A history lesson…
SEAT’s Leon began life as a bit of a joke, thanks to SEAT’s struggling reputation during the early 2000s. The manufacturer didn’t have the credentials to compete with VW or Ford in the hatchback war, but now, thanks to several brilliant cars and VW taking over the reins, SEAT has become a properly impressive car company, with the Leon being the company’s best-selling model.
The Leon, now in its second incarnation, is a brilliant alternative hatchback. VW build the car, so build quality has been vastly improved, and while the interior may be quite boring, models like the FR and Cupra ensure that the Leon thrills far beyond its price-tag.
The MK1 Leon was a good car, but the MK2 really has taken the bull by the horns and ran with it. Not everyone is taken by the styling, but if you fancy a change from the norm, the Leon will not let you down.
Bang for your buck
In many ways, SEAT has become a properly tasty car company. You get VW build quality but without the VW price-tag. As VAG has been trying to get SEAT to that respected level in the car industry, prices have been rising but they’re still a few grand cheaper than its rivals. So if budget is your concern, you can get a well-made SEAT for much cheaper than its rivals from Germany.
The FR and Cupra models are the Leon’s finest. They are the hot-hatch versions, and while they may put you off, don’t let it. The FR is a quick, practical hatch without the ridiculous running costs and high insurance. If you want something that can embarrass almost any hot-hatch out there, then the Cupra is the Leon for you. With a 250bhp engine and more torque than God, the Cupra is one serious bit of kit. Go for the Cupra R if you’re feeling brave.
What you’ll pay
1.6 Essence models are going for less than £5,500, while the powerful 1.9-litre TDI Reference models can be bought for a bit under £6,300. You will have to raise the budget quite a bit of the aforementioned FR and Cupra variants, but trust us, they’re worth it.
What to check
With been-there-done-it engines, VW build quality and a great platform, there’s little to go wrong on any Leon. It’s one of the main reasons why SEAT has been seeing such a success over the past few years, as its reliability as a manufacturer really has improved.
Leon headlamp units are around £111, while a replacement alternator goes for around £185. The parts aren’t cheap, but should be a bit cheaper than those from a respective VW car.
How it drives
The less powerful and cheaper Leons drive well but won’t give you much pleasure downstairs. It’s not that they’re boring, but the diesels can be a little lacklustre, while the petrols feel like they need an extra 15/20bhp. This can all be solved if you go for a 250bhp Cupra or 180bhp FR. These models really are the picks of the bunch, plus they look a lot better, too!
Inside the Leon is grey and slightly boring, but that’s typical VW for you. You get build quality and speed but you’re not gifted with the luxury of an exciting interior. The boot is respectable, the steering wheel feels well balanced and the seats are especially comfortable.
A good all-rounder is the Leon. Nothing too spectacular, but it’ll do the job very well indeed.