Richard Bremner
10 November 2011

What is it?

Think of the VW Group’s TwinDrive powertrain – found in this Seat Leon TwinDrive Ecomotive test car - as three low-emission propulsion systems in one: a pure EV, a series hybrid and a parallel hybrid. And with a plug-in capability besides.

Sound complicated? It is, and costly to make too, but it’s a system that allows this experimental Leon to turn in a spectacular 166 official mpg while emitting a mere 39g/km of CO2. It can also travel 32 miles on electric power alone, and has a potential range of over 550 miles.

So, how does it work? Under the bonnet is a standard 113bhp 1.4 TSI petrol engine. Bolted to this are a 40bhp generator, a clutch, a reduction gearbox and an electric motor, also of 113bhp.

What’s it like?

When the Leon starts, it sets off electrically. But if hard acceleration is required at low speeds, the petrol engine fires up to generate additional energy for the electric motor to consume. In these circumstances, usually brief, the powertrain turns series hybrid, the clutch open to separate the petrol engine from the electric-drive motor, allowing it to act as a generator.

At higher speeds the clutch closes to yoke the 1.4 engine and the electric motor together, their combined outputs limited to 161bhp. The 40bhp generator provides an extra accelerative boost at low speeds, besides being driven by the petrol engine to recharge the battery.

But while this propulsion strategy sounds – and is – complex, driving the TwinDrive Leon is easy. There’s the momentarily disconcerting EV experience of twisting the ignition key to hear silence, the Leon advancing on amperes, but the automatic transmission lever is entirely conventional, selection of ‘D’ allowing an immediate departure. Pull it back a notch further and you get Sport, or you can sink a green button for electric drive only, perhaps for zero emission city travel.

For many commuters the Leon will rarely use its petrol engine what with that 32-mile range, the battery best charged overnight from the mains.

Driven gently, the Seat is much like any other electric car, advancing in eerily brisk and restful silence. Accelerate hard and you can hear the petrol motor kicking in, though in the same slightly disconcerting style as an engine harnessed to a CVT transmission, the revolutions of its crankshaft bearing little relation to those of the driven wheels. But a prototype is what this car is and Seat is about to trial five examples with Spanish fleets to get an idea of how the car will be used, and what drivers think of it.

Should I buy one?

Of course, the Leon TwinDrive initiative is part of a much wider programme across the VW Group, and while the Spanish brand is making concrete contributions with this modest fleet programme and various activities with suppliers, the main driver of the project is VW. Seat’s strategic role is to make this technology more affordable to buyers. And that’s quite some challenge, Seat’s R and D chief Dr Matthias Rabe revealing that a TwinDrive Leon costs around five times as much to make as the conventional version. Closing that cost gap is one reason why we won’t be buying a TwinPower Seat, or VW, much before 2015.

Seat Leon TwinDrive Ecomotive

Price: TBA; Top speed: 106mph; 0-62mph: 11.0sec; Economy: 166.2mpg combined; Co2: 39g/km; Kerbweight: 1680kg; Engine: four-cylinder in-line, 1390cc; Installation: transverse, fwd; Power: 159bhp combined; Torque: 442lb ft e-motor, 184lb ft generator; Gearbox: single speed; Range: 32 miles electric, 550 miles combined

Join the debate

Comments
12

Re: Seat Leon TwinDrive

2 years 37 weeks ago

Unnecessarily complicated and insanely heavy, is there really any point?

Re: Seat Leon TwinDrive

2 years 37 weeks ago

thebaldgit wrote:
is there really any point?

Yes

Re: Seat Leon TwinDrive

2 years 37 weeks ago

Smurf Yeah wrote:

thebaldgit wrote:
is there really any point?

Yes

I'm not too sure myself.

Re: Seat Leon TwinDrive

2 years 37 weeks ago

Amazing concept.

Just have the little voice at the back of my mind saying "what happens 4 years down the line when something goes wrong with it and they expect the whole car value to repair it"

Re: Seat Leon TwinDrive

2 years 37 weeks ago

The point is, fuel is rocketing in price year on year and for the average motorist economy is going to be king. An all eletric car is just not ready yet for most people, no range and terrible performance. A petrol or diesel with a decent amount of power is never going to make the gains needed. So hybrid systems that take over when the engine is at its most innefficient is the way forward in the short to medium term. I just don't like the ooh its so complicated, what about if it breaks arguement. Thats the price of progress, people still harp on about electric windows and its just old hat now. Cars are very reliable and crammed full of all sorts of technology that could go wrong. No point in stewing about it.

Perhaps I am just from a generation that is used to a much faster changing world, I love new technology I find it interesting and love to see things progress.

Re: Seat Leon TwinDrive

2 years 37 weeks ago

Great idea and as the cost of batteries comes down along with economies of scale for the rest of the drive train should end up being the same as a top of the range derv Leon. Some years off but I suppose testing whilst costs comes down is essential and will feed back data to other VAG hybrid/electric projects.

Like the interesting use of the excellent 1.4TSi engine which is a much better option than the 1.8 N/A engine in the current Pirus.

jer

Re: Seat Leon TwinDrive

2 years 37 weeks ago

Smurf Yeah wrote:
I love new technology I find it interesting and love to see things progress.
Me to but I struggle to see this as an efficient use of scarce resources. It's intensive in terms of manufacturing resources and day to day overhead carrying the weight of two power trains one of which is mostly redundant. If due to this duality the car lasted twice as long it would make more sense but the reality of the bleeding edge is that this cars useful life would be short.

jer

Re: Seat Leon TwinDrive

2 years 37 weeks ago

Smurf Yeah wrote:
I love new technology I find it interesting and love to see things progress.
Me to but I struggle to see this as an efficient use of scarce resources. It's intensive in terms of manufacturing resources and day to day overhead carrying the weight of two power trains one of which is mostly redundant. If due to this duality the car lasted twice as long it would make more sense but the reality of the bleeding edge is that this cars useful life would be short.

Re: Seat Leon TwinDrive

2 years 37 weeks ago

Whilst this may be innovative it is also needlessly complex and looks like (as other have said) it would be a nightmare a couple of years down the line.

The Chevrolet Volt isn't yet quite as advanced (but that is coming) it is a far more elegant system.

Sorry, if this were in production, I would steer well clear of this.

 

 

It's all about the twisties........

Re: Seat Leon TwinDrive

2 years 37 weeks ago

Smurf Yeah wrote:

Perhaps I am just from a generation that is used to a much faster changing world, I love new technology I find it interesting and love to see things progress.

I agree with you. The problem is how practical? Will Seat find a way to make the technology affordable?

Remember that only a few years ago VW heralded their combined supercharger and turbo engine as the way to go... and it did go, straight to the bucket. I think I'm correct in saying VW only produce one version of that engine now (in UK at least). It was far too costly / complicated to be practical.

No doubt they'll gain technological advancements from this experiment but if it does ever come to market in 2015, I certainly won't be at the front of the queue. New technology is great, but I prefer to be paid rather than pay to play guinea pig.
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Our Verdict

Leon

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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