It’s just as well AM doesn’t have any other C-segment hatches in its long-term fleet, as the arrival of the Leon is likely to ruffle a few feathers.
The third generation of the Spanish brand’s family car has been scooping up plaudits (Auto Express Car of the Year/What Car 2013 Best Small Family Car) since it went on sale earlier this year and has even beaten class leaders such as the Volkswagen Golf in group tests.
AM attended the launch of the new Leon last year and even then, Seat engineers were confident it was the best car they had ever made. You would normally take that with a pinch of salt, but their early confidence is translating into registrations (Seat is up 16.5% year-to-date).
The Leon benefits from being built on Volkswagen Group’s MQB platform, which it shares with the Golf and Audi A3, but at more than £1,000 less, it will steal sales from its sister models. The Leon will also jostle for position with other upstarts such as the Kia Cee’d, which is more expensive for the equivalent trim and engine.
Styling is a real strong point for the Leon, taking the cues first established with the Ibiza and creating one of the best looking hatches on the market. The optional LED lights, which dealers were able to offer to customers for free as part of a technology pack until the end of September, give the Leon an instantly recognisable presence on the road.
The Leon’s interior quality has really improved too and it manages to avoid VW Group identikit syndrome with touches such as black detailing finishes on the indicator stalks helping to differentiate it from the Golf.
The MQB platform has stretched out the wheelbase of the Leon in comparison with the previous model to help improve the handling. It has worked. The Leon feels really well balanced and is noticeably sharp when turning into corners.
Crucially, the top-selling 1.6-litre diesel emits less than 99g/km of CO2, which makes it competitive when running costs come into consideration, particularly when factoring in the possibility of 74.3mpg.
There’s nothing to pay for VED and the 1.6-litre diesel is spirited enough to get the car up to motorway speed without too much trouble, although the noticeable engine noise at 70mph might have some customers reaching for a sixth gear, which isn’t there. A steady cruise to work on the A14 doesn’t appear to be yielding results when it comes to matching the quoted 74.3mpg, but hopefully the AM team can get the Leon to creep above 60mpg after it has had some time to bed in.
Our Leon comes with the technology pack freebie (now £1,070), which includes LED headlights, navigation system and DAB radio. Technology extras also include a tiredness recognition system and seat belt reminder for £115, front and rear parking sensors for £430, 17-inch ‘Dynamic’ alloy wheels for £375 and space saver spare wheel at £95.
What’s been said about the Seat Leon SE
It’s a deserved victory for the Seat, which finally delivers the substance to go with its undoubted style. In terms of quality and driving dynamics, the new Leon is right up there with the Golf, while an attractive price and surprisingly strong residuals make it a compelling ownership proposition.
Seat’s strongest car in a long time, the Leon is now a Golf-baiting player.
New, improved and visibly VW-ified, this Seat is an impressive package.