SEAT's Leon has, to date, been most appealing the more power you threw at it. So what's this improved third-generation version like with a little 1.0-litre three cylinder engine? Jonathan Crouch looks at what's on offer.
Ten Second Review
If you want an inexpensive family hatch that doesn't remind you that you haven't shelled out in a major fashion, SEAT's Leon 1.0 TSI model has a lot to be said for it. It's smart looking, economical and offers fairly peppy performance too.
Conventional wisdom tends to dictate that a small engine in a big car will result in a level of fun about equivalent to a thumb in the eye. You could point to several examples down the years, where manufacturers tried to cut costs by installing an asthmatic lump under the bonnet that just couldn't do the business. That was then though. These days, car manufacturers have wised up. You can now buy big cars with small engines where small doesn't necessarily mean underpowered. Exhibit A is the SEAT Leon 1.0 TSI. What it lacks in cubic capacity, it more than makes up for in clever engineering.
This improved third generation Leon is a car that's making a name for itself by combining driver appeal and value for money with space, utility and a rejuvenated package of media connectivity.
We're getting quite familiar with the Volkswagen Group's three cylinder 1.0-litre TSI petrol engine now. It's being offered in everything from an Audi A3 or a Volkswagen Polo and whatever it's plumbed into, feels fizzy and willing. Here again in this Leon, it punches above its weight, powering the car to 62mph in 9.6s en route to 126mph. Plus it drives through a six-speed manual gearbox that's light yet positive in its action. The long sixth gear makes motorway work refined and economical.
The chassis of the Leon remains simple in its architecture, with MacPherson strut front suspension, while the rear uses torsion beam suspension. Still, that's no bad thing as some of the very best hot hatches in this sector use exactly that set-up. The Leon rides and handles with polish. You'll notice the lack of weight at the front end when you turn in to a corner but the steering takes a little getting used to as it doesn't offer a great deal of feedback. There's plenty of grip, you just have to learn to trust the car's limits.
Design and Build
As before, Leon buyers can choose an 'ST' estate model as an alternative to the usual five-door hatch. In both cases, SEAT says that visual style was one of the key reasons why people bought the original version of this car, so it wasn't necessary with this facelifted version to change the aesthetics too much. A few tweaks though, have been made. At the front and rear, there are revised bumpers and bodywork with sharper, more assertive lines, plus there's a smarter chromed front grille.
Inside, the ambient lighting LEDs' intensity can be regulated as the driver wishes from the newly designed a redesigned eight-inch central infotainment screen eliminates the need for many of the buttons and dials that were scattered around the fascia on the previous model. From this monitor, the LED ambient lighting of the cabin can be dimmed or intensified, giving the interior a classy feel. Otherwise, things are much as they were before, which means that passenger space is very class-competitive and there's a decently sized 380-litre boot in the hatch model. If you need more space than that, the ST estate offers 587-litres.
Market and Model
At present, SEAT only offers this 1.0-litre TSI engine with relatively plush 'SE Technology' trim, something that will limit its market reach. Prices start at around £19,000 for the five-door hatch. Expect to pay around £1,000 more if you want the ST estate version, and in both cases, there's the opportunity to find around £1,200 more for DSG auto transmission if you want it. There are key changes across the Leon range with regard to media connectivity, this revised model featuring the latest generation of the brand's 'Easy Connect' infotainment systems, activated by this model's new 'Media System Plus' eight-inch screen. Customers can also specify a 'Connectivity Box' in the central console that enables wireless smartphone charging.
In addition, there's the brand's 'Full Link' system, which enables you to use apps from your smartphone on the fascia screen via either the 'Apple CarPlay' or 'Android Auto' media systems. This improved Leon also features many more options when it comes to electronic safety systems. Examples of this include 'Traffic Jam Assist', which virtually drives the car for you in stop/start traffic. And a 'Pedestrian Protection System' which scans the road ahead not only for other vehicles that might pose accident hazards but also people too.
Cost of Ownership
The Leon has always been a vehicle that has carried a reasonable asking price that is in turn backed up by solid residual values. The 1.0-litre petrol engine is sure to be attractive to used buyers who want a modern car but don't want to pay the earth. This three cylinder unit is part of a new vanguard of petrol engines that rival diesels for cost of ownership. SEAT claims a combined fuel economy figure of 64.2mpg on the combined cycle and 102g/km of carbon dioxide, although the economy figure dives quite dramatically if you do anything other than tickle the throttle pedal.
A major service is required at 2,000 mile intervals, with an oil change every 10,000 miles. Cars that travel less than 10,000 miles a year require an inspection service with an oil change every 12 months. As with nearly all modern diesels, bear in mind that on a TDI model, you'll have to periodically top up the Ad Blue fuel additive that cleans up the emissions. SEAT dealers also offer an 'It's Fixed!' low cost servicing programme.
The SEAT Leon 1.0 TSI might not be the most exciting car in SEAT's range but we'd wager that for quite a few people, it's going to prove the most appealing one. The 115PS engine will please such discerning folk who'll note that it offers a clear £1,500 saving over the comparably-specified 1.6-litre TDI diesel version. Running cost-wise, the sums will certainly work in your favour if you cover less than the average amount of miles per year and are looking to keep the car for three or four years.
This improved third generation car is, above all, a very considered vehicle. It doesn't immediately hit you with headline-grabbing technology or drop-dead gorgeous styling. Instead it just quietly racks up the plus points and will appeal to those who've really done their homework. If you really do want a smart, five-door family hatch but don't want to pay through the nose, the Leon 1.0 TSI makes a strong case for itself.