What Car? says...
The Seat Leon is a perfect example of why the most popular things in life aren’t always the best. How so? Well, this Spanish hatchback is massively outsold by its closest rivals, but when you weigh everything up, it’s actually a better car than most of them.
If you're not familiar with exactly where the Leon sits in the car world, it’s what we class as a family car. That means it’s about the same size as the Ford Focus and VW Golf – two of the cars it lags behind in the sales charts.
All versions of the Seat Leon come with five doors as standard, although there’s a choice of engines, ranging from ‘does the job’ to smile-inducingly brisk. You can also pick between the relatively modest SE (or SE Dynamic) trim, and the more extrovert styling and sportier driving manners of one of the FR models.
So, now that we’ve already told you the Leon is one of the best cars in the class, why wouldn’t you just go out and buy one?
Well, it might be a better all-rounder than most of its rivals, but that doesn’t necessarily mean it’s the perfect choice for you. In some areas, it trails other family cars, and if those areas are crucially important to you, you might be better off looking elsewhere.
Over the next few pages of this review, we’ll tell you where the Seat Leon excels, and run you through its few weaknesses. Plus, we’ll tell you which of the engines and trims make the most sense.
Performance & drive
What it’s like to drive, and how quiet it is
Engine, 0-60mph and gearbox
The Seat Leon's entry-level engine is a 109bhp 1.0-litre petrol (badged TSI 110). It pulls well enough from low revs and doesn’t struggle to keep up with faster-moving traffic, with 0-62mph taking a respectable 10.8sec. We prefer the 128bhp 1.5-litre TSI 130 petrol, though, because it offers considerably more punch, with a 0-62mph time of 9.4sec. In fact, it’s good enough to negate the need for the more expensive 148bhp version of the same 1.5-litre engine.
Automatic versions use mild-hybrid versions of the 1.0 and 1.5 petrol engines (1.0 eTSI 110 and 1.5 eTSI 150), and you’ll notice very little difference in economy between these and their non-hybrid counterparts. A better bet for miles per gallon are the diesel engines, with a 2.0 TDI with either 113bhp or 148bhp. They’re not as sweet as the petrols, but their muscular power delivery at low revs make them ideal for long distance cruising.
At the top of the tree sits a 187bhp 2.0-litre petrol (2.0 TSI 190). This comes exclusively with a seven-speed automatic gearbox and can hit 62mph from a standstill in 7.4 seconds. However, with the 1.5 TSI models being so flexible at most speeds, we don’t think the extra power is worth paying so much more for.
Suspension and ride comfort
The Leon is a comfortable car on its standard suspension – particularly over large undulations, such as speed bumps. Things aren't quite so impressive along rough town roads or pockmarked A-roads, but it's still a more agreeable option than the rival Peugeot 308.
FR trim models come with sports suspension, and this has an impact on ride comfort, especially for the pricer FR Sport version with its larger 18in wheels. You won’t exactly be wincing every time you hit a drain cover, but larger impacts can throw you around in your seat more than if you were in a Vauxhall Astra, Toyota Corolla or VW Golf. There's also a bit more fidget along smoother roads.
The sports suspension fitted to FR models really helps the Leon shine on twisty roads. This is a car that turns in keenly with little body lean, and the plentiful grip allows you to carry a surprising amount of speed through corners. True, the steering isn't quite as interactive as on the Ford Focus but it is naturally weighted, edging ahead of the Honda Civic and is much better than the Peugeot 308 and Vauxhall Astra.
Non-FR versions lean a little more through bends, but they still hang on tenaciously enough. Unlike in FR versions, there's no drive profile selection, so you can't alter the weighting of the steering to suit your preferences.
Noise and vibration
The 1.5 TSI engine can always be heard humming in the background and it can sound a bit coarse when worked hard. You can detect a low-level buzz through the pedals as well. The three-cylinder 1.0 TSI 110 is a little bit smoother and quieter. The DSG automatic gearbox that comes with the eTSI engines is smooth and delivers swift shifts.
You’ll hear a bit more road and wind noise at motorway cruising speeds than you would in a Focus or Golf, 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 interior layout, fit and finish
Driving position and dashboard
You sit higher up in the Seat Leon than you do in the Honda Civic or Vauxhall Astra – something to bear in mind if you have a particular preference either way. The Leon’s driving position is fundamentally very good, though, thanks to pedals that line up neatly with the seat and steering wheel, and a firm driver’s seat that’s comfy on long journeys and supportive through corners. All trims come with adjustable lumbar support, which certainly helps.
