Road Tests

First drive: Seat Leon – the new all-rounder – but how does it stack up against the Ford Focus and VW Golf?

Time 8 months ago

Car Dealer’s Darren Cassey drives the latest Seat Leon. Here’s what he thought of it

What is it?

If customers are looking for a sensible family car, two models have long stood out – the Ford Focus and the Volkswagen Golf.

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However, the Seat Leon has long been an appealing alternative, sharing much of its underpinnings with the Golf but with more interesting styling and a more playful driving experience.

That’s still true of the latest model, which is a similar size to its German cousin but with sharper looks and the same excellent build quality – yet like for like it costs less.

And by being based on the latest MQB Evo platform has allowed Seat to add more connected services, advanced driving assistance systems and more safety technology while also being bigger and more practical than before.

What’s under the bonnet?

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There are currently three petrol engines and one diesel available, with the trim level dictating which are available. If customers go for the standard SE Dynamic trim, and the petrols are a 109bhp 1.0-litre and 128bhp 1.5-litre, while the diesel is a 113bhp 2.0-litre unit, each with a six-speed manual gearbox.

However, if they upgrade to the sporty-looking FR trim and they have the choice of the two petrols, as well as a 1.5-litre unit making 148bhp, which is available with both the manual or a seven-speed automatic.

What’s it like to drive?

We got behind the wheel of the FR trim, which has traditionally been the sportier of Seat’s specifications, but the latest generation does appear to be closer to a Golf in mannerisms than ever before.

However, that’s not necessarily a criticism, because it’s immediately obvious that this is one of the most pleasant, fuss-free driving experiences in the segment.

The ride is comfortable despite the FR’s slightly stiffer suspension, and the steering light enough that city driving is a breeze while still being stable at motorway speeds. A great all-rounder, then.

How does it look?

A particular highlight of the new Leon is the full-width rear light, which gives off a futuristic look when driving at night while adding a splash of colour to the rear during the day. Seat’s penchant for sharp creases in its cars’ styling continues to serve it well, taking a similar silhouette to the Golf but injecting a little more character.

What’s it like inside?

There’s the same minimalist interior as the Golf, with a large central screen for the infotainment and a digital instrument binnacle ahead of the driver, with minimal physical buttons. It looks fantastic, with Seat doing a great job of elevating the premium feel of the cabin while keeping it cool and modern with lots of sharp angles in the design.

However, the downside is that navigating menus while on the move to change simple settings like the climate controls becomes annoying quickly.

What’s the spec like?

Prices for the SE Dynamic start at £20,995, with equipment including 17-inch alloy wheels, rear privacy glass, LED headlights and tail lights, front and rear fog lights, digital cockpit, 10-inch infotainment screen with sat nav, cloth upholstery, air conditioning and cruise control.

However, upgrade to the FR, and prices start from £23,185. For the extra cash, buyers get a different 17-inch alloy wheel design with an optional upgrade to 18-inch wheels, dynamic indicators, rain-sensing wipers and a wireless phone charger. On top of that, there’s the lower, stiffer suspension and sporty body kit.

What do the press think?

What Car? said: ‘The Seat Leon is a perfect example of why the most popular things in life aren’t always the best. How so? Well, this Spanish hatchback is massively outsold by its closest rivals but, when you weigh everything up, it’s actually a better car than all of them.’

What do we think?

There’s no two ways about it – the new Seat Leon is a brilliant car. It looks great, it’s practical, it’s quiet and comfortable to drive and comes packed full of kit. The down side? The Golf does all of those things, and the extra cash won’t be too offensive when divided across the monthly payments of a finance deal.

The thing is, its greatest negative is the existence of the Golf, but it’s also a positive. It has all the great things the VW does but without forcing you to accept the dull, predictable choice – and if you can get dependability and character in one hit, why wouldn’t you? That minor saving could allow you to tick a couple of option boxes to make it even better value for money, too.

The knowledge

Model: Seat Leon FR 1.5 TSI
Price: £23,185
Engine: 1.5-litre petrol
Power: 128bhp
Torque: 200Nm
Max speed: 130mph
0-60mph: 9.4 seconds
MPG: 46.3-51.4
Emissions: 125g/km CO2

TARGET BUYERS

Family hatchback buyers after some style and VW Group quality

THE RIVALS

Ford Focus, Mazda 3, Volkswagen Golf

KEY SELLING POINTS

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Comfortable ride
Quality cabin
Strong list of tech

DEAL CLINCHER
Does everything the Golf does and more, but costs less

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