A competent performer that compares favourably on price to its eco hatchback rivals

What is it?

This is the latest version of Seat’s Leon equipped with its ‘Ecomotive Technology’.

Under the skin, this means VW Group’s 104bhp direct-injection, common-rail 1.6-litre TDI unit replaces the equally powerful 1.9-litre TDI engine, while stop-start technology features on a Seat for the first time. The other Ecomotive Technology addition is an energy recovery system, which recovers energy lost from the alternator under braking.

The model tested here is the Seat Leon Ecomotive Technology, which has combined fuel economy of 56mpg and CO2 emissions of 109g/km. But a full Ecomotive version will also be available from launch in the spring.

This adds aerodynamic changes to add to the mechanical ones, improves fuel economy to 74.3mpg and cuts CO2 emissions cut to 99g/km. It qualifies for free road tax in the UK and emits 20g/km less CO2 than the Leon Ecomotive it replaces.

What’s it like?

Refined. The Leon benefits from the 1.6 TDI engine and it’s just as smooth as we remember it from the Volkswagen Golf. The car pulls away strongly and a healthy 184lb ft of torque is available from 1500rpm to 2500rpm, which gives it impressive in-gear acceleration. The engine is quiet and almost inaudible when travelling at any speed, while the claimed fuel economy figure is well within reach if driven with efficiency in mind.

The Ecomotive Technology also benefits from longer gear ratios, which don’t blunt the performance. Despite only having five speeds, you’re never left reaching for a sixth cog at motorway speeds as the engine will happily sit quietly at around 2000rpm.

The stop-start system is quick to act and is never slow to get the engine going again. A gearchange indicator has also been added and, unlike some systems, it’s unintrusive, blending into the smart digital readout between the dials. It’s often slightly premature with its advice, however, suggesting higher gears too early and making progress feel more laboured than it should be.

Less impressive is the tyre noise, which was an issue on Spanish roads, particularly motorways. It’s likely to be amplified further in the UK and could be even more of a problem if you go for the full Ecomotive version, which comes with low-resistance tyres.

Dynamically the Leon is a competent performer. The car’s basic MacPherson strut front and multi-link rear suspension remains untouched and makes for a composed ride. It can be firm at times, but it’s without the harshness of the more extreme Cupra versions. There is minimal body roll and the steering is nicely weighted, providing excellent feedback on the road conditions.

The interior doesn’t excite but it’s hard to fault its layout and the quality of its materials. A good driving position easy to find thanks to high degrees of adjustability in the steering wheel and seats. However, one niggle inside our left-hand-drive test car was the position of the pedals. They were slightly offset to the right, which led to the footwell feeling cramped, especially around the accelerator.

Should I buy one?

The Leon manages to strike the balance between being efficiency and performance nicely. This is an eco-badged car without any major compromises, keeping the same basic dynamics and benefiting from a more advanced powertrain and technological advances.

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Prices have yet to be announced, but it is set to cost from £16,000 when sales start later this month (first deliveries are expected in April), with the full Ecomotive package costing an extra £500. That’s an extra cost worth forking out for, considering the extra tax and fuel savings on offer.

The Leon compares favourably on price (and CO2 emissions) to key rivals including the Ford Focus Econetic, Vauxhall Astra Ecoflex and its VW Group stablemate, the Golf Bluemotion. So with its impressive performance and efficiency, as well as its solid dynamics, there’s certainly enough here to tempt buyers away from the more established eco-hatchbacks.

Mark Tisshaw

Title: Editor

Mark is a journalist with more than a decade of top-level experience in the automotive industry. He first joined Autocar in 2009, having previously worked in local newspapers. He has held several roles at Autocar, including news editor, deputy editor, digital editor and his current position of editor, one he has held since 2017.

From this position he oversees all of Autocar’s content across the print magazine, autocar.co.uk website, social media, video, and podcast channels, as well as our recent launch, Autocar Business. Mark regularly interviews the very top global executives in the automotive industry, telling their stories and holding them to account, meeting them at shows and events around the world.

Mark is a Car of the Year juror, a prestigious annual award that Autocar is one of the main sponsors of. He has made media appearances on the likes of the BBC, and contributed to titles including What Car?Move Electric and Pistonheads, and has written a column for The Sun.

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JezyG 3 December 2009

Re: Seat Leon Ecomotive Technology

The Leon has prety much the same spec and mechanicals as the Golf Bluemotion but for 2K less. It is for those however who don't mind not having the same badge Kudo's and a notch down on interior quality!! But I still think the Leon especially in FL guise looks nicer than the rather bland but inoffensive golf. Option prices are very competative as well.