Our only complaint is that the Leon doesn’t have proper buttons and switches for its air-conditioning system – you have to use 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 to make matters worse, the pads aren't illuminated at night.
Visibility, parking sensors and cameras
The Leon has reasonably slender windscreen pillars so forward visibility is fine, but chunky rear pillars make seeing what’s behind you when reversing trickier than it is in some rivals.
Fortunately, what you can’t see will be announced audibly by the standard rear parking sensors (and hopefully not by a loud crunching noise). If you go for SE Dynamic trim or above, you get sensors at the front of the car as well. However, the only way to get a rear-view camera is by forking out for pricier Xcellence or Xcellence Lux trim.
Powerful LED headlights come as standard on all versions of the Leon. From FR trim and up, the lights dip automatically to avoid dazzling other drivers.
Sat nav and infotainment
Entry-level SE trim includes an 8.3in touchscreen, a DAB radio, a seven-speaker sound system, two USB-C ports, and Apple CarPlay and Android Auto smartphone mirroring (so you can run phone apps through the screen). Higher trim levels have a bigger (10in) touchscreen, and add built-in sat-nav with natural voice recognition. FR models and above add wireless phone-charging.
The 10in screen (we haven’t tried the smaller one yet) is bright and clear. Although the operating system it runs is more intuitive than the VW Golf set-up, the fact that it’s a touchscreen still means that some of your attention is diverted away from the road. A few of the basic functions require far too many presses in order to find them, while some of the icons are small and difficult to aim for.
The natural voice control function works really well, too. You wake it up by saying “Hola, Hola”, and then talk to it. If you say “I’m hot” it’ll turn up the air-con and, while it's not infallible, we found that it works well with a variety of accents.
The Leon certainly has a plusher interior than the Focus. 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 1 Series, but then that's a more expensive car. The physical controls in the Honda Civic feel nicer to use, while the Peugeot 308 and Toyota Corolla use a classier blend of materials. The Leon's door pulls also feel a bit low-rent.
Passenger & boot space
How it copes with people and clutter
There’s absolutely loads of head room in the front of the Seat Leon, 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 glovebox 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.
The Leon is slightly longer than the VW Golf and this means it has quite a lot more rear leg room.
Indeed, rear space is roughly on a par with that of the Ford Focus – although the Focus is more comfortable for a middle passenger because they won’t have such a big floor hump to straddle. Impressively, the Leon even trumps the larger Skoda Octavia for rear seat space, with fractionally more leg and head room.
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 when you need extra space for luggage.
There’s also a ski hatch from FR trim upwards, enabling two rear passengers to be carried in comfort while a long, narrow load is slid through between them.
The Leon’s boot isn’t up there with the real leviathans of the family car class – namely the Octavia and Skoda Scala – but it's roughly the same size as the Focus and Corolla boot, and beats the Golf for load-lugging. If luggage space is super important, check out the Seat Leon Estate.
We managed to slot six carry-on suitcases below the parcel shelf (one more than the Golf and Astra swallowed), although there is an annoyingly big drop down to the boot floor from the entrance. It’s a pity Seat doesn’t offer a height-adjustable boot floor to rectify this problem and also iron out the step in the floor of the extended load bay when the rear seats are folded down.
Buying & owning
Everyday costs, plus how reliable and safe it is
Costs, insurance groups, MPG and CO2
The Seat Leon is priced below the Ford Focus and VW Golf when you’re comparing like-for-like versions. A Skoda Octavia will cost a similar amount, but the Skoda Scala is a fair bit cheaper. Sizeable discounts are available so check out our New Car Deals pages to see how much you could save.
We reckon the 1.5 TSI 130 in sporty FR trim is the best buy. It’s an economical engine and is significantly cheaper than the more powerful 1.5 TSI 150. The mild-hybrid e-TSIs are best avoided unless you're desperate for an automatic gearbox; they're expensive compared with the manual versions and official fuel economy isn’t that impressive.
If you’re thinking about taking out a PCP finance agreement, bear in mind that your monthly repayments won’t necessarily be lower on a Leon than on more expensive rivals, including the Corolla. That’s because PCP deals factor in depreciation and the Leon doesn't hold on to its value particularly well.
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, it adds larger 17in wheels, three-zone climate control and tinted rear windows.
Our preferred FR trim brings an auto-dimming rear-view mirror, rain-sensing wipers and dynamic indicators that illuminate LEDs in sequence, effectively pointing in the direction you’re about to turn. Meanwhile, FR Sport trim adds bigger 18in wheels, heated seats and a heated steering wheel, an electric driver’s seat and nicer upholstery. All FR models also have sports suspension.
