SEAT's Leon has historically been most appealing the more power you threw at it. So what's the improved third-generation one like with a little 1.2-litre TSI 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 1.2 TSI has a lot to be said for it. It's smart looking, economical and if you choose this 110PS engine, fairly quick 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. In this case, exhibit A is the SEAT Leon 1.2 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 the driver appeal and value for money of the original car with the space and utility of the second-generation model. What's more, this time round the best buy isn't always the most expensive sports model.
SEAT now offers a clever three cylinder 115PS 1.0-litre TSI engine, so the shelf life of this older four cylinder 1.2-litre 110PS unit may be limited. This has enough about it to get to 62mph in just 9.9 seconds and keep going to 121mph.It drives through a six-speed manual gearbox that's light yet positive in its action. The chassis of the SEAT Leon is 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.
The 1.2-litre engine is a good deal more refined than you might imagine. You might think that it does all of its best work at the top of the rev range, but that's far from the case. In fact, the peak torque figure of 175Nm chimes in at an almost turbodiesel-like 1,550rpm. It helps to dial in a few more revs than you'd expect to launch it off the line briskly but other than that it scores well. The long sixth gear makes motorway work refined and economical.
Design and Build
With the 1.2-litre TSI engine, 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 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 redesigned eight-inch central infotainment screen. This monitor 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
There are two spec levels available with the 1.2-litre TSI engine - 'SE Dynamic Technology' for just over £17,000 in 5-door hatch or, for around £1,000 more, plusher 'SE Technology' trim. You'll need to pay a premium of around £1,000 if you want the ST estate bodystyle. There are key changes with this improved third generation model with regard to media connectivity, this revised Leon 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. And 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 an extremely reasonable asking price that is in turn backed up by solid residual values. The 1.2-litre petrol engines are sure to be attractive to used buyers who want a modern car but don't want to pay the earth. They're also part of a new vanguard of petrol engines that rival diesels for cost of ownership. SEAT claims a combined fuel economy figure of 56.5 mpg for the 110PS unit and 116g/km of carbon dioxide, although the economy figure dives quite dramatically if you do anything other than tickle the throttle pedal.
The SEAT Leon 1.2 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 one of the more appealing ones. The 110PS engine still sells well, offering a clear £1,700 saving over an equivalent diesel and 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. Of course, SEAT has devised the trim walk-up so that you'll be tempted to go for the plusher spec of the 'SE Technology' model but stick to your guns and you'll end up with very cost-effective family motoring.
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 1.2 TSI makes a strong case for itself.