SEAT's short wheelbase three-door Leon SC model offers a fresh approach and an interesting outcome. Jonathan Crouch reports.
Ten Second Review
Now this is something a little different. SEAT's Leon was originally a sporty hatch that gradually grew a bit mature in its later iterations. You can now get it in a short-wheelbase three-door SC form that's all attitude. You may want to hold on for the Cupra models though.
It's fair to say that most were a little nonplussed when the Volkswagen Group started banging on about its MQB platform. After all Modularer Querbaukasten doesn't sound that interesting, translating from German to "Modular Transverse Matrix." Only now, with launches of cars like the long wheelbase Audi A3 Sportback and this, the short wheelbase SEAT Leon SC (for 'Sports Coupe') can we see the cleverness of the philosophy. Suddenly cars can be lengthened or shortened almost at will by the constituent companies in the Volkswagen group.
How does this affect the SEAT Leon? Well, if you want a more alert, nimbler-feeling car, a shorter wheelbase is always a good thing. So using the MQB chassis, SEAT is now able to offer the Leon in two distinct flavours; a more relaxed five-door with decent legroom in the back and the livewire SC three-door that we examine here. Choice is good, right?
The Leon SC offers much the same selection of engines as its five-door counterpart, albeit with some of the less powerful units quietly excised from its price list. That means you get a series of downsized yet powerful TDI diesel and TSI petrol engines, ranging from 1.2 to 2.0 litres. All the engines in the line-up feature direct injection and turbocharging and have been engineered for efficiency. The 1.6 TDI generates 105PS and 250Nm of torque. The extensively re-engineered 2.0 TDI develops 150PS and 320Nm of torque. If you'd prefer petrol power, your dealer will also take orders for the 1.2 TSI in 105PS guise, a 1.4 TSI with 140PS and at the top of the petrol range, a 1.8 TSI with 180PS which utilises a combination of direct and manifold injection. The FR in 185PS 2.0 TDI guise is bound to be popular. At the top of the range are Cupra variants with the Golf GTI's 2.0-litre TSI engine, but uprated to produce either 265 or 280PS.
Depending on the engine, transmission options range from five and six-speed manual gearboxes or the twin-clutch six and seven-speed DSG sequential transmissions. The chassis of the SEAT Leon seems relatively straightforward in its architecture, with MacPherson strut front suspension and torsion beam rear suspension for engines up to 150PS but go for a more powerful model and you then get a multi-link rear setup that's a bit more geared towards performance driving.
Design and Build
We've gone on record professing our appreciation of the five-door Leon's proportions and the three-door SC model's shape takes a little more time to rest on the eyeball. It's normally the other way round with most hatches, but it's probably just because we've become accustomed to Leons being biggish, rather bluff things. The SC is a more delicate-looking design with definite traces of Audi A3 in the rear glasshouse styling. With a 4.23-metre overall length, the Leon SC looks a good deal more compact than the five-door car, despite only being 3cm shorter overall. It's 110kg lighter than the second-generation Leon, and 20kg lighter than the five-door Leon.
The trademark SEAT 'Linea Dinimica' runs rearward over the wheel arches, while the sculpted 'blisters' on the sides are not completely straight, running instead in a very slight arc. The big rear screen is 19 degrees more inclined compared with the five-door and has the form of an up-turned pentagon. Squint a bit and you'll still recognise it as a Leon. The cabin looks cleaner too, with a dashboard that no longer looks so obviously built down to a price. The good news is that it shares the same 380-litre boot capacity with its five-door sibling. It is a little tighter in the back seats though.
Market and Model
Car manufacturers are often caught on the horns of a dilemma when pricing a three-door model that's been introduced in the wake of a five-door car. Some take a pragmatic view that buyers are getting less in terms of practicality and pitch the car cheaper than its five-door sibling. A growing trend, however, is to style the car as a coupe and try to tack a bit onto the five-door car's price. That can work if the car is radically different in style, but if it's just a car with longer doors, that tactic can look a bit predatory. SEAT takes the middle ground here and it's a well-judged move with prices that are just below those of the five-door car, starting at under £16,000. This means that the Leon SC doesn't step too firmly on the toes of Volkswagen's Scirocco.
As with the five-door, plenty of budget has been flung at the Leon SC's infotainment hub, the basis of which is formed by the Media System Touch which includes a CD radio with an SD card slot, four speakers and a five-inch touch screen. Go for a plusher trim level and you get the Media System Colour featuring more in-screen colours and higher quality, with a CD drive and six speakers as standard (eight speakers in the FR). It connects external devices via Bluetooth, USB or aux-in. The five-inch colour touch screen also controls vehicle functions. The most advanced option is the Media System Plus with a 5.8-inch touch screen with three-dimensional HD graphics, iPod connectivity, an optional DAB tuner, voice recognition and eight speakers. This also incorporates the navigation system, which shows navigation information in the colour display between the speedometer and rev counter and includes voice recognition.
Cost of Ownership
Car buyers these days expect a lot when it comes to value for money. They expect to not only get a lot of car for their cash but also not to have to spend too much fuelling it or taxing it, even if they've bought what is a relatively aspirational model. SEAT recognises this and has fitted the Leon SC with some of the most fuel-efficient engines in the VW Group portfolio. Even one of the larger capacity units such as the 2.0 TDI will see around 70mpg on the combined cycle, which is very good going indeed for a powerplant with some 320Nm of torque available.
Residual values are looking extremely promising for this third generation Leon, with the industry recognising that SEAT is finding its feet again after a few difficult years. It shouldn't be difficult to build attractive, cost effective cars with the resources at SEAT's disposal and the Leon SC could well return the Leon - especially in Cupra guises - to its position as a hatch that you really couldn't leave off your shortlist.
The SEAT Leon SC does more than most three-door versions of existing five-door hatches. This one runs on a shorter wheelbase chassis for sharper handling and pert good looks. You might not instantly recognise it as a Leon, as this car is a few centimetres shorter than the five-door which is in turn a few centimetres shorter than its predecessor, but it seems that small is indeed beautiful. It'll just take the public a little while to catch on to this one but catch on they will. This could very well be the first SEAT for some time to really strike it big in the UK.
It's hard to pinpoint any serious weaknesses. It looks good, the interior quality has come on by leagues, the engine line-up is now bang up to date, it rides on a brand new chassis, the pricing is competitive, SEAT's reliability record is getting back to where it ought to be and did we say it looks good? I'm genuinely struggling to think of reasons why you wouldn't like the Leon SC.