, 1.4 (2), 1.8. Diesel 1.6, 2.0 (2).
Power (hp): 115, 110, 125/150, 180. 115, 150/184.
Torque (Nm): 200, 175, 200/250, 250. 250, 340/380.
0-62mph (sec):9.6, 9.9, 9.1/8.0, 7.5. 9.8, 8.4/7.5.
Top speed (mph): 123, 121, 126/140. 122, 134/142.
Fuel economy (combined, mpg): 64.2, 57.6, 54.3/57.6, 47.1. 70.6, 64.2/62.8.
CO2 emissions (g/km): 102, 114, 120/114,138. 105, 112/118.
Key rivals:Ford Focus, Vauxhall Astra, Renault Megane.
Test Date: April 2017
All figures best results with manual gearbox where available.