For those searching for a cracking family car at a highly competitive price, definitely look at the entry-level 109bhp 1.2-litre petrol. It’s relatively affordable but still offers strong performance that’s good enough for use in town or on motorways.
If you can stretch to the slightly pricier 113bhp 1.0-litre turbo petrol, then all the better. It’s even peppier and fractionally quicker than the 1.2, but is more frugal and cheaper on company car tax.
However, the best petrol engine in the range is the 1.4 TSI. It comes with either 123bhp or 148bhp, but it’s the higher-power version (badged 1.4 EcoTSI 150) that is particularly sprightly and our favourite engine in the range. It even shuts down half of its cylinders to save fuel when you’re cruising along.
Even more potent petrols are available. The 177bhp 1.8-litre unit is offered in FR Technology trim only, while the 296bhp 2.0-litre Cupra 300 model has enough oomph to keep up with the fastest hot hatches out there. It’s a shame that four-wheel drive, which is available on the Leon estate, isn’t an option for the five-door, though; without it, it’s hard to put all that power down smoothly.
The diesel options are a 1.6 unit with 113bhp and a 2.0 with 148bhp or 181bhp. Even the 1.6 has enough low-down shove to ensure brisk, relaxed progress and is our choice for company car drivers who do lots of miles. The 2.0-litre units feel really punchy.
The Leon’s suspension set-up changes as you move up the range. Beyond the standard suspension, SE Technology and FR Technology trims come with lowered suspension. The higher-powered versions, including the 177bhp 1.8 petrol and 181bhp 2.0 diesel, get a more sophisticated rear suspension set-up, while the high-performance Cupra model gets adaptive dampers.
In practice, whichever Leon you choose, you’ll notice that the ride is a little firmer than on, say, a Volkswagen Golf. It just about manages to remain comfortable, although the simpler suspension set-up in the lower-powered models is the most fidgety. If anything, the high-performance Cupra’s ride is the most impressive of the lot when its adaptive dampers are set to Comfort mode; while undeniably firm, it’s better controlled as a result and surprisingly palatable for such a focused hot hatch.
The Leon, in all versions, is a neat-handling car with good body control. That means it stays impressively flat through corners, while the precise steering helps make for an easy car to place on the road. At slow speed, the steering lightens up – this is perfect for manoeuvring in the city.
The Cupra has huge amounts of grip through corners, clinging on limpet-like, but being two-wheel drive (only the ST estate version offers four-wheel drive) means it tends to spin its wheels in a pretty uncouth manner when accelerating out of tight bends. The four-wheel-drive Golf R is much better at putting down its power smoothly; for a really engaging hot hatch, both the Honda Civic Type R and Ford Focus RS are so much more fun.
The Leon is a little less refined than its Audi and Volkswagen stablemates when you rev the engines hard. Yet, once you’re up to motorway speeds, there’s not much noise from the petrols, although you can still hear the diesels in the background when cruising. However, it’s wind noise from the Leon’s sharp-edged door mirrors and general road noise (particularly with bigger wheels fitted) that are most noticeable at speed.
The standard gearbox on most editions is a slick-shifting six-speed manual unit, but the 1.6-litre diesel gets a five-speed ’box that feels a little notchy by comparison. The DSG automatic gearbox (optional on the majority of Leons) is smooth enough most of the time, but it can be a bit clunky at low speeds, such as when you’re trying to reverse the car into a parking space. At speed, if you take control yourself using the steering wheel-mounted paddles, the DSG responds quickly to your inputs.
You shouldn’t have any problems getting comfortable in a Leon. The steering wheel moves extensively in and out, as well as up and down, while the driver’s seat has a good range of movement, including height adjustment as standard on all editions.
The FR Technology, Xcellence Technology and Cupra models get a sportier seat with extra side support, while lumbar adjustment and a height-adjustable front centre armrest are standard on all but the entry-level S model.
All the major controls – for the heating, ventilation and infotainment systems, for example – are positioned within easy reach. The instrument console contains a small digital display between the rev counter and speedometer that, on higher-spec models, offers a range of useful information, such as fuel range, a digital speedometer and average fuel consumption.
The view ahead out of the Leon is hard to fault, making it an easy car to place on the road generally. Reversing it is trickier, though, because the thick rear pillars are pretty occluding; the same is true for most of its rivals, mind, including the Volkswagen Golf.
Rear parking sensors are standard on the business-spec SE Dynamic Technology and FR Technology, while Xcellence Technology and Cupra trims come with parking sensors both front and rear. A rear-view camera is an option, except on the entry-level S trim.
Entry-level S models get a 5.0in colour touchscreen, including Bluetooth, mounted high in the centre of the dashboard. It’s a pity you can’t add a DAB radio or multi-function steering wheel to this model, though, as options. Both feature from SE Technology trim upwards, along with sat-nav, two USB sockets and a larger 8.0in touchscreen.
The system is, on the whole, intuitive and responsive. However, it tries to be clever by hiding some of the on-screen buttons until it detects your finger moving towards the screen, at which point those buttons present themselves. It’s a bit annoying and occasionally you find yourself waiting for the buttons to appear. More generally, some of the icons are quite small or situated inconveniently close to the edge of the screen, making them tricky to hit while driving. And it’s a shame that there aren’t more shortcut buttons running down the side of the screen – something you get in a Golf and Skoda Octavia.
Ultimately, a rotary controller, such as the one you find in a BMW 1 Series or Audi A3, is a much less distracting interface to use on the move.
The Leon’s dashboard is smart rather than plush. The major touchpoints feel fine – all models bar the standard S have a soft leather-covered steering wheel and gearknob - but there are signs of cost-cutting. It’s not hard to spot harsher materials around the interior, a few sharp edges around the seat bases and some brittle-feeling plastics around the rear door handles. It all seems well put together, though, and the VW Group-sourced switches and buttons feel robust.
