Power comes from the Volkswagen Group's familiar 1.8-litre TSI petrol engine. Benefitting from direct injection and turbocharging, it outputs a useful 178bhp and 184lb ft across wide a tract of the rev range, making it quick both off the line and during in-gear acceleration. It's also the most powerful petrol engine in the SC range.
For a modern turbocharged four-cylinder engine it makes a satisfying noise, with a discreet yet notable burble at idle. At high engine speeds it does sound strained and harsh, but given the mid-range punch and the rapidity of the DSG gearbox there's rarely the need to extend it to the upper echolons of the rev range. At cruising speeds it's both smooth and quiet, which reduces driver fatigue, while the seven-speed transmission shifts quickly and cleanly. The gearbox doesn’t exhibit any annoying tendencies at low speed around town, while wheel-mounted paddles allow for quick manual selection of gears if necessary.
The 1.8-litre TSI Seat SC FR gets a MacPherson strut suspension system at the front and a multi-link set-up at the back – unlike the lower-powered models in the range which make do with a rear torsion beam. It sits 15mm lower too and further benefits from 20 per cent stiffer suspension and sports-tuned dampers. In combination with the FR’s relatively small 17-inch alloys, the ride quality is impressive; it delivers a slick combination of cosseting damping and minimal roll while retaining a sporting edge.
Around corners the electromechanical steering feels direct and accurate. It’s surprisingly light at low speed but not unpleasantly so; as speed increases, so does the steering weight. A little more resistance off-centre would make things a little more engaging and controllable, but there's plenty of grip and traction on offer and the FR is enjoyable to thread through sweeping corners. An electronic transverse differential lock further boosts the FR's cornering capabilities, applying braking input to the inside wheel to assist in keeping the car on the desired line.
Inside, the dash is laid out in a clear and concise fashion, with easily legible instruments and simple controls. Sports-style seats provide adequate bolstering to hold you in place around even tight corners, while remaining comfortable over longer distances. The materials used in the Seat’s cabin feel of a suitably high calibre and the cabin build quality and refinement is generally excellent with little wind or road noise. The three-door bodyshell is stiff, too, further reinforcing the quality feel and improving the Seat's sure-footed feeling in corners.
True to Seat’s claims of retaining a modicum of practicality, accessing the rear seats is a relatively painless affair and there’s plenty of room in the back. Visibility is good, with the Leon proving easy to manoeuvre in tight spaces and in city traffic, while the side windows offer a decent outwards view for rear passengers.
Equipment levels are generous, despite the FR’s relatively modest price tag. As standard it comes with a five-inch touchscreen media system, LED rear lights, dual-zone climate control, front and rear parking sensors, electric folding door mirrors, electric windows, Bluetooth connectivity, cruise control, hill hold assist and steering-wheel mounted audio and phone controls. Many will be pleased to note the presence of a conventional mechanical handbrake too.
FR models benefit further from Seat’s Drive Profile system, which adjusts the steering, throttle, ambient lighting and exhaust note at the press of a button. Four modes are offered: Comfort, Sport, Eco and Individual. In Leon SC FR models equipped with the DSG transmission, this function additionally adjusts the shift pattern. The different modes do offer some notable changes but, as with many of these systems, you tend to leave it in to Sport mode and move on.