On paper, it’s difficult to see how a family hatchback like SEAT’s third generation Leon can possibly fail.
The SEAT Leon is not just a five-door hatch any more: you can also now get it as an estate and a sporty coupe. There’s now equipment in this car that you previously simply wouldn’t have associated with a ‘value’ brand like SEAT. A ‘democratisation’ of luxury that the company hopes will change your whole perception of what a medium sized family hatchback can actually be.
This car is able to handle even the poorest surfaces with supple confidence, yet hold its own on the twisty stuff, where bodyroll is well controlled. This is proper ‘sportiness’, complementing the agile, eager feel that’s always epitomised Leon motoring in its pokier guises. Yet even if you choose one of the more firmly-specifed ‘FR’ models with its lower, stiffer suspension and wider tyres, it’s a dynamic recipe you’ll be happy to live with in the traffic jams, urban jungles and motorway mileages of real life.
Of course most Leon buyers will be looking at much humbler variant – like the 150PS 2. 0-litre TDI diesel. Mind you, this car still has a pretty good turn of speed, a beefy 330Nm of torque making possible 62mph from rest in 8. 4s on the way to a maximum of 134mph. There are three main settings – ‘Sport’, ‘Comfort’ and ‘Eco’ – which appropriately tweak steering feel, throttle response and, on DSG auto versions, transmission change points. Select ‘Sport’ and you also get a couple of red mist-inducing additions: the cabin and instrument lighting changes from white to red, while a sound actuator emphasises the engine note. All the ‘Drive Profile’ elements can also be individually fiddled with via an extra ‘Individual’ mode.
SEAT stylists say that they used a special tool to design this car: light. Every day, the prototype was wheeled outside so the team could see how the reflections and highlights looked under the clear Spanish sun. The end result, the purest interpretation yet of the company’s ‘arrow head’ design philosophy, is a reward for such attention to detail, a decisive, sharply drawn shape with a clean, crisp, racy look that’s especially eye-catching when dressed to kill.
The Leon marks a fresh chapter in SEAT history. Redesigned from the ground up, it’s more confident, more dynamic and filled with bright ideas. There’s a wider range of bodystyles, a more efficient range of engines and hi-tech that not only lies under the skin but also sits within the cabin where you can appreciate it every day. It’s all beautifully functional.
Whether there really is ‘latin spirit in every one’ is another question of course. In the case of sportier versions like the FR model, I’d be tempted to say yes. Live with one of these, then check out what the same money will buy you and you might well agree.