The Seat Leon has always been an interesting but quite ordinary hatchback. Of the last-generation version, there were some shopping-trolley versions and, later on, some very fruity versions indeed, and you could buy it with four-wheel drive and as an estate. However, in fundamental terms, it was an easy car to understand and, being well resolved in dynamic concerns right across the board, also easy to drive.
Early impressions of the new, fourth-generation Leon are that it retains better than average looks and continues to offer a quietly satisfying driving experience, but elsewhere things have changed. The breadth of the Leon line-up has grown substantially, and not only is there new technology never before seen on this model but, in Cupra, an entirely new brand has also entered the fray.
The standard range now begins with a 1.0-litre TSI petrol engine supplied by Volkswagen. The notable development is that you can also have it in mild-hybrid eTSI form, with a 48V belt-driven starter-generator that provides brake-energy recuperation, coasting ability and a modest power boost when moving off the mark. The same applies to the 1.5-litre TSI petrol, although the sole diesel in the range is an unelectrified and, despite the fresh internals and lowest-ever emissions, almost relic-feeling 2.0-litre TDI.
But the new Leon also represents Seat’s first dive into what you might call the ‘substantially’ electrified arena, and the 1.4-litre eHybrid PHEV breaking that ground is the subject of this week’s road test. It’s easily the most compelling model in the range on paper, but we’ll shortly discover how it fares in the real world.
What might confuse those who, understandably, may not have their finger on the pulse of all things Leon is what has happened to Cupra. What started as Seat’s answer to VW’s GTI sub-brand with the Ibiza Cupra of 1996 is, as of 2018, a fledgling brand of its own, but one still heavily reliant on Seat hardware. It therefore makes its own hot take on our Leon eHybrid and will eventually expand the Cupra Leon range to include 242bhp, 296bhp and 306bhp models with different drivelines and bodystyles.
Truly, there will be a Leon for every occasion, but today we focus on the regular, if also somewhat irregular, plug-in hybrid.
The Leon line-up at a glance