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When I was handed the keys to the all-new SEAT Leon, the brand-neutral delivery agent said, “it’s so good, I can’t believe Volkswagen let them build it.”
Well if that isn’t high praise, I don’t know what is. I’ve been a fan of new SEATs for a number of years now; the cars have been stylish and sporty in a way that SEAT just wasn’t, back in my day. With the help of their German overmasters, Volkswagen-Audi Group, they have brought the marque on in leaps and bounds, akin to the trajectory Skoda have seen over the past 20 years.
This new Leon has its sights set firmly on the mothership’s hit record, the Golf, and this time around, it looks like it might have more to offer than the champ. First things first; it looks great, better than a Golf, aside from the shoddy font they used to write Leon across the back, which resembles something from a nightclub in Playa del Ingles. Whoever in SEAT signed off on that needs to walk the plank. Aside from that little blip, the Spanish Golf gobbler looks and drives very, very, well, especially considering its price-point when compared to Volkswagen’s superstar.
The model I was given the keys to is the 1.5 litre, eTSI, petrol-powered Leon NF FR, which boasts a new mild electric hybrid set up. I’ve yet to meet a mild hybrid system that I’ve noticed, but I’m sure it was working away in the background. The FRs are sportier versions and mine was in stunning ‘desire red’. The car has the tried and tested DSG automatic gearbox with flappy paddles and the 1.5 litre sTSI engine produces 150hp, which, I must admit, feels adequate. Something I rarely say about a car under 180hp that isn’t a bantamweight. The steering felt tight and responsive and altogether well sorted. The FR models come with sports suspension as standard, giving the car oodles of grip on windy, soggy, leaf-logged autumn roads. The FR models also come with goodies like LED headlights, electric door mirrors, wireless phone chargers and rain-sensing wipers, as standard.
Sitting in the Leon is perfectly comfortable, the plastics used in the cockpit are of a high standard and the overall layout feels ergonomic without feeling cluttered. The infotainment system is intuitive and simple with an acceptable user experience for an in-car computer. There’s also loads of rear legroom, more than a Golf or Ford Focus, and a sizeable enough boot for golf clubs, shopping or a few Labradors.
The new Leon is offered with five engine options, two of which are petrol, including a 1.0 litre (110hp) and 1.5 litre (150hp) motor. For diesel lovers, the options are a 2.0 (115hp) or a 2.0 (150hp), while the newest edition to the range, the mild electric hybrid 1.5 petrol (150hp) is also available. I’ve yet to meet a mild hybrid system I thought was impressive, but I’m always open to being proven wrong.
Some of the other things the Leon FR comes with are: 18-inch rims; air conditioning; a fully digital cockpit; some very cool dynamic rear indicators; the all-important parking cameras; and SEAT’s Connect service that allows you to remotely access your car’s data via the SEAT App. The SEAT Leon’s party piece though, is that it starts at €23,910 or €239 on PCP.
However, that is the starting price and bottom of the range cars are often bought by people who don’t understand what they’re doing and only want new reg-plates to show the neighbours.
The FR model I tested, with the 1.5 litre eTSI engine, sits at the other end of the price range at €30,890 or €35,674 if you get all the bells and whistles I had. But for that you are getting a quality car that you will enjoy spending time in. Even at that price, it’s still a bargain compared to the Volkswagen Golf (€27,305 for the entry-level).
Test drive this car and prepare to be surprised by how good it is.