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What Car? says

4 out of 5 stars

For It's cheaper, better looking and better to drive than the Volkswagen Golf it's based on

Against Rear accommodation is cramped and the low-speed ride is on the firm side

Verdict Better than Golf it’s based on, the Leon is a fine alternative to mainstream small family cars

Go for… 1.6-litre S

Avoid… 1.8-litre

Seat Leon Hatchback
  • 1. It’s spacious up front, but the rear is not so good, with head- and legroom cramped compared with the Ford Focus
  • 2. The biggest problem area is the electrics. Electronic control units on the 110 TDi diesels are prone to fail
  • 3. Check that the cambelt has been changed according to schedule
  • 4. Go for a 1.6 model rather than the 1.4 - it always had air-con as standard
  • 5. Ensure there are no leaks in the footwell - a known Leon problem
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Seat Leon Hatchback full review with expert trade views

Think of everything that’s good about the Volkswagen Golf, then imagine a car which has the same strengths, but looks better, drives more sharply and costs less. That’s the Seat Leon.

Probably the first thing to strike you about the car is its styling, something delightfully different from the average mainstream small family car.

The drive, too, is a little sharper than its rivals’, even on the most basic models. By the time you get to the hot Cupra models, the Leon is a cracking hot hatch, with great handling, and lots of power and performance for the money.

Inside, it’s not quite as smart as a Golf, but it’s all well laid out and solidly built. Up front, it’s spacious, too, but the rear is not so good, with head- and legroom more cramped than in the Ford Focus. The boot, likewise, is smaller than the Focus’s.

Trade view

John Owen

Essentially a VW Golf - residuals rather weak by comparison - so good value used!

John Owen
Buyer,
Fords of Winsford

The Cupras make excellent hot hatches, but the best buys are lower down the range. In particular, the 1.4 and 1.6 S are absolute bargains, and neither suffers from any lack of power. However, given it’s only a few hundred pounds more, we’d go for the stronger 1.6. This model also always had standard air-con, but the 1.4 only had it from August 2002.

There isn’t a bad engine in the range. The various 1.9 diesels are punchy and frugal, while the turbocharged petrols in the Sport and Cupra models give very strong performance.

Choosing a trim is an easy job because, for the most part, each engine had just one choice. Again, there’s no point venturing above the basic S. This has pretty much all you could need, although you could try SE for electric rear windows and climate control, while Sport has leather trim and a CD multichanger.

Trade view

James Ruppert

Sporty models all do well and that includes Cupra plus 1.9 TDI 110 SE

James Ruppert
Used car guru

The Leon may be cheaper than the Golf it’s based on, but compared to the real big-sellers in the class, the Vauxhall Astra and Focus, it's still expensive.

There’s no great surprise the Leon is very similar to the Golf in fuel economy, because they share many engines. Likewise, against other mainstream rivals, there are only slight differences. Petrol Focuses are a little better than petrol Leons, but the opposite is true for the diesels.

Insurance groups start at 4, which is the norm in this class. However, as you climb up the range, some Leons seem to be in rather high groups. A 1.8 Leon SE is in group 9, while most 1.8 Focuses are in group 7, for example.

Repair costs for the Leon match those for the Astra, Golf and Renault Megane, but are some way behind those for the Focus.

Trade view

John Owen

Essentially a VW Golf - residuals rather weak by comparison - so good value used!

John Owen
Buyer,
Fords of Winsford

The biggest problem area is the electrics, and Warranty Direct’s figures show they account for almost a third of all its claims on Leons. In particular, electronic control units on the 110 TDi diesels are prone to fail.

Otherwise, the most important things to check are that the cambelt has been changed according to schedule time, and that there are no water leaks into the footwell.

That said, the Leon is pretty dependable. In recent JD Power reports, the mechanical reliability and build quality have been consistently rated as average at worst, and Warranty Direct says the car’s reliability is better than average.

The Leon has had just a couple of recalls, the largest affecting cars built between March and September 2001, when there was a risk of problems with the anti-lock brakes. A further recall in 2005 arose from problems that could result in a loss of braking power.

Trade view

James Ruppert

Sporty models all do well and that includes Cupra plus 1.9 TDI 110 SE

James Ruppert
Used car guru
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