Latest first drives New Seat Leon
The new Leon has a tough brief: taking on the Ford Focus and Volkswagen Golf in the medium car class. We get behind the wheel to see if it's up to the challenge.
Members can see our full first drive verdict of the new Seat Leon, including our full video, driving impressions and pictures. Sign up for £1 if you're not a member, and here's a sneak peek of our first drive video and verdict.
New Seat Leon first drive video
New Seat Leon: What’s new?
Following the 2013 Golf and Audi A3, the Leon is the latest car to use Volkswagen Group’s new MQB platform. So it’s essentially a Golf/A3 underneath, with the same engines, gearboxes, suspension, brakes and many other components.
The Leon comes in three body styles. The five-door hatchback seen here reaches showrooms in March 2013 (just in time for the plate-change). A three-door hatch, called Sport Coupé, arrives in July, followed by the Sport Tourer estate in November.
Leon looks more distinctive than VW Golf
Four petrol and four diesel engines are offered initially. The petrol line-up consists of 1.2 TSI (85 or 104bhp), 1.4 TSI (138bhp) and 1.8 TSI (178bhp). Diesels start with the 1.6 TDI (89 or 104bhp), then 2.0 TDI (148 or 181bhp). Seat’s DSG semi-automatic gearbox is available with most engines for an extra £1,250.
Trim levels are the same as before: S, SE and FR. Standard kit on the S includes air-con, heated mirrors, Bluetooth and a touchscreen media system. Upgrade to SE and you’ll get 16in alloy wheels, cruise control and rear electric windows, while the FR has 17in alloys, climate control air-con, sports seats and parking sensors.
Prices start at £15,670 for the 1.2 TSI petrol in S-spec. The version Seat expects to be the best-seller, the 1.6 TDI SE diesel, is £18,490. And the current range-topper, the 2.0 TDI FR diesel, sells for £22,375.
New Seat Leon: What’s it up against?
The Leon’s biggest challenge comes from its in-house rival, the Volkswagen Golf. A new Skoda Octavia, also spun from the MQB platform, will arrive next year, probably undercutting the Seat on price.
Elsewhere, the Ford Focus and Vauxhall Astra are top-sellers in this segment, while Korean cars like the Hyundai i30 and Kia Cee’d offer a value-priced alternative.
New Leon has a range of fuel-efficient engines
Finally, there are ‘crossovers’ like the Nissan Qashqai and Vauxhall Mokka. These combine hatchback practicality with beefed-up 4x4 styling.
New Seat Leon: Why buy one?
In short, the Leon is cheaper than a Golf and – to our eyes at least – better looking.
A start price of £15,670 for the Leon 1.2 TSI S compares favourably to the £16,933 VW asks for the equivalent Golf, and that gap increases to more than £2,000 further up the range.
And if you find the same-again styling of the 2013 Golf boring, the crisper, sculpted lines of the Leon might appeal. It’s hardly ground-breaking, but it beats the bulbous, MPV-lite look of the old Seat Leon.
Aside from the inevitable Golf comparisons, there are other reasons to consider the Leon. Firstly, it’s well-equipped and comes with plenty of safety equipment, including seven airbags, stability control, tyre-pressure monitoring and brake assist.
Secondly, it has a strong range of engines. The turbocharged TSI petrol units provide plenty of pulling power, while Seat claims a thrifty 74.3mpg for the 104bhp 1.6 TDI diesel. Its CO2 emissions of 99g/km mean free car tax, too.
Finally, the Seat is fun to drive. It’s refined and comfortable, yet it handles with an agility that’s streets ahead of the old, heavier Leon.
A touchscreen media system is standard
FR versions are even better, thanks to independent rear suspension instead of a (cheaper) torsion beam axle. FR-spec also includes Seat Drive Profile, which allows the driver to adjust the steering and throttle response between Comfort, Eco, Sport and Individual modes.
The signs are good for the Leon Cupra hot hatch, based on the next Golf GTI and due in 2014.
Read more driving impressions of the Seat Leon
New Seat Leon: What’s its Achilles’ heel?
Seat has made an effort to set the Leon apart from its Golf and A3 cousins. But look past the sharper styling and cheaper plastics and the biggest difference between these cars is the way they are marketed.
Skoda’s continued renaissance has left Seat looking like the poor relation in the VW family and it remains to be seen whether buyers will accept the brand’s ‘youthful and sporty’ tag – especially when it persists with dull-as-ditchwater cars like the Toledo.
Brand image is subjective, of course, and those who judge the Leon on its own merits will find it a well-priced and thoroughly capable car.