Diego de Leon
Back in the early 1980’s when I first visited Spain, SEAT was a Spanish car brand derived from Fiat’s. You weren’t likely to see one here in the UK that’s for sure. But, by the mid 1980’s SEAT was in the UK & when the automotive giants that are Volkswagen took a majority share in them in 1986, things were looking bright for the Spanish brand.
Roll on over 30 years & SEAT is now well established in the UK. Their C Class competitor is the Leon, a name that I remember as a metro stop in Madrid, ‘ Diego de Leon ‘ & it’s a town in the north of Spain, towards the Atlantic coast & Portuguese borders. SEAT, Volkswagen, SKODA & Audi all come under the Volkswagen Group umbrella, each offering a slightly different version of what is often the same car. The Leon is SEAT’s version of the Golf, a five door family hatchback & also comes as an estate, with both a little of it’s own identity & some familiar VW traits.
Whilst the SUV sector shows no sign of abating, SEAT have the Tarraco, Ateca & Arona in the UK, the C Sector estate sector is one not to be overlooked. The SEAT Leon estate may not be as well known as it’s sister car the Volkswagen Golf estate, or even the Skoda Octavia estate, but being built on the same MQB platform & fitted with a same range of engines, it’s actually a cheaper alternative to the German car & like it’s brethren, there’s a new one out, which we drove recently.
The last generation Leon estate was called the Leon ST, for ‘Sports Tourer’, but now it’s simply the Leon Estate. Size wise, it’s 274mm longer than the hatchback & 93mm longer than the old Leon ST. This has given it a larger boot, 620 litres with all the seats up, which is 240-litres more than offered with the hatch.
The Leon hatch is available with a 1.0-litre three-cylinder petrol, 1.5-litre four-cylinder petrol, with mild-hybrid tech in the DSG version, or a 2.0-litre diesel. The Estate just gets the 1.5-litre petrol with either 130bhp or 150bhp, although a plug-in hybrid is due in 2021. Prices start at £22,455 for the SE around a £1,000 premium over the equivalent hatchback.
Standard spec on al Leon’s is very good & includes parking sensors, 16″ alloys, cruise control, Apple CarPlay , Android Auto, DAB, an 8.25″ infotainment system & keyless start. SE Dynamic adds 17″ alloys, tinted rear windows, a Digital cockpit, a larger 10″ Media System “Plus” with Connected Navigation Park assist (including front & rear parking sensors.)
We were testing the FR1.5sTSI 150PS DSG version, which costs from £27,895 & comes with 18″ alloys, electrically-adjusted & heated door mirrors with fold function, LED Headlights with dynamic turn signals, high beam assist, rain sensing wipers, daytime running lights with automatic headlight control, including a Coming Home feature & a wireless phone charger.
We were driving the VW Groups splendid 150ps 7-speed auto 1.5 petrol engine, which is one of the most enjoyable small petrol units out there. It’s not quite as frugal as the diesel Leon hatch, but it’s much more fun to drive with its high revving, zippy acceleration – a 0-62mph time of 8.7 seconds & a top speed of 135mph. Claimed combined economy is 44-48mpg with emissions of 133g/km.
The latest Leon has been updated & improved & now features all of the tech & safety you’ll find across the VW Group range. Whilst the inside of a Golf definitely looks & feel more upmarket, the Leon’s cabin is still very nice with some decent quality finishes on the dash & he doors. The seats are comfortable & the drivers seat multi adjustable. Thy are though finished in a distinctly lower quality fabric than you’ll find on Golf..
The 10′ touchscreen is easy to reach from the drivers seat. I linked my iPhone quickly & also connected it via Apple Car Play, allowing me to listen to my podcasts & use Google Maps whilst I was out & about. The system in the Leon is similar to those found in both the Golf & Octavia, so throws up some challenges, notably that almost all the functions are controlled by the touchscreen. Luckily, there’s a climate control shortcut underneath for adjusting the temperature, although you do have to go into the screen menu to choose which direction you want the air to go.
The screen menu allows you to adjust all of the cars functions & is fairly straightforward. Initially, mine was set up with an annoying loud click every time you choose something so I turned this off. I also turned off the lane departure warning, which frustratingly, you have to do every time you restart the engine. You can tri-split the screen to feature the cars driving data, the SatNav & the entertainment your’ve chosen, which is handy. The wireless phone charger is a bonus on FR models & above, so no nee for that pesky phone cable.
The longer estate offers excellent head & leg room in both front & rear, with decent door pockets & a number of handy storage spaces & cup-holders for holding your odds and ends. Rear passenger’s get two C USB inputs & there’s on e in the front located above the wireless phone charger.
My lockdown week in the Leon estate, was a pleasurable one. I really like this 1.5 litre engine, which is a joy to drive. The FR suspension’s is set up a little harder than in the SE models, but it handle’s brilliantly, hugging the road in all conditions & making a cross country drive a most enjoyable affair. And this is really what makes the Leon estate stand out as a driver’s car when compared to the Ateca SUV, which is no where near as much fun, unless of course you get the bonkers Cupra Ateca of course !
Across my week, I drove mostly in Eco mode, but you can also choose from Normal, Sport or configure your own. I tried them all & the difference between each is minimal. Economy wise, I averaged 42.5 mpg driving 250+ miles on a combination of urban, rural & motorway roads. This is still shy of what I’d expect from a mid-range diesel & many smaller petrol units or self-charging hybrids where 50mpg is common. The truth is that the 150bhp on tap, makes this engine just too tempting to enjoy !
Whilst we’ve yet to drive the Golf estate we have driven the Golf hatch & the latest Octavia estate & there’s not much to choose between them. The Golf is definitely more upmarket than the Skoda or Seat, but as result, it’s more expensive. On the plus side, I think that the Leon is a better looking hatch & estate than the Golf or the Octavia & certainly emphasises the Spanish brands extra flair.
If you’re reading this & still aren’t convinced, can I suggest you test drive the Leon hatch or the estate. If you want a better looking car than either the Golf or Octavia, with decent build quality, at a more reasonable price, you could find that the Leon estate ticks all the right boxes.