SEAT Leon shows flair as really sporty drive

New SEAT Leon FR looks dynamic even when stationary and doesn't disappoint in the way it drives.

New SEAT Leon FR looks dynamic even when stationary and doesn't disappoint in the way it drives. - Credit: SEAT

SEAT's bold new Leon has the looks and delivers the drive, says motoring editor Andy Russell.

The Volkswagen Group is clever in the way it markets its vehicles to give its four mainstream brands their own identity and buyer appeal.

Often having four cars in the same class, sharing the same platform and mechanicals, they are managed in such a way, in terms of image, pricing and character, that they all successfully punch their weight.

Take the third-generation SEAT Leon which sits alongside the Audi A3, the top-notch brand, the big-selling, hugely-dependable Volkswagen Golf and Skoda's Octavia, a lot of car for the money card in terms of space and value.

So, to be different, SEAT flouts its sporty Spanish flair which comes to the fore in the latest Leon. I've been driving the five-door hatchback – there are also three-door SC Sport Coupe and forthcoming ST Sport Tourer estate – it's a cracker with visual appeal and driving verve.

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Completely different from its rounded predecessor, which was inoffensive to the point of being almost anonymous with its safe soft curves, the newcomer oozes dynamic delights with dramatic styling. The interplay of light and shade off the bold angles emphasise its performance even when standing still, especially with the stunning hawk eye-like daytime running lights and optional LED headlights.

But for all those eye-catching looks, the car-maker has not lost sight of practicality and this Leon makes a very tasty family hatchback with SEAT very much pushing it as a credible Golf alternative.

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Inside it will seat five adults with decent leg and headroom all round in the airy, spacious cabin.

And with 380 litres of boot space – 39 more than the previous model – the deep, square load bay will swallow luggage too. Unfortunately, while the 60/40 rear seat backs fold flat on to the cushion, there is a pronounced step up from the boot floor which hinders loading larger items – hopefully the ST version will address this.

There's a good range of engines to suit a wide range of customers with the excellent TSI turbo petrol engines, in 105PS 1.2, 140PS 1.4 and 180PS 1.8-litre guise, offering a fine blend of economy and performance making them attractive if you don't cover huge mileage. On the diesel front there are 105PS 1.6 and 150PS and 184PS 2.0-litre turbo diesels. Many of the engines are also offered with DSG automatic gearboxes.

I particularly like the 140PS petrol unit, although in the SEAT it does not feature the ability to shut down two cylinders to save fuel under light engine loads as it does in Audi and Volkswagen models. That said, it returned a respectable 41-42mpg running around and high 40s fully loaded on a run and has plenty of oomph for overtaking. FR models get the new SEAT Driver Profile with normal, sport and eco modes to adjust the steering and throttle feel.

The Leon's sporty flair comes to the fore when you drive it. It feels taut and agile on twisty roads making it a most entertaining drive especially on the FR's 15mm lower, stiffer suspension but the downside is that the ride is decidedly firm and, with versions with less than 150PS having a lighter, less-costly rear torsion beam rather than independent suspension, the back end fidgets over bumps and lumps – fortunately the shapely seats take some of the sting out of poor roads – and there is noticeable road noise.

The fascia and cabin aren't as classy as the Golf or Audi A3 but still has a quality look and feel with brightwork highlights and big clear Volkswagen Group instruments and sensible, user-friendly controls and a first-rate touchscreen infotainment system which reveals the function buttons as your hand approaches it – a simple idea but a 'magic' trick if you are carrying young children!

Available in S, SE and FR models, all are well equipped with the sporty range-topper including redesigned bumpers, front and rear sensors, front sport seats, larger 17in alloy wheels, LED tail lights and dual-zone climate control.

SEAT's new Leon looks great and drives equally well – if you want Volkswagen Group quality and technology in a more dynamic, youthful package it's a 'flair' bet.

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