The original Seat Leon was perhaps the pinnacle of the company's purple patch at the start of the noughties; it was practical, good looking and far better to drive than anyone had expected.
Since then Seat has lost its way a little, but this all-new version of the Leon – based on the same underpinnings as the latest VW Golf – could put the Spanish brand back on track.
What’s the 2013 Seat Leon like to drive?
On the road, the new Leon feels very similar to the Golf. Body control is good and the steering responsive and nicely weighted.
The new Leon is also, on average, 90kg lighter than the previous model, making it one of the lightest cars in its class. This benefits fuel economy and contributes to the car's nimble handling.
As with the closely related Audi A3 and Golf, there are two different rear suspension set-ups. In the Leon, though, only versions with more than 178bhp get the more sophisticated fully independent system (Audi and VW fit it to cars with more than 103bhp).
FR models bring a lowered ride height and stiffer settings.
We've driven Leons with various wheel sizes and with all of the available suspension systems – and it was the similarities, rather than differences, that were most apparent.
Non-FR versions are reasonably comfortable; there's some patter from the rear, but not enough to really upset things. However, even the firmer FR models are far more forgiving than sporty Seats of old and their sportier set-up helps the Leon react more quickly to steering inputs.
Our favourite engine is the entry-level 1.2 TSI petrol. It's a turbocharged four-cylinder unit that's impressively flexible and eager to rev, plus it remains smooth and quiet even when worked hard.
Alternatively, if you’re after a diesel, we’d recommend the 1.6 TDI – the 2.0 TDI 150 and 2.0 TDI 184 units provide much stronger acceleration through the mid-range, but they're noisier and push up the price considerably.
Elsewhere, there’s little wind noise at speed, although road noise is an issue – especially over coarse surfaces.
What’s the 2013 Seat Leon like inside?
The latest Golf has modest improvements in the cabin, but the step forward in the Leon is more impressive. That's not to say it outdoes the VW for finish and quality – you'll find some matt plastic where the Golf offers metallic or 'piano black' trim – but compared with what's gone before, this is a considerable improvement.
We'd call the Leon 'smart' rather than 'luxurious', because only a few things, such as a cheap-feeling cubbyhole cover ahead of the gearstick, let it down.
In some ways, the dashboard design is easier to use than the Golf's. You get the same multi-function display between the rev counter and speedometer, but the Leon's main touch-screen infotainment system is positioned at the top of the fascia, higher than the VW's. This makes it slightly easier to access and you don't have to tilt your head so far down to see the display.
There's plenty of space in the front for two adults, and enough head- and legroom for three six-footers to sit in the rear. What’s more, the boot is 39 litres larger than the previous Leon's, at 380 litres; that's around 65 litres more load space than in a Ford Focus.
There are three trims and even entry-level S models get seven airbags, air-conditioning, Bluetooth and a colour touch-screen interface.
SE adds ambient interior lighting, 16-inch alloys, front foglights, cruise control and a leather-trimmed steering wheel and gearknob.
The priciest trim at the moment is FR, which includes bigger wheels, sportier front and rear bumpers, dual-zone climate control, LED tail-lights, twin chrome tailpipes and sports suspension.
Should I buy one?
If you're willing to accept an interior that's undeniably less impressive than a VW Golf's, the new Leon offers much of the same for considerably less cash. The entry-level 1.2 TSI S, for example, costs £15,670, which is almost £2300 less than the equivalent Golf.
That sort of saving applies right across the range, making the Leon a good-value proposition that still does most of the basics extremely well. It's a great return to form for the Leon badge and yet another serious contender in the small family car class.
What Car? says...
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