What Car? says...
If you’re of the mindset that estate cars are boxy, frumpy looking things that went out of fashion in the 90s then do bear with us. If anything is going to change your mind it’s this: the latest Seat Leon Estate.
True, it may share its basic underpinnings with the rival Skoda Octavia Estate, but while that car has a (slightly) bigger boot, the Leon counters with swoopier styling, sharper driving manners and yet still packs a surprising amount of room for rear passengers. And let’s face it, everyone has an SUV these days – do you really want to follow the herd?
There’s a choice of engines ranging from ‘does the job’ to smile-inducingly brisk, with more due to be added to the line-up in the coming months. You can also pick between relatively modest SE (or SE Dynamic) trim, or the sportier styling and sharper driving manners of FR trim. Or if you want loads of creature comforts, there’s always the range-topping Xcellence Lux.
Read on and we’ll tell you the areas in which the Seat Leon Estate excels and also run you through its few weaknesses. We’ll tell you which of the engines, trims and optional extras we think make the most sense, too.
Performance & drive
What it’s like to drive, and how quiet it is
Engine, 0-60mph and gearbox
There are only three engines to choose from at the moment and they all require you to squirt petrol in the tank. Confusingly, two of them are 1.5-litres in size and pump out an identical 148bhp – the difference is that the eTSI 150 version is a mild hybrid, which means a small electric motor is on hand to help low-rev oomph and (as we’ll talk about later) improve fuel economy.
The TSIe’s outright acceleration is barely any stronger than in the regular TSI 150, but both engines are more than fast enough and can get you to 62mph from a standstill in just under nine seconds. However, as long as you’re happy with a manual gearbox, we reckon the cheaper 128bhp 1.5-litre (badged 1.5 TSI 130) is the pick of the range, with performance that’s up to the job if you don’t mind working it a little harder.
A 1.0-litre petrol, 2.0-litre diesel and a plug-in hybrid petrol will be joining the line-up in the near future.
Suspension and ride comfort
Go for popular FR trim and your Leon will come fitted with sports suspension. This is obviously intended to help the car dart around corners, as we’ll come on to discuss in the next section, but it also has an impact on ride comfort.
You certainly won’t be wincing every time you hit a drain cover, or taking the long route home to avoid speed bumps, but you do notice yourself being jostled around in your seat along even relatively smooth roads.
If comfort is a priority, and it will be to many estate buyers, it’s best to stick with SE, SE Dynamic or one of the Xcellence trims. You’ll feel potholes and pimples rounded off a little better and it’s less fidgety, too. However, the rival Skoda Octavia Estate and Toyota Corolla Touring Sports are even more supple.
The sports suspension fitted to FR models really helps the Leon shine on twisty roads. The car turns in to bends keenly with little body lean and, thanks to lots of grip, you can carry a surprising amount of speed through corners.
Indeed, there aren’t aren’t estates in this price bracket that trump the Leon for agility, and it also has naturally weighted steering that helps give you the confidence to drive quickly (when it’s appropriate to do so, of course). Okay, it’s no BMW 3 Series Touring, but it makes the rival Octavia Estate feel positively wallowy.
The Leon still handles well when fitted with the softer suspension you get with SE, SE Dynamic and the Xcellence trims, although there is a bit more body sway through corners and a little less grip, too.
Noise and vibration
Cruise along a motorway and you’ll hear a bit more tyre noise than you would in an Octavia Estate, but not enough to make the Leon a wearing long-distance companion. Indeed, its light but positive clutch pedal and sweet manual gearshift make it a pleasure to drive in more built-up areas.
The 1.5 TSI 130 engine isn’t the smoothest or quietest around, though; it transmits an annoying buzz to the soles of your feet and sounds rather coarse when worked hard. This is surprising because the more powerful 1.5 TSI 150 (and eTSI 150) are much smoother and quieter.
If you want an automatic gearbox, your only option at the moment is the eTSI 150 mild hybrid, which has a seven-speed dual-clutch (DSG) transmission.
The interior layout, fit and finish
Driving position and dashboard
The Leon’s driving position is fundamentally great, thanks to pedals that line up neatly with the seat and steering wheel, and a driver’s seat that’s comfy on long journeys and supportive through corners. The fact that all trims come with adjustable lumbar support certainly helps
Our only complaint is that the Leon doesn’t have proper buttons and switches on its dashboard, it uses touch-sensitive pads instead. You can’t find these by feel, so you have to look away from the road to check you’re not just pressing a random bit of the dashboard. That’s distracting at 30mph, let alone 70mph, and even then the pads don’t always register inputs.