Seat calls the Xcellence "the indulgent one", which seems appropriate once you consult the brochure. It comes with 17in alloy wheels, heated front seats, a heated leather steering wheel, suede-lined seats, a powered driver’s seat with memory function and keyless entry. Xcellence Lux adds larger 18in alloy wheels, wraparound interior lighting, leather seats and adaptive cruise control.
The Leon didn't feature in the latest What Car? Reliability Survey, although Seat as a brand was included and it performed rather averagely. It finished in 15th place out of 32 manufacturers – just above Volkswagen and significantly higher than Ford, although below Hyundai, Kia, Mazda and Skoda.
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 par for the course, although not as impressive as the standard seven-year warranty on the Kia Ceed.
You can, of course, pay extra to have the warranty extended if you plan to keep your Leon for longer.
Safety and security
The Leon has been appraised for safety by Euro NCAP and scored five stars out of five. It was found to offer adults in the front slightly better crash protection than the Audi A3, although that car proved marginally safer for children sitting in the back.
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 of adding a 'Driving and Safety Pack M', which brings a host of extra aids, including traffic-sign recognition and adaptive cruise control. It’s reasonably priced and definitely worth considering. If you want blind-spot monitoring, you’ll need the pricier 'Driving and Safety Pack L'.
To help ward off thieves, all versions of the Leon come with an alarm and an immobiliser.
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The current version of the Seat Leon did not feature in our 2021 What Car? Reliability Survey but Seat as a brand performed rather averagely, finishing in 17th place out of 30 manufacturers. That's just ahead of Volkswagen and significantly better than Ford, but not as good as Hyundai, Kia, Mazda or Skoda. The Leon comes 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. Read more here
The Seat Leon is available with mild-hybrid and plug-in hybrid (PHEV) engines but there is no electric car version. The PHEV – called the e-Hybrid – combines a 1.4-litre petrol engine with an electric motor for an official electric-only range of 40 miles. There are also mild-hybrid automatic versions of the 1.0 eTSI and 1.5 eTSI petrol engines. Read more here
Our favourite version of the Seat Leon is the 1.5 TSI with FR trim. The 130bhp petrol engine does not give the Leon particularly quick performance (0-62mph takes 9.4sec) but it is economical and flexible, and is much cheaper than more powerful options. FR trim comes with sports suspension, an auto-dimming rear-view mirror, rain-sensing wipers and other useful features. Read more here
The Seat Leon FR Sport has all the features you get with FR trim, but comes with bigger (18in) alloy wheels, a full LED light bar at the back, a heated steering wheel and front seats, electric driver’s seat adjustment and suede upholstery. Read more here
The Seat Leon has a good infotainment system. Entry-level SE trim versions get an 8.3in touchscreen, a DAB radio, a seven-speaker sound system, two USB-C ports, and Apple CarPlay/Android Auto smartphone mirroring. Higher trim levels have a bright and clear 10in touchscreen, and add built-in sat-nav and natural voice recognition. Some top models have two extra USB-C ports and wireless phone-charging.Read more here
The Seat Leon’s boot has 380 litres of space in most versions – enough for six carry-on suitcases – and about 100 litres less if you select the PHEV (e-Hybrid) engine. That means non-PHEV versions offer about the same load-lugging capacity as the Ford Focus and a bit more than the Volkswagen Golf. There’s a big drop down from the boot entrance to the floor but Seat doesn’t offer a height-adjustable boot floor to rectify this. If you need a lot of load-lugging space, see our Seat Leon Estate review. Read more here
Seat is part of the VW Group, which shares the underpinnings of many of its cars between its brands to save on development costs. As a result, the Leon sits on the same MQB platform as the VW Golf, Audi A3 and Skoda Octavia, among other cars. However, while the fundamentals of the cars are the same, they are engineered to have their own bespoke (but still familiar) characteristics. Read more here.
The Leon gets a full five-star rating from our testers thanks to its all-round capabilities, from being great to drive and having a generous kit list as standard to be spacious and economical to buy and run. In contrast, the smaller and cheaper Ibiza gets four stars. It’s still a terrific car, and one of the best for its price thanks to its fine handling, low running costs and fun handling, but we rate the VW Polo fractionally higher. Read more here.
|RRP price range||£23,335 - £37,280|
|Number of trims (see all)||4|
|Number of engines (see all)||3|
|Available fuel types (which is best for you?)||petrol, hybrid|
|MPG range across all versions||235.4 - 51.4|
|Available doors options||5|
|Warranty||3 years / 60000 miles|
|Company car tax at 20% (min/max)||£781 / £1,916|
|Company car tax at 40% (min/max)||£1,562 / £3,832|