Engine, 0-60mph and gearbox
We've got some good news. If you're on a budget and looking on with envy at the higher-power engines in the Leon's range, don't fret: we think the 113bhp 1.0-litre petrol (badged 1.0 TSI 115) is a belter. It’s as peppy as a Focus 1.0 125 Ecoboost, giving good acceleration when you put your foot down (its official 0-62mph time is 9.8sec) and, being turbocharged, it has a decent amount of shove. So, from around 1500rpm it's agreeably flexible.
That said, if you expect to carry a full boot of luggage frequently, you might prefer to have more power. If that's the case, try the 128bhp 1.5-litre engine (badged 1.5 TSI 130 Evo). It offers plenty of pace when you rev it out and drops the 0-62mph sprint down to 9.4sec. Crucially, it also has more guts to pull a fully loaded car. Opting for the 148bhp version (badged 1.5 TSI 150 Evo) buys you a proper turn of speed, but it's by no means a must-have. The Cupra 290, with its 296bhp, propels you like a Touring Car racer but struggles to put down its power on a wet day.
Suspension and ride comfort
Whichever Leon you choose, you’ll notice that its ride is firmer than that of, say, a Volkswagen Golf or Ford Focus. Broadly speaking, it manages to remain comfortable, but you are aware of a little more jitteriness on motorways and lumpiness around town.
FR trims add sports suspension, which is firmer still. Again, it's tolerable, but the upshot is more of the above, and it can really thump over sharper ridges and expansion joints taken at speed – more so than the equivalent Focus ST-Line.
If anything, the high-performance Cupra 290’s ride is the most impressive, and that's because it comes with adaptive suspension as standard. With the system set to its softer Comfort mode, it’s still undeniably firm, but it's better controlled and surprisingly supple for such a focused performance model.
The inherent firmness that affects the Leon's ride does pay off in the corners. It keeps body roll in check, so the Leon stays impressively flat through twists and turns. The firmer FR models, with their sports suspension, add even more control. The steering is also nicely weighted, feeling light around town and precise at speed – that latter point making it easy to place the Leon accurately in bends.
It's worth pointing out that, for all its virtues, the Leon isn't the best-handling family car you can buy. For keen drivers, the Focus always feels more agile and rewarding to drive swiftly along a B-road, but when pitted against an Astra, we'd take the Leon every time.
The Cupra 290 is impressively grippy, too, yet while it clings on hard through corners, it isn’t anywhere near as thrilling or engaging as the best hot hatches, such as the Honda Civic Type R.
Noise and vibration
The 1.0 TSI 115 thrums away when you work it hard, but not unpleasantly. The 1.5 TSI and 2.0 TSI are noticeably smoother but not quite as quiet as the equivalent engines in a Golf. The diesels are grumbly, especially the 1.6 TDI 115. Once you’re up to motorway speeds, there’s not much noise from any of the engines, except the 1.6 TDI 115. That's because it has a five-speed manual gearbox (most other models have a six-speed manual) that leaves it revving harder at 70mph.
On the subject of gearboxes, the manuals are light and slick to operate but not as feelsome as those of the Focus. The seven-speed DSG automatic gearbox, which is optional with the majority of the Leon's engines and standard on top models, such as the Cupra, is smooth through its gears. It can be a bit jerky at low speeds, though; this can be a pain when you’re trying to reverse into a parking space.
The main area of weakness compared with a Golf or Focus is road and wind noise. At speed, you’ll notice a fair amount of rumble from the tyres and gusting from the door mirrors. The same is true of an Octavia, though.