What is it?:
The third-generation Seat Leon – as revealed for the first time at the Paris motor show back in September.
Sister car to the latest Audi A3 and Volkswagen Golf, with which it shares up to 55 per cent of its structural, mechanical and electrical components, the distinctively styled hatchback is the third car to use the Volkswagen Group’s highly flexible MQB (modular transverse architecture) platform together with a range of new and/or improved four-cylinder petrol and diesel engines.
Styling wise, the new car builds on the highly technical theme already established on the Ibiza and also reflected in the appearance of the striking IBE, IBL and IBX concept cars. The sharp-edged look aims to appeal to a younger buyer audience than either the A3 or Golf. Love it or hate it, there’s no denying it is anything but distinctive.
As well as debuting Seat’s subtly altered corporate S badge on its grille and tailgate, the Leon is also the first car in its class to be offered with full LED headlamps – a feature set to become an identifying feature on all future Seat models, according to Matthias Rabe, head of the company’s research and development operations.
First drive review: 2013 Seat Leon FR TDI
At 4263mm in length, 1816mm in width and 1459mm in height, the new Leon is 52mm shorter, 48mm wider and 4mm higher than the outgoing model. The wheelbase also grows by 58mm to 2636mm to improve internal packaging and overall accommodation.
The adoption of the MQB platform provides valuable weight savings, with a seven fold increase in the amount of hot-formed high strength steel used within the body structure and other measures, bringing reductions of up to 90kg on a model-for-model basis.
As part of Seat’s efforts to broaden its appeal, the new Leon will be offered with a wider range of transversely mounted four-cylinder engines than before. Included in the initial line-up are five turbocharged direct-injection petrol and four turbocharged common rail diesels, although not all will be available in the UK from the outset.
Here we're driving the 1.4-litre petrol with 138bhp. All but the base petrol and diesel engines in the range receive a stop-start function and brake energy recuperation as standard. As with all but the more powerful diesels, this third-generation Leon has MacPherson strut front and torsion beam rear suspension.
Higher specification FR models also receive Seat Drive Profile, a system that allows the driver to alter the characteristics of the electro-mechanical steering, throttle mapping and engine sound in three modes – eco, normal and sport.
What's it like?:
“Good” hardly does it justice.
The striking new Seat Leon is a massive improvement on the model it replaces. Better in every conceivable area, it retains the focus on performance and determined handling traits which made the old model a favourite among enthusiast drivers. But thanks to the adoption of Volkswagen’s super rigid MQB platform structure and its heavily altered chassis, it delivers the sort of ride comfort and refinement to make it a truly compelling proposition in a market littered with standout models. It also represents excellent value for money.
The fresh design theme continues within the interior, which boasts the sort of ergonomic integrity, perceived quality and versatility to put many more expensive and so-called premium class rival hatchbacks to shame.
A wide range of seating and steering wheel adjustment allow you to easily tailor the driving position. Despite being shorter than its predecessor, the new Leon is far roomier than the outgoing model; there’s an improvement in shoulder room up front and greater levels of legroom in the rear. Boot space has also increased by 39 litres to a competitive-by-class-standards 380 litres, although the loading lip is uncomfortably high, making it a strain to load heavy items.
Seat predicts the mid-range 138bhp turbocharged 1.4-litre petrol model driven here will be among the strongest sellers in the new Leon line-up in the UK. And with pretty good reason. With a smooth nature and plenty of mid-range pull it provides gutsy levels of performance and excellent fuel economy in everyday driving conditions. With a kerb weight of 1156kg, the Leon 1.4 TSI delivers 0-62mph in 8.2sec, a 131mph top speed and 54.3mpg on the combined cycle and a CO2 rating of 119g/km. It is refined, too, and the excellent action of the standard six-speed manual gearbox is also worth noting: crisp, precise and nicely weighted.
The big achievement with the new front-wheel-drive Leon is its handling and ride. Previous models were always a joy to drive but lacked the everyday comfort of keener hatchback rivals. On first acquaintance, this new one appears to strike just the right balance. All this, with an old fashioned torsion beam rear suspension.
Make no mistake, this is a fun car to drive. Highlights include well weighted and corruption-free steering, excellent body control and strong levels of mid-corner grip. Widened tracks, a long wheelbase and reduced centre of gravity provide it with a nicely planted feel during press-on driving. Altering the Seat Drive Profile settings brings about a noticeable change in the characteristics of the steering and throttle, but for the most part comfort seems to cover most bases.
It doesn’t quite match the superb refinement levels offered by the Golf. But as the head of Seat’s research and development department, Matthias Rabe, points out that wasn’t the mission: “We wanted a dynamic feel, something more sporting”. That it succeeds is without doubt.
Should I buy one?:
If you’re currently in the market for a five-door hatchback you’d be a fool not to consider the new Seat Leon.
Final assessment will have to wait until we get to drive it on UK roads, but our first experience reveals it has taken a big step in all the areas that matter most without any major shift in pricing.
But with the inspired new Volkswagen Golf, Ford Focus, Hyundai i30 and Vauxhall Astra among the competition, success is far from guaranteed.
Seat Leon 1.4 TSI
Price: £17,840; 0-62mph: 8.2sec; Top speed: 131mph; Economy: 54.3mpg; CO2: 119g/km; Kerb weight: TBC; Engine: 1400cc, 4 cyls, petrol; Power: 138bhp; Torque: 184lb ft at 1500-3500rpm; Gearbox: 6spd manual