Visibility, parking sensors and cameras
The Leon has reasonably slender windscreen pillars, so forward visibility is fine – but over-the-shoulder visibility isn’t as good as it is in the boxier Skoda Octavia Estate.
At least what you can’t see will be announced audibly – hopefully not by a loud crunching noise but by rear parking sensors. Go for SE Dynamic trim or above and you’ll get sensors at the front of the car as well, although it’s a pity that the only way to get a rear-view camera is by forking out for pricey Xcellence or Xcellence Lux trim.
Powerful LED headlights come as standard on all versions of the Leon Estate, but go for FR trim and the lights gain the ability to dip themselves automatically to avoid dazzling oncoming drivers at night.
Sat nav and infotainment
Go for entry-level SE trim and you’ll get an 8.3in touchscreen, a DAB radio, Apple CarPlay and Android Auto smartphone mirroring, a seven-speaker sound system and two USB-C ports. All of the higher trim levels come with an enlarged 10in touchscreen, and add built-in sat-nav and natural voice recognition. FR models bring a couple of extra USB-C ports, too.
The larger screen (we haven’t tried the smaller one yet) is bright and clear and the operating system it runs is similar to the Octavia Estate’s, so more intuitive than the Toyota Corolla Touring Sport’s. The fact it’s a touchscreen inevitably means that, when you use it, some of your attention is diverted away from the road, but at least this is kept to a minimum.
The natural voice control function works really well, too. You wake it up by saying “Hola, Hola”, and then talk to it like you would another human being. Say “I’m hot” and it’ll turn up the air-con and, while it isn’t infallible, we found it works well with a variety of accents.
The Leon certainly doesn’t feel cheap inside. You’ll find squidgy, dense-feeling plastic on the top of the dashboard and above the armrests on the doors, plus the buttons on the steering wheel are nicely weighted and don’t feel at all cheap.
It doesn’t look or feel as posh inside as a BMW 3 Series Touring , but then you probably wouldn’t expect it to. It’s a closer-run thing with the Octavia, but the Skoda just edges it; the Leon’s slightly low-rent door pulls are the main reason.
Passenger & boot space
How it copes with people and clutter
There’s absolutely loads of head room in the front of the Leon Estate, and its seats slide back a long way, too. In fact, we can confidently say that no matter how tall you are, you’ll fit.
You’ll also find an array of storage spots dotted around the place. These include a decent-sized glove box and broad door bins, a tray for your mobile phone in front of the gear lever, two cupholders and a cubby under the front armrest.
Of course, if you're willing to spend substantially more money there are more spacious estate cars out there, but the Leon packs a lot of room for the price.
If you’re thinking the swoopy looking Leon is bound to be a less practical choice than a Skoda Octavia Estate, you’re in for a surprise. There isn’t very much in it at all for rear leg or head room, so even if you plan to put tall adults in the back, it’ll do the job absolutely fine.
As in any car of this size, putting three adults in the back is a bit of a squeeze, but the outer rear seats have Isofix mounting for the easy fitting of child seats.
Seat folding and flexibility
The Leon’s rear seats don’t do anything particularly clever, but they do fold in a 60/40 split for those occasions you need extra space for luggage. If you want adjustable lumbar support for your front passenger, you’ll need FR Sport or one of the Xcellence trims.
There’s also a ski hatch on FR models and above, meaning you can carry two rear passengers in comfort and still slide a long, narrow load through between them.
The Leon’s boot isn’t up there with the real leviathans of the estate car class – namely the Mercedes E-Class and Skoda Superb – but it betters the Toyota Corolla Touring Sports and is almost a match for the Octavia.
Better still, there’s only a small lip at the boot entrance, along with handy pockets at either side of boot that you can use to stop small items from flying around. There’s also a sliding tonneau cover that you can pull across to keep everything covered. Pick top Xcellence Lux trim and you’re treated to an electric tailgate with gesture control – handy when your arms are full of shopping.
Bear in mind that the forthcoming plug-in hybrid version surrenders quite a bit of boot space to accommodate a big battery.
Accessibility & Motability
Usability for people with disability or their carers
Motability - Access
The Seat Leon Estate’s doors open to a fairly wide angle of 66 degrees, so they’ll be well out of the way when you’re getting into and out of the driver’s seat. The interior door handles are also handily sited right towards the forward end of the door, so they should be well within reach at all times.
