Seat Leon plug-in hybrid long-term test
The Seat Leon, our favourite family hatchback, is now available as a plug-in hybrid. We're living with one to find out if it's the pick of the range...
The car Seat Leon e-Hybrid FR | Run by Claire Evans, consumer editor
Why it’s here The petrol-engined Seat Leon fended off some serious rivals to become our Family Car of the Year 2021, but how good is the plug-in hybrid version? We’re living with one to find out
Needs to Prove itself comfortable and well-appointed, but more importantly put up a convincing argument for plug-in hybrid technology
Mileage 2989 List price £32,835 Target price £31,196 Price as tested £31,115 Test economy 88.9mpg Official economy 235.4mpg Dealer price now £24,728 Private price now £21,980 Trade-in price now £21,731 Expenses Charging £79.20 Fuel £216
24 May 2021 – Did plug-in tech win me over?
The Seat Leon’s main challenge was to convince me that a plug-in hybrid car would fit in with my life. Initially, things looked rather grim; I collected the Leon from our office and drove it from London to Bicester for a three-day work event, and it consumed its entire pure electric range within the first 20 minutes of the drive. Because I was staying at an out-of-town hotel with no electric charger and there were no facilities at our photoshoot location, my first 200 miles in the car were done purely on petrol power.
First impressions weren’t great in some other regards, either. In petrol mode the Leon’s engine can get fairly vocal at high revs, the lane-keeping assistance was over-zealous, and the system that recognises when the car is approaching a roundabout or junction and automatically applies the brakes to reduce speed, felt unnatural in use.
However, as time went on, my fears that not being able to plug it in would trash the fuel economy turned out not to be realised. The car achieved a creditable 51mpg while trundling along motorways; that's about the same as my previous non-hybrid Ford Focus 1.0 petrol managed.
And, once I settled back into my normal driving routine, which mostly consisted of short journeys, I quickly became hooked by the challenge of trying to run on electric power only. This was easy on trips to local shops, and I even managed the 22-mile journey to Bluewater shopping centre with a couple of miles of range left. And, by using the free Pod Point charger in the car park, I was able to replenish the batteries and get home without dipping into the petrol tank.
Charging up at home is cheaper than buying petrol, and that's an added bonus. By taking advantage of my home electricity tariff’s night-time rate of 10.4p, I can fully charge the Leon’s battery for £1.33, so every mile of electric travel costs around 5p, compared with the 16p average cost per mile of a petrol car.
When I do need to drive longer distances, I can use the car’s Battery Manager function to let it automatically switch between electric and petrol power to achieve the best combination of fuel economy and battery life. I can also choose hybrid mode for parts of a journey that are on the motorway, saving the batteries for use in urban areas.
While I got used to the lane-keeping and automatic braking systems mentioned earlier, the one thing that remained a niggle is the difficulty of using the climate control temperature controls in the dark. The four slim buttons are fairly easy to dab accurately in the daytime but are nigh-on impossible to use on an unlit road because they don’t light up.
However, overall the Leon has really grown on me. It’s a good long-distance driving partner with a great driving position and, like all Leons, it comes with adjustable lumbar support for the driver’s seat as standard.
In FR trim, the Leon comes with sports suspension as standard, and despite the added weight of the e-Hybrid’s battery pack, my car has superb handling, making it great fun on a quiet country lane. It turns neatly into bends, it hugs the road, and its well-weighted steering gives me the confidence to push on when it’s safe to do so.
So has the Leon made me a plug-in hybrid convert? Yes. I love the fact that most of my driving can be done on electric power, but I’m relieved to have the back-up of a petrol engine for longer drives and so that I don’t have to rely on the UK’s rather patchy public charging network.
I recently drove to Braintree to visit the UK’s first electric vehicle forecourt – Gridserve – in the Leon. If only all public charging experiences were like Gridserve, with a range of high-speed chargers under one roof and with experts on hand to help with any issues, I’d be confident about switching to a pure electric car straight away. But, for now, the Leon is a good first step towards electrification for me.
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