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Seat Leon Review

Find out more about the Seat Leon in the latest Motors.co.uk Review

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8
Out of 10
Average Price £11,340
Model Review

As the first C-segment Seat hatchback released under VW Group control, the Leon was seen as a cheaper and more dynamic-looking alternative to the market-dominating VW Golf. It was a popular choice in the segment, with the sportier FR and Cupra models gaining the most notoriety.

With the second generation in 2005 came a distinct shape change, but the ethos of the Leon was maintained – fun driving with hatchback practicality. Although it may never have been up to the level of its best-selling rivals, it was widely admired for its sporty models, but build quality wasn’t quite as good as many hoped.

2013 saw the introduction of the more mature yet no less stylish third generation, which also saw three other body styles introduced with it, moving it further in line with the other VW Group models.

The more angular design definitely stands out when compared to other safer hatchback body shapes, and with an estate, a three-door and an off-road styled wagon, the Leon range has definitely grown to take on its multiple rivals.

Latest Model

Having been on sale since 2013, Seat refreshed the Leon towards the tail end of 2016, offering slightly enhanced looks and added technological features to add further weight to its top hatchback challenge.

Coming with the option to add traffic jam assist, traffic sign recognition and blind spot detection, the Leon is taking features from the Ateca SUV to further add to the Leon’s safety appeal.

To refresh the design, Seat altered the front grille shape, sharpened the front and rear bumpers and full-LED rear and headlights, indicators and fog lights, with the trims also enhancing the overall look of the vehicles with individual features.

New engines were also added to offer further efficient options, with the 1.0-litre 113bhp petrol and 1.6-litre 113bhp TDI diesel units giving customers more choice at the lower end of the power range.

 

Value for money

 

Oddly, the SE Dynamic Technology trim offers the starting benchmark for pricing, even though it is the second trim in the Leon’s hierarchy. Its £17,455 price gives you Seat’s eight-inch touchscreen media system with sat-nav, electric windows, leather multi-function steering wheel and gear knob and cruise control, as well as rear parking sensors and multiple other cosmetic features. That is in addition to the base S trim, which weirdly is more expensive than this model.

Top level used models, however, are available to purchase and as there are Cupra models of the third generation, you can find top spec versions in the same body easier than you might think. A 2014 example with just under 23,000 miles on the clock is available for £17,489, and with it you get a full leather interior, automatic climate control, front and rear parking sensors, park pilot and 19-inch alloy wheels.

Under the bonnet you get a 2.0-litre 276bhp petrol engine with a DSG automatic gearbox, which provides much enhanced performance. You can clearly get higher performing models at similar prices to new models with the same shape, which means it’s a good time to have a look at low-mileage used examples of the Cupra and FR models from earlier on in the current generation.

 

Looks and image

It is safe to say that the Leon has matured the longer it has been in production, and with the third generation it is more angular, modern-looking and all together very stylish. Built on the same base as the VW Golf, the Leon looks better than its sister car, and inside it is much the same. With light strips highlighting the darker cubby holes and the dashboard, the design isn’t mind-blowing but it is very well thought-out, everything is where it should be and it is simple for anyone to use.

The three VW Group C-Segment hatchback (VW Golf, Skoda Octavia and Seat Leon) have all taken the same base chassis and gone in a certain direction, and the most fun to drive is the Leon. It may not be as comfortable as the other two as it can be jigglier over bumps and uneven surfaces, but through the corners and as a performer it is a better car for the keen driver amongst us. The steering is precise and expectable, although it can lack feel sometimes, and body roll is kept to a minimum, while its engines provide good pull that help get you up to speed.

Basic suspension fitted to the S and SE models offers a slightly firmer ride than its rivals, and the further up the trim levels you climb the sportier the suspension. In SE Technology and FR Technology models, sports suspension is added and with the Cupra models adaptive dampers help to give a softer ride on the harsher set up. The large interior space helps for comfort to stay at a high level and as the car is longer than the last generation, you get more legroom all around.

Space and practicality

Apart from the frankly gargantuan interior of the Skoda Octavia, the Seat Leon is a class-leading model, which was helped by the extension of its wheelbase at the start of the current generation.

This means passenger space is much better than before and despite the roofline having a more sloped rake, only really tall people will complain in the back seats. With 380 litres of boot space with the seats up it outperforms pretty much all of its close rivals and although the seats don’t fold completely flat the optional dual level floor can help to even it out.

Following its Euro NCAP test in 2012, the Leon has earned and maintained its five-star rating that will attract the safety conscious. With the 2017 update more safety technology is added, such as traffic jam assist, pedestrian safety system, blind spot detection and parking assist. The Leon also comes with the full complement of airbags, alarm system and central locking for further security.

It is a simple car to use and get into and in terms of family usage it can be very good indeed. With ISOFIX points on the rear seats and plenty of rear space, families will like how spacious it is in the back. However, the boot lip can be annoyingly high for heavier objects and despite the vehicle being bigger than before, it is better to check the boot width and depth is large enough to suit your needs.

