Who says economical has to mean boring? The new Seat Leon is fast, functional and good-looking too.
DIESEL and economy: two words that strike fear into the hearts of keen drivers. Frugal, diesel powered family saloons may not get the heart racing but they’re the bread and butter of the UK car market. In recent years some manufacturers have developed surprisingly economical models that are still fun to drive. BMW’s 320d saloon is a good example. Another is Volkswagen’s Golf GTD. Both are efficient over long distances but neither will bore you to death on a daily commute.
Now Seat has introduced a potent yet economical diesel model. In fact, it’s introduced two. Both carry the FR badge and are powered by the same 2.0-litre diesel engine, though they have different power outputs: 148bhp and 184bhp. The FR models are sportier than the other versions with lower and stiffer suspension.
I’ve been driving the lower-powered diesel model. Though it’s not quite the fastest in the range – that honour goes to the 184bhp version – it is the cleanest and most economical. Seat claims this third-generation Leon is the best car it’s ever made. Based on my week’s test drive I reckon it’s right.
First impressions are certainly good: this has to be the best-looking saloon of this size under VW’s ownership. Better aesthetically than the Audi A3, Skoda Octavia and the VW Golf – cars that it shares mechanical components and engines with – it has appealingly sharp and athletic looks. At the front the honeycombed grille and full LED headlamps are particularly striking, as are the characterful lines that run the length of the car.
The interior looks smart too. The flat-bottomed perforated leather steering wheel, red swoosh door design and optional Alcantara trim enhance the car’s sport appeal. It’s a similar cabin to a Volkswagen Golf. It used to be the case that you’d look at the A3, Leon and Golf and go with the one you could afford. Now these three cars have much more distinctive personalities. The Leon is no longer simply the poor man’s choice.
On the open road it’s certainly fun to drive. It has a 0-62mph time of 8.4 seconds and a top speed of 134mph, which feels plenty quick enough during day to day driving. It’s agile too, and the smooth ride makes for a comfortable driving experience. A new driving system called Drive Profile allows selectable driving modes. I switched between Normal, Eco and Sport – though there’s even a customisable Individual setting – to alter the throttle response and steering feel. You can even modify the engine sound by way of an actuator in the exhaust. In some cars these systems can be a bit naff but not in this Leon.
The diesel engine sound is a little gruff at startup, though this fades once you’re underway. You can hear some wind noise in the cabin, which I suspect originates from the side mirrors, but otherwise it’s difficult to find fault.
Overall, it strikes an excellent balance between good fuel efficiency, low CO2 emissions and respectable power and acceleration. Add to that classy looks and a spacious interior and it really is a very good all-rounder. If you think you’re after a VW Golf then you should test drive the Leon first. Yes it’s cheaper, but it’s more fun too.
THE FACTS: SEAT LEON
0-62MPH: 8.4 secs
TOP SPEED: 134mph
CO2 G/KM: 106g/km
MPG COMBINED: 68.9mpg
DESIGN Four stars
PERFORMANCE Four stars
PRACTICALITY Three stars
VALUE FOR MONEY Four stars