- Modern styling with sharper looks and performance to match
- Well-equipped with lots of VW technology
- Packed with safety systems
- Not enough physical controls and buttons
- The three-pot engine gets quite vocal under heavy acceleration
- The ride can be a little on the firm side
With a choice of six trim levels, along with petrol, diesel, mild hybrid or plug-in hybrid versions, there is a Leon to suit all tastes and budgets. And if a five-door hatchback is not quite big enough, then customers can opt for the five-door estate instead.
The Leon is a vitally important car for SEAT and to date has accounted for more than 2.2 million sales. And the latest, fourth-gen version boasts a sharper design, improved connectivity and has been hailed as the safest car SEAT has ever built.
But perhaps most importantly, it maintains all its charm and charisma and is still great fun to drive.
On The Road
With so much choice from body style to engine type, potential buyers have lots of decisions to make. But SEAT has made it all very simplistic via its easymove strategy whereby customers need to just choose the trim level, engine and colour via the online configurator.
We selected the three-cylinder, 1.0-litre 110PS turbocharged petrol-driven Leon in SE Dynamic trim matched to a six-speed manual gearbox in five-door hatchback guise costing £22,155.
Despite being powered by a three-pot engine, the car with 110PS and 200Nm of torque, certainly didn’t lack firepower and could sprint from 0- 62mph in 10.9 seconds and onto a top speed of 122mph.
SEAT has always been viewed as the sportier brand within the VW Group and the Leon is the Spanish company’s most dynamic model. It has a keenness to perform and although the acceleration isn’t exactly blisteringly fast, the car has a certain charismatic charm and loves to be thrown into tight bends.
The road holding is confident and assured and it can easily cope with longer motorway journeys cruising effortlessly at 70mph.
There are more powerful 1.5-litre petrol versions available, along with a number of diesel models with 2.0-litre TDI units. In addition, there are mild hybrid and plug-in hybrid versions to choose from.
The suspension system on the SE Dynamic test car was just right. It was a tad firm at times and you will feel the full force of any unexpected potholes, but it won’t shake your fillings loose like on the sportier FR versions with sports suspension as standard.
The car does feel nicely poised on country lanes with quick twists and turns and body roll is minimal at all times. The steering is beautifully weighted with plenty of driver feedback too.
When it comes to refinement, the car is quite well-insulated against any road surface and wind noise, but the three-pot engine does get fairly vocal under heavy acceleration.
Drive modes called Eco, Normal and Sport are pretty self-explanatory and if you upgrade to FR levels you get even more scope to play with the handling ability.
The new design of the Leon is not purely a cosmetic advancement, it also contributes to the car’s efficiency thanks to the improved aerodynamics with a drag coefficient improved by about eight per cent compared to the previous generation.
It would be fair to say the SEAT Leon is still a great family hatchback with a mild hint of attitude thrown in for good measure.
New Leon features a sharper, more dynamic design with a stronger three-dimensional connection between the grille and headlights. The bonnet is longer than on the outgoing car and the A pillars have moved backwards slightly to improve driver visibility and add to the sporty appearance of the car.
The sculpted boot is designed to maintain the dynamic personality of the vehicle. Both the lighting system and spoiler create a concept of speed, even when the car is not moving. There is full LED lighting, tinted rear side windows and our SE Dynamic car was riding on 17-inch alloy wheels.
Moving inside, the minimalist layout of the car is apparent with a slim yet wide dashboard that has a floating effect. With the decluttering process there has been a reduction in physical buttons and more emphasis on the new-look touchscreen.
There is a wraparound dashboard light covering its entire width and contiuing through to the doors and SEAT says a lot of attention has been given to developing the right balance of refined and soft plastics, along with leathers and textiles throughout the cabin.
With regards to trim levels, customers can choose from SE, SE Dynamic, FR, FR Sport, Xcellence and Xcellence Lux.
And buyers can select from seven colours with two solid ones called Candy White and Pure Red and five metallic versions named Nevada White, Midnight Black, Desire Red, Mystery Blue and Magnetic Grey.
In The Car
Behind the Wheel
There is a good scope of manual seat and steering wheel adjustment so finding a comfortable driving position within the SEAT Leon is easy enough. And the all-round visibility is also good unless there is a trio of taller adults in the back blocking the view through the rear screen.
Despite its very minimalist layout, there is a wealth of on-board tech to get stuck into. With far fewer physical buttons there is more focus on the neat 10-inch touchscreen with sharp graphics and quick responses for accessing systems on the move.
