► Sub-warm hatch still has plenty of power
► Engine a little coarse when worked hard
► Zero to 62mph in reasonable 8.0 seconds
Life for top-line hot hatch spotters is a lot tougher than it used to be. With M Sport, AMG Line and R-Line badges liberally plastered across the most mundane three-cylinder eco-hatches and diesel rep-cars alike, impressing the neighbours with a rapid five-door hatch is pretty challenging these days.
Seat’s sporty trim – FR Technology – is a little more selectively applied, with 148bhp being the power threshold needed in the Leon. The Golf sibling is already a looker – more so after a little facelift tweakery – and FR Tech’ trim flatters its sharp lines. But is the entry-level 1.4 TSI 150 model an authentic warm hatch, or is it just a sporty badge on a weakling of a car à la the 82hp Peugeot 108 GT Line?
Leon 1.4 TSI: 50% of the Cupra’s power, 80% of the looks
Following a little facelift surgery the Leon now has a tweaked grille and lights, but retains the Leon’s modern, handsome look. Full LED headlights at the front and twin pipes at the rear set it apart from lesser Leons, though you won’t mistake the FR Technology for a Cupra.
Power comes from a turbocharged 1.4-litre petrol lump with 148bhp and the ability to shut off half of the cylinders in the name of economy. Full-bore starts should get you to 62mph in 8.0 seconds, though claimed economy is surprisingly good at 57.6mpg.
Whatever the figures, the small petrol engine is punchy, with plenty of muscle at low engine speeds, and we chalked up a displayed 47.4mpg – meaning there’s no need to go for the £1830-pricier 2.0 TDI 150 diesel, unless you cover mega miles.
It pulls well when worked harder, too, with very little lag from the turbo. The cylinder deactivation is seamless, as well, notably boosting economy without hindering performance.
FR Technology trim means comfy seats but firm ride
The Leon matches its reasonable dose of power with sharp handling, albeit with the payoff of a firm ride. On better roads it’s smooth and quiet, but hit some rippled, scarred tarmac and you feel it inside – even more so than the Cupra with adaptive suspension.
Steering is nicely direct, with a slick gearchange and sharp brakes rounding things off. The engine is mostly pretty muted in normal driving, though it does drone a little at motorway cruising speeds and takes on a slightly coarse note if you go hunting the redline.
Thankfully comfortable seats help take the edge off the ride, with good side support when cornering. There’s plenty of room in both rows of seats as well, with just the gargantuan rear pillars making things a little gloomy and denting rear visibility. The boot’s also pretty useful, though there’s a big drop from the opening to the boot floor.
Cabin feels more upmarket, though two-button sat-nav harder to use
The updated Leon gains piano black trim – for an extra helping of Golf-ness – plus an electric handbrake and a new touchscreen media system. This does away with nearly all of the useful buttons surrounding the old unit, forcing you to prod the screen to do anything – which is unnecessarily distracting. Thankfully the Leon does without digi-dials, meaning that you get a much crisper analogue speedo and rev counter than any pixel-painted version.
Also new is the option of a wireless phone charger with signal booster and safety kit such as Front Assist, Pedestrian Protection and Traffic Jam Assist. FR Technology models get extra standard kit including:
- Eight-inch media system with sat-nav
- Apple CarPlay and Android Auto
- Dual-zone climate control
- Rear parking sensors
- Cruise control
- 17-inch alloy wheels
- Lowered suspension
- Full LED headlights
The Leon has always been a sensible buy for those who want something a bit sharper – in look and drive – than the VW Golf (not to mention a bit cheaper). That hasn’t changed, and the Leon now looks and a feels more modern than before. The 1.4 TSI 150 petrol is a bit of a sweet spot in the range, offering a notable step up in power over lesser models while significantly undercutting the 148bhp diesel version.
Throw in decent finance deals – expect to pay around £280 per month for this car on a three-year, 10,000-mile per year contract with a £2,000 deposit – and the 1.4 TSI 150 FR Technology is pretty appealing. It may be no Cupra, but the £200-per-month saving (with the same contract terms) – or a cash saving of £9105 – is a great sweetener.*
*Deals are correct at time of publication.