There’s a choice of three turbocharged petrol engines and three diesels. Our favourite is the 1.4-litre petrol; it’s smooth, punchy and eager to rev. However, even the entry-level 1.2 provides adequate pace. Of the diesels, we’d go for the 1.6 because its flexibility means you’ll rarely have to work it hard. If you want more performance, the 178bhp 1.8 petrol is worth a look, while the 181bhp 2.0 diesel in the FR is effortlessly fast
The Leon sits on the same chassis as the Audi A3 and VW Golf, and its handling feels much the same. That means good body control and well-weighted (if not exactly communicative) steering. Lower-powered models have a simpler suspension set-up, while FR models have stiffer, lower settings for sharper handling. On all models the ride is on the firm side, but the damping keeps things composed enough.
The Leon is a little less refined than its Audi and VW stablemates if you rev it hard, but you’ll rarely have to do that. The engines fade nicely into the background once you’re up to speed, though, so you’re more likely to be troubled by wind noise from the Leon’s sharply styled door mirrors. We’d also avoid the optional 18-inch wheels because they create a lot of road noise on coarse surfaces.
Seat is pitching the Leon as a cheaper alternative to the Golf. It undercuts the VW right across the range – although it still can’t quite match the headline figures of rivals from Hyundai and Kia. The Seat should be cheap to run, too. All but one of the engines emit less than 120g/km of CO2, even with the optional automatic DSG gearbox. However, while resale values aren’t bad, they aren’t predicted to be as good as a Golf’s.
The Leon’s fascia is smart rather than plush. Everything you touch regularly feels fine, but there are a few signs of cost-cutting. The worst of these – a plastic flap that covers the cubbyhole at the base of the dashboard – feels very cheap. The latest Leon didn’t appear in the 2012 JD Power survey, but the previous model was rated ‘excellent’ for mechanical reliability.
It’s hard to argue with the Leon’s level of safety equipment. Every model gets seven airbags, stability control, emergency brake assist and a tyre-pressure-monitoring system. There are also active front head restraints to minimise whiplash in an accident, Isofix child-seat mounting points, remote central locking and an alarm. The car has received the maximum five stars in Euro NCAP crash tests.
It’s easy to get comfortable, thanks to a good range of adjustment. You’ll also appreciate the uncluttered fascia, with its simple heating and ventilation controls. The integrated touch-screen is well positioned at the top of the dashboard, making it easy to see without diverting your glance too far away from the road ahead. The screen also detects your hand approaching and displays the appropriate buttons accordingly. Forward visibility is good, but thick rear pillars limit your view behind.
The Leon’s interior packaging feels comfortably up to the job of providing everyday family transport. Both people up front have lots of head- and legroom, and the cabin also feels airy in the back – particularly in the five-door model, which has slightly more rear head- and legroom than the SC. The boot offers 380 litres of space –around 65 litres more than you’ll find in a Ford Focus – although there’s an annoying step in the floor when the seats are folded.
No Leon is short of standard equipment. Even entry-level S models get air-con, an MP3-compatible six-speaker CD player, Bluetooth and a colour touch-screen infotainment sysyem. Move up to SE spec and you get alloy wheels, a leather-covered steering wheel and gearknob, cruise control, a front armrest and chrome cabin detailing. The sportiest spec, FR, brings redesigned front and rear bumpers, larger wheels, front sports seats, dual-zone climate control and all-round parking sensors.
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