Matt Saunders
22 March 2013

What is it?

A key version of the new Seat Leon. The Spanish car-maker expects this model – specific to engine, transmission and even trim level – to account for more than 30 per cent of UK sales; twice as many as the next most popular model. Which also happens to be powered by its 1.6-litre, 104bhp turbodiesel engine, as it happens.

That's because this mid-range, low-emissions model will be the big fleet seller. Like every other Leon SE, it comes with air conditioning, Bluetooth, 16in alloys, cornering fog lamps, cruise control, electric windows all-round and leather-covered steering wheel with audio controls – a healthy offering, in other words.

It'll sell on the strength of style and compactness, as much as anything. The new Leon is more than 50mm shorter than the car it replaces, but has a wheelbase that's 50mm longer. Boot space and passenger accommodation are improved, says Seat, but the Leon remains a relatively short, tightly-packaged kind of hatchback, and a particularly handsome one too. This is emphatically not a sensible utility car like its brother Octavia; far from it.

What is it like?

Decent in lots of ways – on material quality, fuel-efficiency, interior roominess and value for money. But dynamically this car doesn't represent either the Leon, or the Seat brand, quite as well as other models in the range.

Like every other Leon with 150bhp or less, it uses the MQB platform's cheaper beam-axle rear suspension – but that's an item of information that needn't concern owners about as much as the fact that there is foam in the seats, or a turbocharger attached to the engine. It's a perfectly appropriate technology for the car; but in this instance, it's just not applied as well as it might be.

If you didn't already know that this car just squeezes in below the 99g/km emissions threshold, you could guess from the driving experience. Though it's a marginally more refined and flexible performer than Seat's last sub-100g Leon, it still feels like an economy car. The intermediate gear ratios feel tall and quite distantly spaced from each other, and 184lb ft of torque isn't enough to haul through them in anything much beyond ponderous pace.

The equivalent Honda Civic has a six-speed 'box and 221lb ft, and the difference that makes on the road is plain. By comparison, the Seat seems not just slow, but quite one-dimensional.

And as well as a mediocre engine, in an attempt to inject its familiar sporting ethos, Seat has opted for high spring rates that don't work very harmoniously with the not-so-taut damping, and tyres that don't lend a great deal of grip, directional response or steering feel to the handling. The car corners without much roll, as you'd expect it to, but fidgets a little over a changing surface, and fails to involve very much via its direct (but quite light) steering.

Should I buy one?

If you're sold on the styling or generous spec level, perhaps. There's little that's seriously wrong with this car, and it's not afflicted by some of the shortcomings of the old Leon – poor practicality and a lack of cabin material variety being just a couple of 'em.

But the bottom line is that other new Leons ride and handle noticeably better. Meanwhile, if you do need a sub-100g option, there are more practical options, as well as more dynamically rounded and coherent ones. There's also a proper Ecomotive model coming later in 2013 that'll take the car's fuel efficiency to new heights.

Seat Leon 1.6 TDI SE

Price £18,490; 0-62mph 10.7sec; Top speed 119mph; Economy 74.9mpg; CO2 99g/km; Kerb weight 1286kg; Engine 4cyls, 1598cc, turbodiesel; Power 104bhp at 3000-4000rpm; Torque 184lb ft at 1500-2750rpm; Gearbox 6-spd manual

Join the debate


Rear beam

1 year 34 weeks ago

Has anyone reviewed the Golf with the lower spec rear axle yet? Not seen any mention in the gushing reviews so far...maybe some cunning work from the VAG marketing guys to keep them out of the press's hands...

Agree with turbinecol

1 year 34 weeks ago

The real question is how does it compare to the new Golf 1.6 TDI SE - the review doesn't answer that.



1 year 34 weeks ago

... Talking of VW marketing getting it right why would Seat UK give Autocar the "wheelmans choice" your economy model. Don't bother you'll be damned by faint praise, instead give a economy model to sister mag WC and give Autocar the Cupra FR range instead.

You forgot to mention

1 year 34 weeks ago

You forgot to mention...

"The equivalent Honda Civic has a six-speed 'box and 221lb ft," and 14 bhp more.... not to be sniffed at these levels. Although totally agree about the lack of six speed box, I have an Ibiza with the same engine.

Always wonder how many miles are on the clock for these review cars. I am at 42k miles and it just gets better and better both in mpg and performance.

A3 or not A3?... tax is the question!

1 year 34 weeks ago

Interesting write up an comments. For me this Leon outclasses the A3 with its similar styling and great equipment Vs BIK figures. If I wanted a small hatch this would be the one. It's just a shame that SEATs big home market is bust big time.

As for the driving experience, this back to basics approach is refreshing. However, I do think these economy models are proving to be tiresome especially with their unpublished 'real-world' figures, but you can't argue with the taxman can you?... or can you. The budget was a pleasant surprise for me, the BM getting less of a hit than a Prius (tee hee).

Almost ...

1 year 34 weeks ago

Nice face ... Nice ass ... but those awkward door handles rather spoil the slashed profile ... The Mark 2 version concealled the rear handles (which they could've carried over) ...

Multi-link vs beam-axle

1 year 34 weeks ago

turbinecol wrote:

Has anyone reviewed the Golf with the lower spec rear axle yet?

I've read Golf's review with this inferior suspension. Although Matt Saunders doesn't mention any difference, the other reviewer was more perceptive and criticised the poorer set-up.

Another reviewer described the 1.6L diesel unit suffering from noise, vibration and harshness issues. That corrobrates with my own experience of this engine in another VW application.

NVH issues

1 year 34 weeks ago

Another correspondent had a Golf with this power unit which he compared favourably to the same engine as fitted in his wife's A.1. He felt this was a consequence of the differences between the installations in the respective vehicles. However my experience as a passenger in various Octavias was that the unit varied unacceptably from example to example with the best being just about okay and the worst truly dreadful. On reflection he agreed with me which was gracious indeed as he was a VW employee! He also said they had been most impressed by a test run in a DS3 which, as my own one is a sweet quiet runner, comes as no surprise.

Since that exchange I have sampled a Renault Megane which was poor, getting towards the worst of the Octavias, whilst, previously, an elderly Vauxhall Vectra was far more agreeable than either this or any of the Octavias.

Flatus senex wrote: "He also

1 year 34 weeks ago

Flatus senex wrote:

"He also said they had been most impressed by a test run in a DS3 which, as my own one is a sweet quiet runner, comes as no surprise...

I have had my new 13-plate DS3 for exactly 1 week now & I have to say... what a fabulous little car it is! It is an absolute joy to own. I have never had so much fun!

1.6 TDI / NVH

1 year 34 weeks ago

Flatus senex wrote:

...However my experience as a passenger in various Octavias was that the unit varied unacceptably from example to example...

Are you psychic? That's the car I test drove with the VW's 1.6L diesel. It has put me off the diesel so much so that even if someone swears on their life that such and such diesel unit is refined I'll stick with petrol.

Here for the sake of accuracy I must add that VW's 2L diesel that I used to own some time ago in a Passat was refined and powerful. But the 1.6L is just so awful.

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Our Verdict


Seat's third-generation Leon is attractive and capable, but it can't quite match the best this class can offer

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