What is it?
This is, we’re told, a pre-production prototype, but the truth is that this new Seat Leon SC – the three-door Leon, and loosely a Volkswagen Scirocco rival – needs no such excuses. Nothing about this test suggests the car is anything other than ready to go on sale.
The SC (for Sports Coupé) is the first three-door Seat Leon, and has been developed and styled to deliver on that dynamic promise. That means it’s shorter and wider than the five-door and, more significantly for its dynamic capabilities, the wheelbase is 35mm shorter.
What's it like?
The SC is just 13mm lower on the outside (a newly designed headliner retains the interior headroom of the five-door), although a sharply raked rear screen, plus the prominent side creases carried from the five-door, take care of the sporty look. It also has just enough rear seat space for two adults and the same 380 litres of boot space as the five-door.
Inside, the cabin delivers on the VW Group promise of understated quality. Some may find it dour, but the quality of materials and ease of use of the switchgear are commendable.
The 138bhp turbocharged 1.4-litre engine is smooth and packed with mid-range pull, delivering both perky performance and decent real-world fuel economy. Seat is keeping back the official figures for now but, based on the five-door’s stats, a 0-62mph time of around 8.1sec is expected, paired with official combined economy of more than 50mpg. The manual gearbox has a slick action and the ratios are sensibly spaced.
It all combines promisingly with accurate steering that goes from being a touch too light around town to weighting up reassuringly with speed. The Leon's steering has been tinkered with to give the SC a more sporty feel, and overall it must be considered a success. Combined with its short wheelbase, wide tracks and low centre of gravity, the SC is a joy to drive in the twisties – even with an old-fashioned torsion beam at the back.
Surprisingly, this sporty set-up doesn’t appear to come at the expense of ride comfort, although our test route was over predominantly smooth Spanish roads. If these first impressions stand the test of time, Seat has transferred its trick from the five-door of pulling off a set-up that is both sporty and comfortable enough for everyday driving.
Should I buy one?
The only conclusion that can be drawn is that this is a very fine car indeed. As with the five-door, Seat has demonstrated the confidence to go its own way within the VW Group structure and execute its own interpretation of a theme with impressive confidence.
Word is that the price differential compared with the five-door won’t be as favourable as is often the case, and that the SC will come in at the same price. But even that’s unlikely to dent the three-door’s appeal.
Seat Leon SC 1.4 TSI 140
Price: £18,000 (est); 0-62mph: 8.1sec (est); Top speed: 131mph (est); Economy: 54.3mpg (est); CO2: 119g/km (est); Kerb weight: 1211kg (est); Engine: 4 cyls, 1395cc, turbocharged, petrol; Power: 138bhp at 4500-6000rpm; Torque: 184lb ft at 1500-3500rpm; Gearbox: 6-spd manual