SEAT Leon Ambleside
A recent facelift has done little to reduce the visual impact of the rakish Leon. With its bold front grille, sweeping roofline and sculpted flanks, the SEAT is unmatched in the style stakes. Buyers can choose from six different trim levels – S, S Emocion, SE, Sport, FR and Cupra. Entry-level models get steel wheels with cheap looking plastic trims, while S Emocion versions upwards benefit from alloy items. Eco-friendly motorists can pick the S and SE versions in fuel efficient Ecomotive guise. For performance fans there is the FR and Cupra models, which are distinguished by a deeper front bumper, lowered sports suspension and chromed twin exit exhausts.
Despite the use of higher quality materials, the latest Leon’s cabin still lacks the classy feel of the VW Golf and Ford Focus. And thanks to dark seat trim and dashboard plastics the interior feels a little gloomy too. At least it’s roomy, with room for five adults. Better still, the five-door layout means decent practicality, although the high boot lip makes it tricky to lift heavy items into the 341-litre load bay. There’s plenty of kit, with all models getting air-con and a trip computer. Further up the range you are treated to cruise control, a multi-function steering wheel and privacy glass.
The Leon takes its engines from parent group VW, which means buyers aren’t short of choice. Entry-level 1.4-litre and 1.6-litre petrol units lack urge and are best avoided, while the turbocharged 123bhp 1.4-litre TSI unit is a gem – punchy, refined and frugal. Diesel fans can choose from the gruff 1.9-litre TDI, or the torquey and refined 2.0-litre common rail oil-burner with either 138bhp or 168bhp. The sporty FR gets the scorching 208bhp 2.0-litre TSI powerplant from the Golf GTI. This is boosted to 238bhp for the Cupra. Five and six-speed manual gearboxes are standard, while the rapid-shifting DSG transmission is an option on most versions.
With a chassis from the VW Golf MkV it’s no surprise to find the Leon delivers decent driving dynamics. Even entry-level models are surprisingly entertaining with well-weighted steering, strong grip and good body control. The hot FR and Cupra have the firm’s new XDS electronic limited slip differential, which boosts traction out of the corners. They also get lowered and stiffened suspension that sharpens responses in corners, but also delivers a bone-shaking ride.
Like all models in the SEAT line-up, the Leon represents decent value for money, undercutting most mainstream rivals. Go for a diesel-engined version and you can expect at least 50.4mpg, while the green-themed Ecomotive will squeeze out 62.8mpg. The petrol engines are less impressive, although the 1.4TSI emits just 148g/km of CO2, meaning an annual tax disc costs £120. Residual values are average for most models, although the 1.9 TDI Ecomotive holds onto around 44 percent of its value after three years.
Before its facelift the Leon secured a respectable four star EuroNCAP rating. All models benefit from six airbags and electronic stability control, while bi-xenon headlamps and tyre pressure monitoring are extra cost options. Buyers wanting minimise their impact on the planet should pick the Ecomotive, which emits only 119g/km of CO2 – a useful reduction of 71g/km over the fiery Cupra.
Our choice: Leon SE 1.4TSI