 

Engines

You aren’t spoilt for choice with the engines on offer with the Leon, as you get a choice of six petrol units and three diesel options, with four-wheel drive diesel engines available with the X-Perience off-road orientated estate model. The 1.0-litre TSI Ecomotive petrol unit is the newest in the range and although its 113bhp doesn’t sound too much, it returns good economy figures in the region of 60mpg.

With 1.2, 1.4 and 1.8-litre options available throughout, the petrol models all provide good performance with surprisingly good economy. Their diesel counterparts are still the options to go for if you do more long distance driving though and with their higher torque you can get up to speed quicker.

However, the smaller iterations can be grumbly at low speeds. Five-speed manual transmissions are paired with all bar the SE Technology’s Ecomotive unit, which comes with a six-speed. DSG-automatic boxes are also available for many of the engines on offer, which some will prefer.

 

Running costs

All of the engines do emit over 100g/km CO2, which means that their VED bands are higher following the tax change at the start of April. That means road tax for all models is at least £140 in the first year, with the top Cupra model needing a £500 road tax payment in the first year.

Most of the models, however, offer an impressive set of MPG figures with all bar two engines able to achieve over 50mpg, which could be in part to the start/stop system that shuts down the engine at junctions and when the car stops. Lower powered models range between insurance groups 12 and 16, while the top end Cupra is in group 35 due to its higher power output.

Things to look out for 

The latest generation models are very reliable when compared to previous models, with only a recall for manual child lock failures before the Leon’s mid-generation update affecting the third incarnation. Older models had flywheel problems and anti-lock brake unit issues, but overall the Leon has done very well for reliability. The Seat badge, however, carries a reputation from other models that can put customers off, but the current range is very reliable under the VW Group’s control.

 

Rivals

Although it may not be on the same level as the Ford Focus and the Volkswagen Golf, the quality of the Leon means that it’s a worthy challenger to its MQB-based sibling. Having been in the chasing pack for some time, it has rivals such as the Hyundai i30, Vauxhall’s Astra and the Audi A3, with the similarly priced Renault Megane and the Skoda Octavia adding to the very competitive hatchback field. It can be said that the Leon is bridging the gap to the top two market leaders, but it just falls short on a few areas to be a genuine challenger.

 

Depreciation warning

It may not be the best in holding its value in its sector, but it performs above average when compared to other hatchbacks, with a 40 per cent hold in value more than attainable. The five-door model performs better than the Leon SC three-door, with models in much higher specs in terms of technology and comfort performing the best. Mainstream engines are also much better at holding their value on the used market and units such as the 1.2-litre petrol and 1.6-litre TDI units do best. The sportier models are also good for the used markets, especially ones in great condition, with original parts and low mileage and they can hold around 50 per cent of their values.

 

Trims Explained

As a mid-size hatchback the Leon needs to go up against Ford’s Focus and the VW Golf, so it must match them on trim options and the equipment that comes with them. Well, with six levels on offer, Seat is looking to do so with various style and technical differentiations to cater for any and all markets.

S

Starting off in terms of equipment is the S trim. It isn’t the cheapest currently and is only available with a 1.6-litre 113bhp diesel engine, so for many people this might only be an option if they want something cheap to run and maintain. Fitted with 15-inch steel wheels, a five-inch touchscreen media system with Bluetooth and handsfree, front electric windows, cloth seats and electrically-adjustable wing mirrors – the bare essentials basically. It even comes with a manual handbrake rather than an electric one, so it is pretty bog standard.

It has a starting price of £18,470.

SE

With the SE Technology and SE Dynamic Technology models there is little difference, but both provide a significant step up from the S trim. With an extended eight-inch touchscreen and more advanced multimedia system with satellite navigation, Seat also add rear electric windows, front assist with pedestrian protection, cruise control and hill hold control, as well as leather steering wheel and gear knob, extra storage solutions and LED running lights. The Dynamic Technology model adds rear parking sensors and dark tinted rear windows, as well as unique 17-inch alloy wheels.

The SE Technology starts from £19,235, while the Dynamic Technology version has a starting price of £17,455.

FR

In FR Technology and FR Titanium Technology levels, Seat add full LED headlights, climate control, sports seats, sports suspension and dark tinted rear windows, as well as drive profiles – so you can choose how the car feels and performs – and rear parking sensors. With the Titanium version, Seat also add body side skirts and an extended rear spoiler for more dynamic styling.

The FR Technology range starts from £19,640.

XCellence

The XCELLENCE Technology trim is almost the same as the FR’s, but doesn’t take as sporty an angle and instead goes with a designer feel that gives the Leon a classier look. That means more chrome detailing, aluminium door sills and a leather steering wheel, as well as Xcellence badging and an LED interior illumination pack.

What to look out for

  1. Invigorating to drive compared to other hatchbacks
  2. Mostly reliable history with minor niggles
  3. Stylish exterior that can stand out
  4. Economical range of engines
  5. Very populated sector full of equally good rivals
  6. Good levels of space
  7. Ride can be very firm
  8. Wind noise can be an issue at motorway speeds
  9. Holds its value reasonably well
  10. Easy to use interior features