From £14,700
It's a shame the new Leon has lost the old car's chunky looks, but it does seem to have retained its verve. A fine car, and competitive pricing will seal the deal.

Our Verdict

Seat Leon
Seat offers five engines for the Leon, ranging from a 104bhp 1.2 petrol to a 181bhp 2.0 diesel

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

If you go to Barcelona airport you’ll see some buildings draped with large adverts for the new Seat Leon. Your dim-witted correspondent didn’t recognise the car, thinking instead that he was staring at its MPV brother, the Altea. A dumb mistake maybe, but one I suspect others may make, because from several angles this new Leon bears a close resemblence to the Altea.Now in some ways, this isn’t surprising. The latest Leon was created, says Seat’s British design chief Steve Lewis, at exactly the same time as the Altea and Toledo with which it shares a platform, and all three cars were born out of the design themes established by the pretty Salsa concept car. Seat could have produced any one of them first, but with the market for compact MPVs booming it’s easy to see why the Altea got the green light first, followed by a new Toledo to replace its modest-selling predecessor.Lewis admits to wishing that the Leon had come first, but that doesn’t make it a lesser car, of course. Just a slightly familiar one, and a five-door hatchback that manages to be a slightly more inspired sight than some of its rivals. And one to quicken the hearts of car enthusiasts. The outgoing Leon earned itself a fine reputation as an enthusiast’s car, its pertly athletic style, generous power and keen prices winning it a real following - over 40 per cent of Leons sold in this country are high-powered editions.Which is why there will be three performance Leons, kicking off with the turbocharged 183bhp TFSI we’ve driven here, before the range is expanded with a 200bhp FR and a 240bhp Cupra. The Leon’s performance bias is further underscored by Seat’s efforts with the chassis, which it reckons bests the benchmark cars in the Leon’s class. Seat wouldn’t reveal their identities, but apparently the Leon is top across a heap of parameters, including cornering power, resistance to roll, faithfulness of steering response and behaviour during a ‘pseudo-random steering input.’ So there.The chassis that won it these victories is a variation on the VW Golf’s, which means that this new Leon stays with MacPherson struts up front, but gains an aluminium subframe and VW’s sophisticated Ford Focus-inspired back axle instead of the simpler torsion beam suspension used before. The settings are Seat’s own, and intended to convey a more dynamic character than most VWs. While we’re talking hardware, engine choice includes a 101bhp 1.6, a 148bhp 2.0 direct injection FSI and the aforementioned 183bhp TFSI in the petrol range, while turbodiesels include a 103bhp 1.9- and a 138bhp 2.0-litre. You get six speeds with the all bar the 1.6 petrol and 1.9 diesel, and you can also pair a six-speed DSG ’box with the 2.0 diesel, or a conventional six-speed auto with the 2.0 FSI motor.Some technical highlights - there’s a modest model-for-model weight gain of around 8kg, which is impressive given that the new car is 12cm longer and carries more kit; the body is ultra-stiff thanks to a combination of high-strength steel, laser welding and a new form of panel stamping called hot pressing; and the rear side window, sculpted to allow access to the hidden door handle, is made from scratch-proof polycarbonate.‘Seat has less money to play with on interiors than VW and Audi,’ says Lewis, and that’s why the Leon - which is usefully cheaper than its equivalent German siblings - does without damped grab handles, or rubber linings for the door bins and has only one seat-back map pocket. But it does get some soft-touch surfacing for the fascia, a sculpted steering wheel and gearlever knob, attractive instruments now backlit in white rather than red ‘because it’s more restful,’ and a centre console in silver-grey that looks pleasingly contemporary. As do the heating and ventilation controls, as tidy as they are tiny, which makes an accurate stab at an adjustment a bit of a trial, especially as the display is equally Lilliputian.But this is a cabin with excellent front seats, a decent back bench (without an armrest) and a surprising amount of room, given the curvaceous exterior. The boot’s big too, although a tailgate that narrows towards the base could make inserting bulky objects something of a juggle. A front seat and steering wheel that adjust over a big range make it easy to find a comfortable driving position, and if the view over your shoulder and behind you is restricted by the forest of pillars and headrests, the view straight ahead is excellent. Especially as the wipers park vertically, tucking themselves into the A-pillars, a brilliant feature. Less brilliant is the angle of the pillars themselves, which will have you craning to see round some corners.Those corners can be taken rather fast aboard the 183bhp TFSI, whose direct injection, turbocharger and variable-length air intake whisk you to a veldt of torque from just 1800rpm, 199lb ft of it underfoot all the way to 5000rpm. Get past a clutch whose clenching bite makes smooth gearchanges a challenge, and you’ll surge forward with authority, pulling convincingly even in sixth. True, the flat torque curve makes acceleration seem brisk rather than blistering, but this car is fast, the pace further masked by good general refinement. The engine can sound growly, and there’s some driveline shunt if you’re not deft with the pedals, but this is a civilised, rapid device.But although it’s brisk and capable all that torque can make it unruly on some surfaces, and it doesn’t quite connect with the seat of your trousers like previous high-powered Leons do. The slight slack in the electro-hydraulic power steering doesn’t improve communications, either. Wring it harder and you’ll try the electronics, the traction control quelling the copious wheelspin that a wet road lunge can muster, while lifting off in a bend will have the tail drifting nicely until the ESP intervenes. You can turn it off, but few will find it intrusive when there’s this much grip.That’s provided by 225/45 R17 tyres, whose lean sidewalls - and the TFSI’s relatively stiff suspension - produce a ride that threatens to prove turbulent on British roads. The suspension is quiet but the base 1.6, with 16-inch wheels, serves more supple progress. In fact this Leon is a satisfying device, its sweet engine combining well with a swift five-speed shift to produce a very effective budget all-rounder.The potent 2.0 TDi makes for a relaxed mile-muncher provided you order it on the smaller tyres - sportier rubber spoils its languid composure. Curiously, the DSG transmission - which shifts as seamlessly as ever - works less well with this package. It’s too eager to change into too high a gear in Drive, only to become over-busy in Sport. We didn’t try the 1.9 TDi, but the 2.0 FSI petrol offers a strong package.What might be the Leon’s biggest problem isn’t what it is, but what’s gone before. Though it might be dynamically accomplished, in a slightly sterile kind of way, the new body doesn’t look as sporty as the old. While there might only be an inch in it, it looks taller somehow, and slightly MPV-like from some angles. And looking like an MPV might not be so clever when the Altea and Toledo MPVs are already out there.But for all that, this is a good car, characterfully styled, and likely to be one of the better all-rounders in the class - especially if Seat’s pricing (likely to start from under £10,500) is keen.Richard Bremner

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