SEAT's third generation Leon is at its most efficient in Ecomotive guise. Jonathan Crouch reports.
Ten Second Review
If you thought all economy-minded cars were bland and boring, take a look at SEAT's Leon Ecomotive. It retains a degree of fun yet will still return fuel consumption figures of 85.6mpg and emit just 87g/km of carbon dioxide. With prices starting at less than £20,000, it's not going to break too many budgets.
The SEAT Leon is, in many people's eyes, a car that peaked early. It sold in huge numbers in its first generation guise, largely due to the fact that it was a novelty. It offered the same build quality of a Volkswagen at a fraction of the price. The second generation model didn't. Volkswagen wanted to protect the bottom line of its Golf and hobbled the Leon with a downmarket interior that reminded everybody very clearly of its position in the hierarchy. With this latest third generation car, the Leon once again feels like a quality product inside and out.
The engineering hasn't been dumbed down either and nowhere is that more apparent than in the Ecomotive model. This gets the full draft of Volkswagen Group fuel-saving technology and uses it to excellent effect. With hybrid cars growing in popularity, the Leon Ecomotive demonstrates that there's plenty of life yet in a good diesel engine.
Power comes from a 1.6-litre TDI diesel, mated in this instance to a six-speed manual transmission the ratios of which are spaced for optimum efficiency. This gearbox is a fundamental difference between the Leon Ecomotive and the standard Leon 1.6 TDI, which itself emits a very modest 99 g/km, but only gets a five-speed manual gearbox. Other changes over the standard Leon 1.6 TDI include a higher engine output, up from 105PS to 110PS, and the fitment of low rolling resistance tyres. The sprint to 62mph comes and goes in around 10 seconds, so the car isn't by any means sluggish, although the relatively narrow tyres aren't going to be the very last word in ultimate grip when cornering.
The chassis of the SEAT Leon is simple in its architecture with MacPherson strut front suspension, while the rear uses torsion beam suspension. As with the rest of the Leon range, a lot of work has gone into improving the car's refinement, with particular attention devoted to isolating engine vibrations and optimising airflow over the body at speed.
Design and Build
SEAT hasn't left too many stones unturned in its quest to optimise the fuel economy of the Leon Ecomotive. To that end, as well as the low rolling resistance tyres, it also gets a slippery body package comprising rear and side spoilers and the suspension is lowered by 15mm, while the radiator grille is unique to the Ecomotive. The effect is quite subtle though and you still get features like 16-inch alloy wheels, front fog lights with cornering function. Rest assured, it doesn't look like a penny-pincher's sort of car.
At 4.26 metres long, the MK3 Leon hatchback is actually five centimetres shorter than its predecessor, which means it's easier to park, but through clever packaging and a six centimetre longer wheelbase, SEAT has managed to improve interior space, especially for those in the back. Despite a shorter rear overhang, the 380-litre luggage bay is 40-litres bigger too. I'm still trying to figure that one out. Certain design cues remain, such as the 'Linea Dinimica' that runs rearwards over the wheel arches and the trapezoidal C-pillars - and you'll still recognise it as a Leon. In comparison to its predecessor, it just looks like the 'after' shots in those muscle magazines. The cabin looks cleaner too, with a dashboard that no longer looks so obviously built down to a price. The Ecomotive variant is also offered in ST estate and SC coupe for those who need more room - or less.
Market and Model
Prices start at just over £19,000 for the three-door SC coupe, with the five-door hatch tacking £300 onto those prices and the ST estate weighing in at around £20,500. That's not at all bad value for money compared with, say, a Golf TDI BlueMotion, which costs the best part of £21,000 in hatchback form. Just because you're paying less doesn't mean that this car has been ruthlessly de-contented either. The Ecomotive is based on the popular SE specification and as such, gets features such as a leather steering wheel and gear knob, air conditioning, electric windows all around (aside from SC versions), a Bluetooth hands-free phone system, SEAT's Easy Connect multimedia system, and a front armrest/storage box.
Get in quick and you may well find your car fitted with the otherwise optional Technology Pack, which endows it with full-LED headlights (including their distinctive strip-LED daytime running lights), satellite navigation and a DAB radio - so every medium-wave radio talk show rant can be enjoyed in crystal clear digital quality.
Cost of Ownership
The big draw with the Leon Ecomotive is its incredibly low day to day running costs. Fuel consumption is rated at 85.6mpg, while emissions are a super-low 87g/km. Both of those figures are better than you'd get from a Toyota Prius hybrid. But how does this MK3 Leon Ecomotive achieve a 12g/km improvement over the second-generation version, despite being more powerful? Well, it's largely achieved by a 90kg weight reduction and a 10 per cent improvement in aerodynamic efficiency. These changes help this car travel 11.3 miles further per gallon of fuel than the standard Leon 1.6 TDI, according to their respective combined consumption ratings.
As with every other model in the Leon range, this Ecomotive variant comes with an Energy Recovery set-up and a Start/Stop System, the former to capture and store brake energy otherwise lost as heat, which can be used to power electrical systems, and the latter to shut down the engine when the car is at a standstill, preserving fuel. The Leon has always been a vehicle that has carried an extremely reasonable asking price that is in turn backed up by solid residual values.
The SEAT Leon Ecomotive is a strong all-round package with little in the way of significant caveats. The pricing is tight, the economy and emissions are right up there with the best, residuals are looking rosy and you even get a choice of three well-equipped body styles with much-improved build quality. Show me how SEAT's going wrong there.
Okay, so if you buy into the whole SEAT sports thing, you might well find the Leon Ecomotive not quite as exciting as some other models in the range, but it's still a decent drive, certainly offering a good deal more involvement than a Prius. It depends on what you're looking for from family-sized eco-minded transport. If you don't want to make too many compromises from a 'normal' family car, the SEAT will be for you. If you want to look conspicuously green, choose a hybrid. One thing's for sure though. I'd back the Leon Ecomotive to win any such comparison when it came to three year running costs. We're always looking for ways to cut costs without affecting desirability. SEAT has a ready-made answer.