Seat's third-generation Leon is attractive and capable, but it can't quite match the best this class can offer
First DriveThe introduction of a new petrol engine reinforces the idea that the facelifted Seat Leon is the best cheap family hatchback around
First DriveHigh-spec new Titanium FR trim is temptingly good value, particularly on the semi-enthusiastic 1.4 EcoTSI petrol
What is it?
The turbocharged 1.2 TSI petrol engine fitted under the bonnet of this Seat Leon is the smallest engine Seat will sell you in its five-door family hatchback.
Volkswagen Group is at the forefront of downsized engine technology and this engine aims to offer you both performance and economy benefits. It produces a respectable 104bhp and 129lb ft, while also offering 52.3mpg claimed combined economy and 124g/km CO2 emissions.
Throw in a glut of standard equipment in this SE Copa model - including a sat-nav and multimedia system, rear parking sensors, special Copa upholstery, dual zone climate control, automatic lights and wipers and leather trim for the steering wheel - and, on paper at least, this Leon looks to offer a very compelling overall package.
What’s it like?
Where it really scores is on refinement. The engine rewards you for driving it smoothly and there is no aural feedback to suggest you’re giving the downsized engine a good thrashing in everyday situations, even if you sometimes need to to make progress when off the motorway. A sixth forward ratio for the slick manual gearbox is welcome to further boost the refinement on longer motorway runs.
But it is an economy issue that is this Leon’s biggest failing. We rarely achieved above 35mpg on our test route, which included everything from two long motorway runs, country lanes, city centres and heavy traffic. Official economy figures aren’t usually to be trusted, but the distance from the official 52.3mpg figure is a long way off even allowing for this.
Off the line, the engine tends to feel a bit sluggish, as it does again near the top of its rev range. But there’s enough mid-range shove (peak torque arrives at 1550rpm) to prevent the car from being called gutless.
Elsewhere, the Leon rides, handles and steers with competence. It feels a good deal lighter at the front-end than some of the larger diesel-engined Leons in the range. But there’s not enough feedback from the handling or steering for any real involvement that even more ordinary versions of rivals from Ford and Alfa Romeo can muster.
Should I buy one?
We’d recommend you looked elsewhere in the Leon range for a better all-rounder. The 1.6 TDI Ecomotive is a premium of around £700 over this 1.2 TSI model in the impressive SE Copa trim, but it offers considerably better economy and will also cost you less to tax. Performance is comparable between the two cars, too.
Seat Leon 1.2 TSI SE Copa
Price: £16,940; Top speed: 115mph; 0-62mph: 11.0sec; Economy: 52.3mpg combined; CO2: 124g/km; Kerb weight: 1280kg; Engine: 4cyl, 1197cc, turbocharged petrol; Power: 104bhp at 5000rpm; Torque: 129lb ft at 1550rpm; Gearbox: 6spd manual