There’s no denying that 2020 has been a bit odd thus far. Notwithstanding the major unprecedented global health crisis, the automotive industry has seen something of a tidal shift in the humble C-segment, whereby Seat has managed to produce a car that is, in some ways, better than the ubiquitous VW Golf.
The Leon has previously sat in the shadow of the Golf, borrowing the majority of its components, but lacking that feeling of completeness that the VW-badged model achieves so effortlessly.
However, with the latest Leon, it’s a different story. VW’s Spanish colleagues have the taken the latest MK8 Golf and made it quite a bit more interesting.
When we drove it at the end of last year, we thought the latest Golf was all a company car driver could ever need from a hatchback. But, since experiencing the Leon, it has become apparent that the platform had more to give.
With the two cars sharing pretty much everything under-the-skin, the new Leon has all the same benefits that the Golf provides. It just does it in a prettier package.
Seat has also tuned the car’s chassis so the handling is more engaging than the Golf’s, so in fleet-friendly trims, at least, the Leon is a bit more fun to drive.
On the inside, there’s a digital revolution. All the switches are gone, replaced by a central touchscreen that looks after the infotainment, sat-nav, climate and other settings.
It also features an internet connection, with live traffic, internet radio and software updates available through the system
All but the base models get a digital instrument cluster too, which – like in many VW Group cars – is fully customisable and offers crisp graphics.
The engine line-up includes a 110PS three-cylinder petrol, 115PS 2.0-litre diesel and three 1.5-litre petrols that are expected to make up the bulk of sales. A plug-in hybrid will be also join the range later this year.
The 1.5 petrol is available with 130PS or 150PS, both with a manual transmission. There’s also a 48v mild-hybrid with 150PS that comes with a direct-shift gearbox.
While the diesel is the most efficient, emitting from 111g/km, the four-cylinder 1.5 TSI emits pretty much exactly the same as the lower powered 1.0 unit (from 123g/km) making the company car tax more favourable on petrol models.
We’d expect the TDI to achieve 60mpg easily on a long run, but the 1.5 is surprisingly efficient too, managing more than 50mpg in our tests.
Cupra versions will also follow offering better performance and handling, but also a low emission plug-in hybrid engine with 245PS that is set to attract user-choosers.
The trim walk follows Seat’s Easy Move strategy, so there’s SE, SE Dynamic and FR. FR Sport and Xcellence trims will follow later in the year. There are no options. Drivers can simply choose an engine, trim and colour when ordering.
SE Dynamic and FR offer the best array of kit for fleets, with a larger 10-inch touchscreen, parking sensors and sat-nav. The latter gains some sportier touches, including firmer suspension and LED headlights.
Prices start at just less than £20,000 for the 1.0 SE, we’d recommend the £22,295 1.5 TSI 130 PS SE Dynamic for core users. Benefit-in-kind tax sits at £104 per month with low running costs of 33.5ppm. Stepping up to the FR trim costs £1,000 more, but is still cheaper than a basic Golf Life with the same engine.
We were impressed by the Leon’s on-road behaviour. It’s relaxed and easy to drive, but has a sporty edge when required. There’s very little to distinguish the Leon from a Ford Focus when driving, which is an impressive feat.
Like the Golf and the Focus, the Leon is available with two rear axle setups. Higher powered cars (above 150PS) get independent rear suspension, while the rest of the range gets a more basic torsion beam set-up.
If we focus our comparison on the 130PS model, it is not going to be a night-and-day difference for the average driver. On rougher roads, however, the ride is less compliant.
Seat has made strides in the fleet sector with consistent growth in recent years.
The Leon is the brand’s best-selling model, with around three-quarters going to fleets. With competitive running costs, impressive efficiency and a model range to suit most requirements, the new Leon should only bolster that performance.
Specifications shown for Seat Leon FR 1.5 TSI 130