The SEAT Leon we tested for a week couldn’t have come at a better time – at the beginning of February the mercury in the usually clement, if perpetually wet, South Wales climate dropped to well below freezing. Hopefully a bit of hot hatch action direct from Catalonia would do the job of warming things up…
The FR is where SEAT’s five-door hatchback range starts to ‘butch up’ and get interesting, eventually culminating in the beefy top-spec Cupra R model.
The FR is a bit more modest than the aforementioned 265ps brute, but could well offer a compromise between out-and-out performance and sensible running costs, comfort and practicality. SEAT claims a combined 45.6mpg and a 0-60 time of under ten seconds – not a bad trade off.
It certainly has a diverse family tree, sharing Volkswagen’s ‘A’ Platform with as disparate cousins as the Audi Q3 and TT, VW’s own Golf and Sirocco and the Skoda Octavia. The current generation Leon debuted all the way back in 2005, before receiving a minor facelift in 2009, so there’s no getting around the fact it’s getting a bit long in the tooth.
But with a new model rumoured to be on the way (spy shots of what’s thought to be the MK3 Leon appeared in November last year), prices for this generation Leon could soon dip, allowing keen-eyed motorists a chance to get their hands on a sweet deal on a more-than-capable car which was considered by many to be a bit of a steal in the first place.
As there’s nothing more we love at Gocompare.com News than a bargain, we thought it might be time to have another look at the current generation Leon as it commences its lap of honour…
First impressions of the SEAT Leon FR
Seven years on, and the teardrop-shaped Leon still looks sharp, particularly in the candy-white colour ours arrived in. Five-door hatchbacks have a propensity to look, well, a tad frumpy. But this is an accusation that it’s difficult to level at the Leon, particularly in FR guise. It’s squat, purposeful, and looks like it means business. Meanwhile, the idiosyncratic design touches such as the hiding of rear door handles in the rear pillars and the back-to-front windscreen wipers (more about them later) still seem progressive.
Inside the FR 1.4 TSI
A particular bugbear of ours is cars which look good on the outside at the expense of actually being able to see out of clearly – quite an underrated thing, that.
A regular criticism of the Leon is that it has poor visibility, but (excuse the turn of phrase) we didn’t see too much wrong with it. We’ve certainly been in a lot worse. The sports seats are supportive and snug, while and central console, packing optional satellite navigation, Bluetooth, connectivity for your MP3 gizmo, and DAB radio is clear and easy to use, although we wouldn’t recommend tinkering with it in transit.
Sound quality is clear and crisp, although a little more bass would be nice. In short, it’s a pleasant place to spend time – even if some of the trim is a bit on the plastic-y side. If you’re anything like me, you’ll come to find that the aforementioned DAB radio is an indispensible boon, allowing you to (like I did) carry on listening to documentaries about Krautrock on 6Music when you leave the house and get into the car. Wunderbar.
The Leon is more practical than its looks let on. There’s plenty of space for rear passengers in the back, not to mention a pretty generous boot, even if it’s not quite as capacious as some of its competitors. But unless you’re routinely carting a load of gear around, it’s more than enough to be getting on with.
Driving the SEAT Leon FR 1.4 TSI
When it comes to getting out and about on the road, the Leon FR has something of a split personality - no bad thing. It’s quite happy when ambling around at low revs in civilised fashion, offering a reasonably comfortable ride considering its performance-orientated slant.
The real-world economy is decent, too - my daily commute, a largely 50mph route, saw the Leon FR being good for around 40 mpg, not too far off the manufacturer’s claimed 45.6mpg combined figure. Not bad considering having the heaters on was a necessity thanks to the freezing weather. But the Leon FR doesn’t need too much persuasion to reveal its livelier side.
When shifting down the six-speed transmission and giving it a bit more welly, the power is delivered sharply, and progress becomes all the brisker. But the real ace up the FR’s sleeve is its handling – it’s sharp and nimble, with not too much roll whilst cornering either. It was a a joy to put through its paces the winding roads up in the Welsh valleys near GCHQ.
And while it’s relatively quick, it never feels particularly frightening or intimidating. One minor irritation that we encountered in our week with the Leon was the way the back-to-front wipers tended to smear a patch in the centre of the windscreen when cruising on the motorway - a bit of a problem when the roads are as wet and salty as they have been recently.
More conventional fayre is served up by the Ford Focus and Vauxhall Astra. Meanwhile, the Honda Civic – of which there’s a brand new version this year – is a fine-looking alternative too. The Volkswagen Golf, of which the Leon shares much of its DNA, is also worth considering, even if it’s a fair bit pricier. The Renault Megane is also worth a look.
A versatile, attractive and agile hatchback which sits in the sweet spot of affordability, performance and practicality. The Leon feels just equally at home trundling to and from work and on inter-city jaunts as it is letting off steam on backroad blasts. It might be coming to the end of its long innings, but there’s life in the old dog yet.
We like: Evergreen good looks, fine handling, game engine, keen pricing.
We don’t like: Overly fussy windscreen wipers, getting on a bit.
SEAT Leon FR 1.4 TSI: At a glance
Price as tested: £20,665 (£18,515 without optional extras)
Engine: 1.4 litre TSi Power: 125ps 0-60mph: 9.8 seconds
Top Speed: 122 mph Economy: 45.6 mpg (combined, claimed)
Emissions: 145g CO2/km Insurance Group – 16E
Vehicle Excise Duty: Band F (£130 per year)
Euro NCAP Safety Rating: Four stars
Our Leon included the following options: Satellite navigation system with auxiliary input, Bluetooth and DAB radio, Bi-xenon headlights, front parking sensors. [gallery link="file"]