The new Seat Leon's greatest enemies come from within: its VW Group sister cars like the new Golf and Audi A3 share the same underpinnings, but get posher badges. Can the Leon fight back with better value? CAR has driven petrol and diesel variants to find out.
What exactly is under the skin of the new Seat Leon?
Like the Golf, it uses the VW Group’s new small-car MQB platform architecture, and shares half of its structural, mechanical and electrical bits, with the front axle 40mm forward from the old Leon, and the wheelbase elongated by marginally more despite being shorter overall. The biggest gains have been made inside, though. The neater packaging means a lot of space in the cabin for a car of this size, especially in the back.
Talk me though the Leon's engine range
Like the Golf, the Leon petrol and diesel engine range features the usual well-trodden direct-injection and turbocharged luminaries from 1.2 to 2.0 litres. And like the Golf, there will be a twin-clutch DSG option, but not until the spring. However, next year the Leon FR will offer up the 2.0 TDI 181bhp engine first. Stick that in your tailpipe and smoke it, Golf.
Seat has taken a sensible approach in fitting the more powerful stuff producing 150bhp or more with independent rear suspension, while those at the more parsimonious end of the range have a torsion beam at the back, keeping costs and weight down.
Does the low-rent rear suspension affect the handling?
That means the 1.4 TSI and 1.6 TDI we drove both have the cheaper system, but it doesn’t really show. It reacts with a hard-ish stomp over sudden bumps – but across most surfaces, when given more time to absorb changes, it is compliant enough, with body control decently well contained. Not much information feeds back through the steering, and if you push either of them hard through corners, all the data you need is received from the wailing of crabbing rubber.
The diesel will be the big seller in the range, with its company car-friendly low emissions of below 100g/km for the Ecomotive variant, but it is a bit gruff at low revs and the TSI is the more characterful motor. Both are pretty sprightly, though.
The new Seat Leon's sharp new look
Seat tried to imbue the outgoing Leon with character when it tried to break it out of the Golf’s shadow, and the jury is out on whether it succeeded or not. Personally, I think it looked like a giant computer mouse.
The first version had a more traditional hatchback aesthetic and this one tends towards that approach. It’s a sharp, outsized Ibiza from the front, but the side and rear views are much better – taut, clean surfaces and a whiff of Alfa around the boot. I like the Starship Trooper guns for wing mirrors, too. The Seat designers were a bit worried about the change in rear door handle positioning – they have burst forth from their sporty berth on the C-pillar and now occupy a prosaic spot where rear door handles usually go. Like on a Golf. Seems eminently sensible to me.
Is the interior of the new Seat Leon up to scratch?
Inside, some of the plastics are certainly not like a Golf – especially lower down, with the flap on the centre console bin clearly a major pillar of the Spanish Government’s austerity plan. But generally the materials are solid where it matters, and there is plenty of useful kit available, although the ‘Heading Control’, in which the electromechanical power steering intervenes to keep you between the lines is amazingly bossy and insistent, and rather unnerving. Switching it off is recommended.
Price wise – and this is where the Leon really carves a life for itself – it is significantly cheaper than a Golf, with the 1.6 TDI a whopping two grand cheaper, and the TSI about £1000 less. If the Leon gains the same acceptance on the used market as the first generation did, then Seat will really have its own trusted, admired and liked family hatchback. Just like a Golf.