What is it? It’s a Seat Leon with a difference. This version of the Spanish car maker's hatchback carries Twindrive badging, and has a plug-in hybrid powertrain that hints at where Seat, and the VW Group in general, could take their greener models in the medium term.
The car has a 113bhp 1.4-litre TSI petrol engine and an electric motor with precisely the same power output. Together, the motors can produce 161bhp under heavy acceleration, but that’s not really the idea; this car is about high fuel economy and low CO2, and Seat claims it can average 166mpg and emit just 39g/km.
What’s it like to drive? Turn the key, stick the transmission in D, pull away and you’ll hear precisely nothing – because you’ll be running in electric-only mode (there’s a range of around 30 miles).
Around town, then, the Leon Twindrive feels much like any other EV, such as the Nissan Leaf. The clever stuff happens when the system decides that it needs to top up the battery. At this point, the 1.4-litre petrol engine starts up – with an extremely efficient kick-in that’s so smooth you’d hardly notice it – and idles at around 1300rpm, topping up the battery that powers the electric motors.
However, if you need more poke, the computer will tell the Leon’s sophisticated clutch set-up to allow the engine to drive the wheels – at which point you can enjoy the performance of the combined 161bhp, should you need it.
The system works brilliantly, with seamless transitions between the various modes and only a slight rumble through the pedals to alert you that the petrol motor is running at all.
What’s it like inside? Just like a regular Leon, really – apart from different instruments, which show the level of battery charge, and new screens on the central display to illustrate what mode the hybrid system is in.
We tried it on a 10-mile route around Barcelona, and the petrol engine remained inactive for an encouraging amount of time.
Should I buy one? You can’t, because this technology is unlikely to reach dealers until 2014 at the earliest. More development work is needed, Seat says, and the price of the technology would be too high to bring it to market now.
That seems a real shame, because even as a prototype, this car feels ready for everyday use. Many manufacturers believe that smarter hybrids, not EVs, are the future of mainstream motoring. Having tried the Leon Twindrive, we can see why this could be the case.
What Car? says…
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