SEAT has gained sales and financial security through being a member of the Volkswagen Audi Group (VAG) but it has also become an increasingly confusing brand. Originally the idea was that the Spanish manufacturer would serve the budget end of the market but then Skoda entered the Group and suddenly SEAT became ‘sporty’. This sporty label sits quite strangely with super ‘eco’ models such as the Ecomotive, so what’s the outcome?
This is the third generation of Leon and it benefits from the latest 1.6 TDI diesel engine, the full fuel-saving Ecomotive pack, and the very latest VAG MQB platform. In short SEAT has spent a long time looking at the latest technology that the German mega brands have to offer and has managed to get its hands on the lot.
The Leon shares its platform with the latest Golf, A3 and Octavia models so SEAT hasn’t been short-changed with old technology. The MQB platform results in a slight reduction in length but more room inside for passengers and a bigger boot. At the same time around 90 kg has been taken out which is a useful reduction.
In addition to the latest chassis, part of the weight reduction is a result of SEAT ditching the unique people carrier silhouette for a more conventional hatchback roofline. Whilst the Mk 2 Leon shape never fitted with the ‘sporty’ concept, it did give buyers a reason to pick the SEAT. The latest version loses its curves and becomes more angular, and if you squint, the latest Leon could easily carry a VW, Skoda, or SEAT badge, which is a shame.
The German influence continues inside with an interior that is functional rather than aesthetically pleasing but which lacks any of the design flair that a Southern European brand should excel at.
In theory this is where the Leon should steal a march on its siblings and much of the rest of the family hatch offerings. In reality it is a very well engineered car which offers a composed ride, good levels of refinement and ample grip. What it doesn’t offer is enough driver involvement to really make you bond with the car. As if to underline the engineers’ brief there is no way of turning off the traction control.
Perhaps the most disappointing thing is that the latest Golf does offer more feel and fluency than it has for a long time, so there is a niggling feeling that the Leon has actually been held back a little so as to not step on big brother’s toes.
At least the Leon does pull off the budget exec feel with everything feeling well screwed together and built to last, and it’s also capable of ploughing up and down motorways on long journeys.
On paper the Ecomotive model offers an impressive mixture of fuel economy and good performance. It isn’t quite class leading but 85.6 mpg on the combined cycle is very good in anyone’s book and it secures a company car tax liability of just 14% and free VED.
A week of mixed running resulted in a real world test average of 60 mpg which whilst a good chunk short of the official rating is a good result. This was aided by the Leon managing 50 mpg in urban running which was helped by a particularly effective start/stop system which was available all the time unlike some of the systems that we have tested which have frequent bouts of unavailability.
Despite being a new model, the 1.6 TDI engine fails to meet Euro 6 which means that NOx emissions are higher than they should be.
Another unwelcome VAG influence is the slightly measly standard specification which leads many owners to raid the options lists. This can get very expensive and goes a long way to explaining how VW and Audi have such healthy profit margins.
To maintain the correct pecking order, at £19,925 the Leon Ecomotive is cheaper than the Golf BlueMotion (£20,815) and a shade less efficient. It also just edges the £20,300 Skoda Octavia Greenline but the Skoda is a ‘fastback’ and so offers a much bigger boot with 590 litres vs 380 litres and more legroom thanks to a stretched wheelbase. The result is that the Octavia occupies a space about half a class bigger than the Leon.
At the bottom end of the range the 1.2 TSI petrol engine can be yours in ‘S’ specification for a little over £16,000 whilst the performance Cupra model with the 2-litre TSI petrol engine costs £28,865.
The SEAT Leon is a competent product but it lacks a niche. It’s very close on price to the Golf, is slightly thirstier, is no more individual, and offers slightly less driver involvement. It is also only £375 less than the longer Octavia which performs in a very similar way, is slightly more efficient, and offers a much bigger boot and a bit more space inside too.
Outside of the VAG family, the Peugeot 308 is cheaper, more efficient, more practical, a bit more entertaining and Euro 6 compliant. Meanwhile the ubiquitous Ford Focus ECOnetic is much more entertaining, better specified and usefully cheaper at £18,745.
So the Leon is as competent as you would expect a Volkswagen Group product to be, but it just doesn’t stand out and there are too many reasons to pick a Golf, Octavia, 308, or Focus over it. The good real world fuel consumption at least ensures the Leon is awarded a Green Car Guide rating of 7 out of 10.