The driver’s seat has height adjustment; in its lowest setting, it is 546mm from the ground, while in its highest setting it’s 600mm from the ground. Both measurements are pretty much bang on average for the class.
If there’s a slight gripe, it’s that, at 680mm from the seat cushion, the top of the door opening is a few centimetres lower than those of some rivals, such as the Kia Ceed Sportswagon. This means that you’ll need to duck your head a bit farther when getting into the Seat.
The tops of the door sills are 366mm above the road surface – about average for the class, but the car’s floor is a full 130mm lower than the sills and form a sizeable step when getting out.
Motability - Storage
The Seat Leon Estate has a striking aesthetic and does the humdrum things in life pretty well too. Its boot is impressive; its load space is more than 1030mm long, and it’s 1000mm wide at its narrowest point. Add in the fact that the boot opening is more than 780mm tall and you have the makings of an exceptionally usable estate.
Big enough, in fact, to take an uncollapsed wheelchair without the need to fold down the rear seats. What’s more, the boot lip is just 656mm from the ground, so you don’t have to heave heavy items too high when getting them in and out.
Motability - Ease of use and options
There are two engine choices if you want a Leon Estate with an automatic gearbox. Of these, the 1.5-litre eTSI is our favourite; there’s also a 1.0-litre eTSI engine but it’s significantly slower.
SE models get a sharp and responsive 8.25in touchscreen infotainment system with Bluetooth and Apple CarPlay and Android Auto smartphone mirroring, so you can use apps on your smartphone – such as navigation – via the car’s screen. Cruise control helps to make motorway journeys more relaxing and rear parking sensors make life easier when reversing into a parking space. There’s also keyless entry and start for added convenience.
FR models have automatic lights and wipers, and Xcellence trim brings a rear-view camera so that you don’t have to crane your neck to look back when parking.
Buying & owning
Everyday costs, plus how reliable and safe it is
Costs, insurance groups, MPG and CO2
Broadly speaking, the Leon costs about the same as the rival Skoda Octavia Estate. The 1.5 TSI 130 is particularly keenly priced in SE Technology and FR trims, so that’s where our money would go.
Equipment, options and extras
Don’t dismiss entry-level SE trim; it’s surprisingly well equipped. You get 16in alloy wheels, air-conditioning, keyless start, cruise control and even metallic paint as standard. We do think SE Dynamic is worth the extra, though, because as well as the various infotainment upgrades we mentioned earlier, it adds larger 17in wheels and tinted rear windows.
FR trim brings an auto-dimming rear-view mirror, rain-sensing wipers, climate control and ‘dynamic’ indicators – these illuminate a series in LEDs one after the other, effectively pointing in the direction you’re about to turn. FR models also have sports suspension, so it’s definitely the one to go for if you value agile handling over a comfortable ride.
This version of the Leon Estate was too new to feature in the 2020 What Car? Reliability Survey, but Seat as a brand performed averagely well, finishing 19th (out of 31 manufacturers) in the overall league table.
All versions of the Leon come with a two-year unlimited-mileage warranty and a third year of cover as long as your total mileage doesn't exceed 60,000 miles. That’s pretty standard for the family car class, although not as impressive as the Kia Ceed Sportswagon’s seven-year warranty.
You can, of course, pay extra to have your warranty extended if you plan to keep your Leon for longer.
Safety and security
The Leon has been safety tested by Euro NCAP under a more stringent set of regulations than most of its rivals, and this makes it hard to draw direct comparisons. However, the Audi A3 has gone through the same tests and proved to not quite be as good at protecting adults from injury in the event of a crash, but marginally better for kids in the back than the Leon.
All versions come with automatic emergency braking (AEB), lane-keeping assistance, tyre-pressure monitoring and a driver fatigue monitor. If you choose FR trim, you’ll have the option to add a Driving and Safety pack, which brings a host of extra aids, including traffic sign recognition and adaptive cruise control. It’s reasonably priced so is definitely worth considering.
To help ward off thieves, all versions of the Leon come with an alarm and an immobiliser.
For all the latest reviews, advice and new car deals, sign up to the What Car? newsletter here
|RRP price range||£24,705 - £33,550|
|Number of trims (see all)||4|
|Number of engines (see all)||5|
|Available fuel types (which is best for you?)||diesel, petrol|
|MPG range across all versions||47.9 - 64.2|
|Available doors options||5|
|Warranty||3 years / 60000 miles|
|Company car tax at 20% (min/max)||£1,418 / £1,995|
|Company car tax at 40% (min/max)||£2,835 / £3,990|