SEAT's fourth generation Leon has sharpened up its act. Jonathan Crouch reports.
Ten Second Review
This fourth generation SEAT Leon is a Focus-sized model that now offers smarter styling, improved media connectivity, extra safety provision and some fresh new engine options. If you'd been overlooking it, this Spanish contender might now be worth a second glance.
SEAT, in case you didn't know, is supposed to be an emotive, 'Latin' kind of brand, a kind of 'Iberian Alfa Romeo'. Hence the passionate marketing, the rallying success and the World Touring Car Championship trophies. Customers though, remain a little unconvinced, especially in mainland Europe. But not so in the UK. Sales are strong on these shores and the Leon model range has always represented much of the reason why, ever since the MK1 version's original introduction in 1998 and subsequent second and third generation models respectively launched in 2005 and 2012. Together with the Ibiza supermini, the Leon is SEAT to British buyers.
This fourth generation version, launched in early 2020, builds upon the solid foundation established by its predecessors and, like them, is based entirely on Volkswagen Golf engineering - in this case, the latest eighth generation version of that car. It's a great starting point, which explains the appeal of this MK4 Leon with its slicker looks, increased electrification, stronger safety and improved media connectivity.
Under the bonnet, things have a familiar look if you know your Volkswagen Group models. At the foot of the petrol range, there's a 1.0-litre TSI three cylinder 110PS unit and the other mainstream petrol engine option is a 1.5-litre TSI EVO variant with efficient Cylinder-on-Demand technology and a choice of 130 or 150PS outputs. Choose a DSG auto gearbox with the 150PS 1.5 TSI EVO unit and you'll get the brand's 48-volt mild hybrid tech thrown in. The other core engine is a 2.0-litre TDI diesel with 115PS. You can also talk to your dealer about various other powerplants developed for this car. These include a 150PS version of the 2.0-litre TDI diesel and a 190PS 2.0 TSI petrol unit for sporty models. Plus there's also a 1.4 TSI plug-in petrol hybrid model with a 204PS output and a 38 mile driving range.
SEATs always tend to feel a bit more sporty than the Volkswagens they're based upon and this one should be no different. Indeed, the pokier variants further up the range really relish a good flogging. This car is still based on the same MQB platform that undergirded its predecessor and is used on other similarly-sized VW Group models like the Volkswagen Golf, Audi's A3 and Skoda's Octavia. It produces enough torsional stiffness to allow this model to combine a supple ride with firm body control. Go for a variant with more than 150PS and it'll also come with multilink rear suspension for a better ride and handling balance: it's a pity that more Leon variants don't get this.
Design and Build
As before, Leon buyers choose from either a five-door hatch or an 'ST' estate model. In both cases, SEAT says that visual style was one of the key reasons why people bought earlier versions of this car, so that's been focused on here, hence the sharper, more assertive lines of this fourth generation design. In hatch form, it's 86mm longer than the previous generation car, but 16mm narrower and 3mm lower. Full-LED headlights feature at the front and there's a more distinctive full-width 'coast-to-coast'-style lamp arrangement at the rear.
Inside, the redesign centres around the use of SEAT's 'Digital Cockpit' layout, which brings together a high-resolution 10.25-inch configurable driver instrument cluster and 10-inch infotainment system. Its "diagonal" graphic design positioning apparently gets its inspiration from the Diagonal avenue of Barcelona. Interior light is an important feature here. It includes a wraparound dashboard light that covers the fascia's entire width and continues through the doors. A key change is the improvement in rear seat space (a slight failing of this model line previously); a 50mm increase in wheelbase has usefully improved legroom. But not boot space: it's 380-litres in the hatch, that's the same as before, though cargo room has improved in the estate version, which can now offer up to 617-litres of it, 30-litres more than before.
Market and Model
Pricing hasn't changed much, so, as before, you'll be looking at list pricing primarily in the £20,000 to £30,000 bracket, which is pretty much par for the course in the family hatchback segment. Customers initially get a choice of three core trim levels - 'SE', 'SE Dynamic' and 'FR'. If you can afford more, you can talk to your dealer about further 'FR Sport', 'Xcellence' and 'Xcellence Lux' trim levels.
Even base 'SE'-spec gets you quite a lot: 'Kessy Go' keyless start, full-LED headlight technology with automatic high beam and 16-inch alloy wheels, plus an eight-inch centre-dash infotainment screen with SEAT Connect technology and access to the 'Apple CarPlay' or 'Android Auto' media systems. 'SE Dynamic' mid-range trim upgrades you to the SEAT Digital Cockpit package, which gets you a 10.25-inch digital driver instrument binnacle display, plus a larger 10-inch centre-dash infotainment screen with navigation. Plus at this level, you get Park Assist (front and rear sensors) and tinted rear side windows, as well as larger Dynamic 17-inch alloy wheels.
To make your Leon really stand out, you'll need one of the meaner-looking 'FR' trim levels, which add sporty front and rear bumpers, Dynamic 17-inch alloy wheels, dual exhaust pipes and a unique suspension set-up that gives a 15mm lower ride height. 'Xcellence' trim adds luxury touches like microsuede cloth upholstery and Predictive Adaptive Cruise Control.
Cost of Ownership
Lots of work's been put into efficiency here. The standard 1.0 and 1.5 TSI petrol engines feature a Miller-cycle combustion process and variable geometry turbocharger, along with integrated Active Cylinder Management. The Miller-cycle optimises valvetrain control with early closure of the inlets which, combined with a higher compression rate and turbocharging, better control the air-fuel mixture and improve fuel efficiency by up to 10 per cent. As for the WLTP figures, well for both the 1.0 TSI engine and the 1.5 TSI 130PS unit, the readings are up to 52.3mpg on the combined cycle and 123g/km of CO2. For the 1.5 TSI 150PS unit, the figures are up to 48.7mpg and 132g/km - or 48.7mpg and 133g/km for the eTSI mild hybrid DSG auto version of this model. For the 2.0 TDI 115PS diesel, the figures are up to 67.3mpg and up to 111g/km.
Specify DSG auto transmission with either the 1.0 TSI unit or the 150PS 1.5 TSI EVO engine and as mentioned above, you get the brand's Mild Hybrid eTSI tech. This technology uses a 48V starter-generator and lithium-ion battery enabling the vehicle to coast with the engine switched off (while retaining all key electric functions, such as power steering), harvest energy under deceleration and provide electrical torque assistance during acceleration. If you want to go further, the Plug-in eHybrid model's 1.4-litre TSI engine is paired to a 13kWh battery pack which can be fully charged in 3.5 hours and offers up to 38 miles of electrified range.
This Leon has long been a strong but often overlooked contender in the family hatchback segment and it's been usefully improved in this fourth generation guise. Buyers will appreciate the smarter safety and improved media connectivity and the mild hybrid and plug-in engine tech brings the range right up to date.
Whether there really is 'latin spirit in every one' is another question of course. In the case of sportier versions like the FR models, we'd be tempted to say yes. Overall, on a pure value-versus-quality basis, this Leon has long been the pick of the Volkswagen Group offerings in this sector. And that also makes it one of the key segment benchmarks outside the Wolfsburg family of brands. Which in turn, makes it a very good car indeed.