As part of SEAT’s drive towards a more connected driving experience, the 2020 Leon from SE Dynamic trim level upwards offers Online Connectivity, 3D connected navigation, retina display and voice control as well as gesture recognition.
The innovative Online Connectivity system allows certain infotainment functions to use real-time information from the cloud so drivers can be alerted to any delays or accidents up ahead, as well as details such as parking costs and available spaces, plus lots of other useful information.
Creature comforts include a configurable 10.25-inch driver instrument cluster, full smartphone integration via Mirror Link, Apple CarPlay and Android Auto, an easy-to-operate navigation system, park assist with front and rear sensors, air conditioning and lots more besides
There are plenty of ports to plug in devices and all models feature keyless start-up and go as standard.
On the downside, I would prefer more physical buttons to operate basic systems on the fly because they would be less distracting than a touchscreen menu.
Space & Practicality
The SEAT Leon hatchback is a practically-sized family car with ample room for a couple of adults in the back – or three if they don’t mind rubbing shoulders.
The latest 2020 Leon is slightly longer than the outgoing model, a little narrower and a tad shorter. But the wheelbase has increased by 50mm and that is very good news for back seat passengers who benefit from 49mm additional legroom as a result. It can still get a little tight if the front seats are pushed right back, but it is comfy in the back.
When it comes to storage, the boot capacity on the new Leon remains unchanged at 380 litres, increasing to 1,210 litres with the 60:40 split-folding rear seats dropped flat. If more space is required, storage in the new SEAT Leon Estate model has increased by 30 litres taking its boot capacity up to 617 litres with all seats in an upright position.
A glovebox, central cubby, door bins and cup holders can be used to safely store other bits and pieces.
The SEAT Leon line-up is priced from £20,855 for the entry-level SE model and rises to £32,450 for the high-end Xcellence Lux version with auto transmission. The Leon five-door estate range costs from £22,050 to £33,895.
Our test car was priced at £22,155 and the three-cylinder, 1.0-litre 110PS petrol engine could deliver a combined 47.1-51.4mpg with carbon emissions of 126g/km under stricter WLTP testing.
This CO2 figure would result in a first year Vehicle Excise Duty charge of £180 dropping to the standard fee of £155 after 12 months.
Another positive factor is just how well the Leon holds its value. According to the experts, CAP HPI, after 36 months and 60,000 miles, the Leon 1.5 TSI 130PS FR will retain 42 per cent of its cost.
The SEAT Leon SE Dynamic, as tested, sits in insurance group 12.
Quality & Reliability
With Volkswagen as its parent company SEAT has a good, though not great reputation when it comes to reliability and it is often positioned in the top half of customer satisfaction surveys.
The cloth upholstered seats on the test car looked high-end and offered plenty of support. In addition, the grey colour shade is a good choice with potential spills in mind.
There is a fair amount of hard plastic that looks a little basic but will prove practical and easy to clean.
The minimalist dashboard means the touchscreen does quickly get covered in fingerprints, but they can be wiped away in seconds. And the switchgear that there is on show feels strong and durable.
Beneath the bonnet is lots of tried and tested VW technology and running gear that should just run and run.
The SEAT Leon is supplied with a three-year, 60,000-mile warranty for peace of mind. That warranty is fairly standard across the board, although the likes of Kia, SsangYong, Toyota and Hyundai do offer more attractive packages.
Safety & Security
SEAT claims that its latest Leon is the safest car it has ever developed and it was recently awarded a maximum five stars when tested for its Euro NCAP safety rating.
It features a comprehensive range of safety systems and driver assist aids to help protect occupants, other road users and also help prevent accidents happening in the first place.
As well as all the more traditional safety features, the new Leon brings together predictive Adaptive Cruise Control and Emergency Assist 3.0 to protect the vehicle and its occupants while driving or stationary.
Predictive Adaptive Cruise Control uses GPS data feeds from the navigation system and input from the front-mounted camera and Traffic Sign Recognition, allowing it to proactively amend the cruise speed depending on the road layout ahead – adapting to bends, roundabouts, junctions, changes in speed limits and built-up areas.
The driver must monitor the system keeping at least one hand on the steering wheel at all times. If the car senses that the driver has taken both hands off the wheel for more than 15 seconds, they will receive audible and visual warnings. A braking jolt can be given. If the driver continues to fail to respond the Emergency Assist 3.0 system can bring the Leon to a complete stop.
An anti-theft alarm system will help keep the SEAT Leon well protected from any uninvited attention.
SEAT has simplified the way customers can select and kit out their new Leon. But one thing that is still reassuringly evident is the manner in which the car performs. It has been, and hopefully always will be, a fun car to drive with bundles of energy.