Seat Leon hatchback performance
For those searching for a cracking family car at a highly competitive price, definitely look at the entry-level 109bhp 1.2-litre petrol. It’s relatively affordable but still offers strong performance that’s good enough for use in town or on motorways.
If you can stretch to the slightly pricier 113bhp 1.0-litre turbo petrol, then all the better. It’s even peppier and fractionally quicker than the 1.2, but is more frugal and cheaper on company car tax.
However, the best petrol engine in the range is the 1.4 TSI. It comes with either 123bhp or 148bhp, but it’s the higher-power version (badged 1.4 EcoTSI 150) that is particularly sprightly and our favourite engine in the range. It even shuts down half of its cylinders to save fuel when you’re cruising along.
Even more potent petrols are available. The 177bhp 1.8-litre unit is offered in FR Technology trim only, while the 296bhp 2.0-litre Cupra 300 model has enough oomph to keep up with the fastest hot hatches out there. It’s a shame that four-wheel drive, which is available on the Leon estate, isn’t an option for the five-door, though; without it, it’s hard to put all that power down smoothly.
The diesel options are a 1.6 unit with 113bhp and a 2.0 with 148bhp or 181bhp. Even the 1.6 has enough low-down shove to ensure brisk, relaxed progress and is our choice for company car drivers who do lots of miles. The 2.0-litre units feel really punchy.
Seat Leon hatchback ride
The Leon’s suspension set-up changes as you move up the range. Beyond the standard suspension, SE Technology and FR Technology trims come with lowered suspension. The higher-powered versions, including the 177bhp 1.8 petrol and 181bhp 2.0 diesel, get a more sophisticated rear suspension set-up, while the high-performance Cupra model gets adaptive dampers.
In practice, whichever Leon you choose, you’ll notice that the ride is a little firmer than on, say, a Volkswagen Golf. It just about manages to remain comfortable, although the simpler suspension set-up in the lower-powered models is the most fidgety. If anything, the high-performance Cupra’s ride is the most impressive of the lot when its adaptive dampers are set to Comfort mode; while undeniably firm, it’s better controlled as a result and surprisingly palatable for such a focused hot hatch.
Seat Leon hatchback handling
The Leon, in all versions, is a neat-handling car with good body control. That means it stays impressively flat through corners, while the precise steering helps make for an easy car to place on the road. At slow speed, the steering lightens up – this is perfect for manoeuvring in the city.
The Cupra has huge amounts of grip through corners, clinging on limpet-like, but being two-wheel drive (only the ST estate version offers four-wheel drive) means it tends to spin its wheels in a pretty uncouth manner when accelerating out of tight bends. The four-wheel-drive Golf R is much better at putting down its power smoothly; for a really engaging hot hatch, both the Honda Civic Type R and Ford Focus RS are so much more fun.
Seat Leon hatchback refinement
The Leon is a little less refined than its Audi and Volkswagen stablemates when you rev the engines hard. Yet, once you’re up to motorway speeds, there’s not much noise from the petrols, although you can still hear the diesels in the background when cruising. However, it’s wind noise from the Leon’s sharp-edged door mirrors and general road noise (particularly with bigger wheels fitted) that are most noticeable at speed.
The standard gearbox on most editions is a slick-shifting six-speed manual unit, but the 1.6-litre diesel gets a five-speed ’box that feels a little notchy by comparison. The DSG automatic gearbox (optional on the majority of Leons) is smooth enough most of the time, but it can be a bit clunky at low speeds, such as when you’re trying to reverse the car into a parking space. At speed, if you take control yourself using the steering wheel-mounted paddles, the DSG responds quickly to your inputs.