Is the Spanish hatchback more youthful and fun than its pricier Golf sibling – or just second best? We aim to see
Why we’re running it: To find out how appealing this dynamic family hatch is in its most basic form
Life with a Seat Leon: Month 1
Welcoming the Leon to the fleet – 25 November 2020
It rarely escapes your notice that we tend to find ourselves in high-spec test cars. But it’s not usually our fault.
Manufacturers generally prefer us to try the all-singing, all-dancing models with every conceivable feature or a vast array of options, so that’s the kind of car they often provide us with.
Their reasoning is twofold. Of course, it means the car in our pictures is the most desirable it can be. But it also gives us something to talk about and lets us work out which options are worth speccing or not. For our latest long-term test car, though, things are simpler: Seat has sent us what can unkindly be called a ‘boggo’ version of its new-generation Leon to get to know.
All right, so our SE Dynamic car is one rung up from entry level, but it does use the entry engine: a 108bhp 1.0-litre three-cylinder petrol with no mild-hybrid tech in sight. Even more unusually for a press car, it doesn’t have a single option. Even metallic paint is a no-cost addition.
So while expectations will be kept in check, it’s often quite endearing to drive a modestly specced, small-wheeled, low-powered variant – particularly one with a manual gearbox, as we have here. We’ll also be moving up the range in a few months to see if the additional expense is worth it.
But back to this Leon. At a smidge under £21k (a price we’re becoming used to seeing on superminis these days), it’s a decent amount of car for modest cash. Yet it’s not too utilitarian inside, featuring the larger, 10.0in touchscreen with satellite navigation and voice control, the digital cockpit, climate and cruise control, LED headlights, keyless start and even park assist (alongside front and rear sensors).
There’s no nasty plastic wheel and gearknob, as both are stitched in leather. There’s also a suite of safety tech, including lane keep assist and front assist. In short, it ticks the boxes customers expect it to, and a few more besides.
Or does it? Maybe my expectations are different from those of typical buyers, but there are a few missing features that I’d consider pretty fundamental for any £20k-plus hatchback. Things such as coming and-leaving-home lighting, a central armrest and even a rear armrest-cum-ski hatch are made conspicuous by their absence. All three are added on higher trims, such as FR, but frankly are far more of a priority to me than any self-parking wizardry.
No Leon has a variable boot floor, either, meaning a big hump to lift stuff over when the seats are folded. It’s becoming increasingly apparent that to satisfy Euro NCAP assist tech regulations and still keep the gadgets customers expect at a palatable price, some makers are resorting to ever more visible cost trimming.
Anyway, moan over. A few missing essentials on this spec aside, the Leon’s cabin is comfortable to spend time in and it seems well screwed together for the price. I have no trouble getting my 6ft 3in frame settled in the driver’s seat thanks to a wide range of adjustment. It’s also a more visually appealing design inside (to me, at least) than its predecessor, thanks to the shapely dashboard and mixture of colours and materials, even at this end of the range.
The button-averse minimalism does have some drawbacks, namely of the ergonomic variety. For example, I find the touch-sensitive temperature and volume panel below the screen sometimes needs a second prod to respond. More annoyingly, though, it’s not backlit, so I can’t use it at all at night – a bizarre oversight. At least the touchscreen is one of the more responsive and intuitive to operate that I’ve tried at this price point.
After the storming performance of my previous Audi S5 long-termer, I was concerned that this 108bhp Leon would feel thrashy and underpowered in comparison. In fact, it’s far from it. First, because noise and vibration levels – a common three-cylinder bugbear – are commendably low, to the point that I’ve sometimes found myself cruising along in a much lower gear than I thought I was in. But also because peak torque – a healthy 148lb ft – comes in at just 2000rpm, making it feel gutsier than it actually is. It causes me to think back to the 2.0-litre Mazda 3 I ran earlier this year, which, despite a much punchier 178bhp, lacked a turbo, leaving you with the impression that it feels more strained at lower revs than this half-capacity Leon.
Fuel economy is hovering around 45mpg so far, which is fine rather than remarkable, and I’ll see if it improves as the car crosses the 1000-mile mark. The manual shift, positive steering and eager engine have resulted in frequent spirited driving, though, so it’s not bad. The Leon is more fun to drive than you might expect for a cheaper model, despite lacking the multi-link suspension of posher versions. I’ll be experiencing that more once lockdown is over.
Once the opportunity presents itself, I’m sure the Leon’s dynamism will quickly make up for the ‘FOMO’ of a modest kit list. Seat’s family hatchback may not have as refined a ride as the Golf with which it shares a platform, but it feels that little bit more engaging, more alert through the corners, and, to my eyes, it has the edge in terms of styling.
Seat Leon 1.0 TSI 110 SE Dynamic specification
Specs: Price New £20,995 Price as tested £20,995 Options None
Test Data: Engine 999cc, 3-cyls, turbocharged petrol Power 110bhp at 5500rpm Torque 148lb ft at 2000rpm Kerb weight 1204kg Top speed 122mph 0-62mph 10.9sec Fuel economy 51.4mpg CO2 126g/km Faults None Expenses None