As some of you may know, SEAT is of course part of the rather significant Volkswagen Group, and up until recently it had a bit of a reputation for being the runt of the litter. That was until the Leon arrived. This current model is not just one of the best looking cars SEAT has ever made, but it’s one of the best looking cars in its class – a class that includes some stiff competition such as the Ford Focus, Volkswagen Golf, Peugeot 308 and the slightly left of centre Volvo V40. The Golf is technically the Leon’s closest rival as both cars share much of the same structural architecture.
In the case of this car, power comes in the form of a 2.0-litre four cylinder diesel engine, and is putting out a rather respectable 184hp. The FR trim (that’s Formula Racing for the non-SEAT aficionados) adds some rather tasty 17-inch alloy wheels along which are connected to FR-specific suspension that is slightly firmer but nothing that will make daily driving tiresome. Adding further to the sportier look are twin chromed exhaust tips, contrasting door mirrors, tinted rear windows and, most noticeably, full LED front and rear lights with LED daytime running lights which make it every bit as distinctive to other motorist’s rear view mirrors as its more premium Audi relations. Other cool features include a 5.8-inch colour touchscreen infotainment system which also enable the driver to select different driving modes from the comfort of their sports seat.
What’s it like on the road though? Well, rather good as performance diesels go in fact. Thankfully that 2.0-litre diesel engine is fairly tried and tested at this stage and is reasonably well refined. Yes, it’s a little noisy at idle when cold, but once you’re motoring along the din is drowned out and the hefty surge of torque from it throughout the mid-range more than compensates for it. The six-speed manual gearbox is pretty well suited to it too, with ratios that offer plenty of performance yet allow the Leon to economically cruise in sixth on motorway journeys. In the majority of areas the Leon is every bit as good as the more expensive Volkswagen Golf.
Dynamically there isn’t a whole lot to separate the two, the biggest difference really is in the finish of the interior. Not that the Leon feels shoddy – far from it in fact – but the Golf offers a nicer design that uses higher quality materials. Of course, it is the more expensive car of the two, so you’re paying for what you get. If this kind of thing doesn’t bother you too much than the SEAT will certainly make a big impression on you. The 184hp version that we tested here, in addition to the extra power, has virtually the same fuel economy and emissions as the 150hp version, and with €1,330 separating them it will boil down to whether you can stretch that bit extra. Having driven both cars the more powerful version does feel ever-so-slightly sweeter to drive and were it us making the purchase we’d have the harder look down the back of the sofa for the extra money and go with the 184hp version. For overall bang-for-your-buck, the Leon FR is right up at the top of the league and as a real world performance hatch, leaving the crazier stuff aside, should certainly be on your shortlist when shopping.
Model Tested: SEAT Leon FR 5-door 184hp
Road Tax: Band A3 (€190 per year)
Full details available at SEAT.ie