Despite Volkswagen’s youthful brand aiming to thrill and entertain drivers all in one, the Leon does suffer in its ride. Eager handling was always more likely to be its forte, and it is, to a point, as long as you go for the right model.
Ordinary S and SE-spec cars come on a standard suspension set-up which, for the majority of models, is fine. It’s got a slightly springier than average balance of compliance and control, but nothing you’d call seriously compromised.
The low-emission 1.6-litre TDI doesn’t quite grip as hard or steer as well as the rest of the range, while Seat's FR-trim sports suspension – an item of equipment to be avoided at all costs in the last Leon – is much more effective this time around. The sports set-up has more fluent and effective damper control to match its slightly firmer springs, and seems much more coherent as a result.
In general, the Leon steers quite well and even with a modicum of feel in some cases, but it could be more positive and incisive. The car benefits from its relatively modest size by feeling agile and wieldy on the road. It isn’t quite as engaging as a well specced Ford Focus or as overtly sporting as an Alfa Romeo Giulietta, but it’s in the same ballpark – and even that is testament to the effort Seat has put into this new generation of Leon.
Choosing the right spec for the Seat Leon
On the equipment front, there are six trims to choose from. The entry-level S models come with a 15in steel wheels, electrically adjustable wing mirrors, central locking, multi collision braking system and halogen daytime running lamps on the outside as standard. inside there's a manually height adjustable driver's seat, air conditioning and Seat's 5.0in touchscreen infotainment system with Bluetooth and USB connectivity.
Upgrading to SE Technology spec adds 16in alloy wheels, front foglights, cruise control, hill start assist, electric windows, front seat lumbar support and an 8.0in touchscreen infotainment system including DAB radio and sat nav, while SE Dynamic Technology adds 17in alloy wheels, tinted rear windows and rear parking sensors.
Mid-range FR Technology Leons are adorned with 17in alloys, a twin exhaust system, LED headlights, a sporty bodykit, sports front seats, dual-zone climate control and smartphone integration, while those choosing the sportier looking FR Titanium Technology gain 18in alloy wheels, a extended rear spoiler and side skirts.
Topping the main range is the Xcellence Technologiy trim, which gives the Leon touches of chrome, ambient LED interior lighting, a leather upholstery, keyless entry and ignition, some additional storage compartments, and the bonus of Seat's Convenience and Winter packs.
Those keen on the aggressive looking Cupra 300 will notice that the Leon comes with 19in alloy wheels, a beefy bodykit, a mechnical limited slip differential, adaptive suspension and an Alcantara upholstery.
Overall, we’d class the Leon as belonging in the chasing pack of family hatchbacks amid the likes of the Hyundai i30, Honda Civic and Kia Cee’d rather than as a challenger to the Volkswagen Golf and Ford Focus at the head of the field. Although the 2016 facelift has moved the Leon closer to the Golf and the Focus than its closest rivals. It’s certainly breaking free, though, and especially in the case of three-door SC models offers more driving enjoyment than in previous generations.
It’s a creditable effort from Seat and a notable improvement in form, with plenty of niche appeal for those who like a dose of style and spirit about their everyday driver but who don’t want to pay a premium.