Ultimately, it looks smarter than a Ford Focus but not quite up to Golf standards. Considering the price differential to the Golf, that seems fair enough.
There’s more than enough space for a couple of tall adults in the front, with particularly good head and leg room on offer. Plus, there are plenty of cubbyholes for assorted clutter, including an armrest with a storage compartment on all but the entry-level edition, a pair of cupholders between the seats, a decent-sized glovebox and front door bins.
The addition of an electric parking brake on all but S trim frees up an extra cubbyhole between the front seats. We also like the optional wireless phone charging system, which holds your mobile in place no matter how hard you drive.
Despite the thick pillars behind the back doors, the back of the Leon still feels relatively airy. There’s even space for three – but if that’s three adults, it becomes a squeeze. Two tall adults will feel comfortable, though, with more head and leg room than a Ford Focus offers, but the Leon is still not at spacious as a Skoda Octavia.
Rear-seat passengers don’t get lots of storage space, but there are useful door bins that are big enough for a reasonably large drinks bottle.
The Leon is a conventional family car so, unlike MPVs and SUVs, doesn’t try to do anything especially clever with its seating configuration. The rear seatbacks fold down in a 60/40 split to extend boot space, but that’s your lot.
If you follow our advice of avoiding the entry-level S trim and stepping up to at least SE Technology, then you’ll be rewarded with passenger seat-height adjustment as standard. FR Technology models and above get the added bonus of passenger lumbar adjustment.
With the rear seats in place, boot capacity is a decent – if not outstanding – 380 litres. In real-world terms, that’s enough for the weekly shopping, but you might want to double-check whether your buggy will fit, particularly if it’s one of the larger ones. The boot lip is pretty high, too, so it requires some effort to heave anything heavy inside.
All but the standard S trim has the option of a useful dual-height boot floor; it’s part of the Storage Package, which isn’t expensive, so we’d go for it. In the upper position, it creates a separate storage area beneath and smooths out the step left when you’ve folded the rear seats down. These lay almost flat.
The Leon is pitched as a better-value alternative to the Volkswagen Golf, and you should certainly be able to buy better-specced editions of the Leon for less money than its VW stablemate. Seat dealers may also be more willing to offer a larger discount, although you need to bear in mind that while the Leon’s resale values after three years are no disgrace, they’re not as good as a Golf’s.
The engine and gearbox combinations in the main promise low running costs, and manual and automatic models alike deliver CO2 emissions that make company car tax competitive.
For example, the 1.0-litre petrol Ecomotive edition has the lowest CO2 emissions at 102g/km and an official government fuel economy figure of 64.2mpg, making it a tempting company car choice. If you need even better economy, the 1.6-litre diesel has an official economy figure of nearly 68.9mpg, although CO2 emissions rise to 108g/km.
Clearly, the higher-performance models, such as the 2.0 TDI 184, 1.8 TSI 180 and 2.0 TSI 300, don’t offer such efficiency, making them the priciest versions to choose.
Use our True MPG calculator and see what your car really does to the gallon
The entry-level S model is a little rudimentary, with steels wheels and no DAB radio; air-con, electric door mirrors and electric front windows are the only highlights. That’s why we’d suggest bypassing it for SE Dynamic Technology – a trim designed with business users in mind, featuring 17in alloy wheels, rear parking sensors, privacy glass, driver and passenger seat-height adjustment and a leather, multi-function steering wheel with stereo controls.
However, our pick of the range is the FR Technology trim. Once again, you get snazzy 17in alloy wheels and privacy glass, but also LED headlights, power-folding door mirrors, dual-zone climate control, sports front seats (with driver and passenger lumbar adjustment) and sports suspension.
An option well worth adding is the Storage Pack, which is relatively affordable and offers the added flexibility and practicality of a double-height boot floor and storage draw under the front passenger seat. Rear parking sensors would also be worthwhile if you buy an S or SE Technology model, as well as Full Link, which includes Apple CarPlay and Android Auto smartphone mirroring that’s optional on all versions below FR Technology.
The Leon has a solid, if unremarkable, reliability record, according to our most recent reliability survey, as has Seat as a whole: the brand finished in 21st place out of 32 manufacturers. That’s below Hyundai, Kia and sister brand Skoda, but above Volkswagen, Peugeot and Nissan.
The Leon’s standard warranty is nothing special – it covers the car for three years or 60,000 miles, whichever comes sooner. You can extend the cover for up to five years for a reasonable extra cost.
The Leon comes with a healthy yield of the latest safety equipment. Every model gets seven airbags, stability control and a tyre pressure monitoring system. There are also active front head restraints to minimise whiplash in an accident and Isofix child-seat mounting points.
Commendably, every Leon bar the entry-level S model comes with automatic emergency city braking, which applies maximum braking if the system detects you’re about to hit a car. From 2017, this was upgraded to watch out for pedestrians as well as cars.
Leons equipped with an automatic gearbox can take this autonomy one step further. With the optional pack that includes traffic jam assist, in heavy traffic the car is able to stop, start, speed up, slow down and even steer for you. The same package also includes emergency assist – if the system thinks you’ve nodded off, it’ll try to wake you by lightly pulsing the brakes. If that doesn’t work, it will activate the hazard warning lights and bring the car to a controlled stop.
If the worst comes to the worst, it’s good to know that back in 2012 the Leon received the maximum five stars in its Euro NCAP crash test.
All Leons get remote central locking and an alarm to help keep thieves at bay. Security experts Thatcham Research awarded the car the maximum five stars for resistance to theft and four stars for guarding against being broken into.
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