SEAT’S Leon of 1998 vintage was their first C segment car under VW ownership, and sparked the emergence of the FR and Cupra spec cars for the more sporty orientated driver.
And its success here since then has proved it’s not just Spanish holiday resorts and islands that Brits have a strong liking for.
But nowadays the Spanish economy needs a shot in the arm, and the latest model could be just the car to drive to the rescue. Because it’s really quite good.
The third-generation Leon, new from the ground up, is billed as one of SEAT’s most significant cars ever, and follows its extremely successful predecessors by combining what many judge to be the best looks in the segment with great driving dynamics, great value and exceptional quality.
And for the first time ever Leon will become a complete family of models, with a five-door hatchback, three-door SC coupé, and five-door ST estate.
It will give the Leon a broader appeal and thus is expected to reach a much wider customer base.
It’s the newly-launched hatchback we’re looking at here, priced from £15,670 and offered in three trim levels – S, SE and FR. And it’s the first car in the family hatchback segment to offer the sophisticated illumination of full-LED headlights – until now only available as a significant cost option on luxury saloons and high-end sports cars; the full-LED headlights of the Leon are optional, but at significantly lower cost than those offered by other manufacturers.
The focus has been on making it a class leader in every respect, from design and dynamic ‘feel’ (tick), to passenger and luggage space (tick), interior quality (two ticks), fuel economy (tick), CO2 emissions (tick), safety and equipment levels (tick).
It’s certainly a car that has the ability to set the tone for a successful future for SEAT and it certainly showcases a new level in quality for SEAT interiors. Soft touch plastics, an exemplary fit and finish and good visibility thanks to thinner A pillars than the norm make the drivers seat a nice place to be.
It all sits atop the Volkswagen Group’s widely vaunted MQB platform, in which SEAT engineers played a significant role in the development . It’s shared with the latest Audi A3, Volkswagen Golf and Skoda Octavia.
It gives the Leon an instant nip-tuck, weighing in at 90kgs less than the outgoing model, and its use means that engines, powertrain, body and trim, safety features, electronics and infotainment is shared across all areas of production.
And because Pedro and his team of engineers have been so closely involved in MQB’s development, it’s helped to give their new hatchback a well balanced feel and greater stability out on the road, which is good because the UK is the biggest export market for Leon and if any roads are going to show up serious imperfections in the way a car is set up, it’s ours. Especially the Cotswolds, with a higher ratio of holes to hills than other areas. Thankfully the Spanish newcomer passes the test.
Pushing the wheels further out to the corners has boosted the stability – which wasn’t bad in any event – and makes the handling just that bit sharper too.
Also new to Leon is SEAT Drive Profile, which brings active chassis technology to a SEAT model for the first time and allows drivers to select between three distinct driving modes, plus an individual setting.
Fuel economy is, on paper, very good across the range. The 1.6 TDI 105 PS powering the lowest-emitting Leon from launch registers just 99 g/km of CO2 and 74.3 mpg, and there’s a version with even lower emissions and improved fuel economy planned for later in 2013.
If you feel the need for speed, the 2.0 TDI 150 and 184 PS versions boast significantly more punch – the latter fitting into the hot hatch category – while using not a lot more fuel.
Other useful technology featured in the Leon includes Multi-Collision Brake, which prevents further collisions in the aftermath of an accident by automatically applying the brakes; Tiredness Recognition, which analyses a driver’s style and uses that data to detect when he or she is becoming tired and sounding a warning; and Lane Assist, which applies a small amount of torque to the steering wheel to encourage the driver to take corrective steering action. Clever stuff.
AT A GLANCE: SEAT Leon SE 1.6 TDI: £18,490; 1598cc turbocharged common rail diesel, 105ps, 250Nm; five speed gearbox; start stop system; Top speed 119mph, 0-62mph 10.7 secs; Fuel – urban 61.4, extra urban 85.6, combined 74.3; CO2 99g/km; Will it fit the garage? 4263/1816/1459 (l/w/h).
© Wheelwrite 24/03/2013