The new Leon is being billed as the SEAT’s biggest launch in the company’s history under the marketing strapline ‘Enjoyneering’ nervously explained to us cynical printed media types as a word combining Spanish design with German engineering.
Prices for the initial new Leon line-up of seven petrol variants range between £15,670 and £21,835 while the seven diesel derivatives cost from £17,370 to £22,635.
In UK showrooms this month the five-door Leon arrives into the C-segment selling against the Ford Focus, Vauxhall Astra, Honda Civic, VW Golf and Skoda Octavia. It will be joined in July by a three-door SC range and later this year a Sports Tourer which will be shown at the Frankfurt show. The sporting orientated Cupra version will top the line-up in Britain early in 2014. More engine options will also be added to the line-up this year.
The all new Leon arrives after five years of increasing sales for SEAT UK which have lifted registrations by over a third at a time when the market has been contracting overall. The two previous Leon generations since 1998 have put over 133,100 models on UK roads and it accounts for a third of Seat sales in Britain. Last year SEAT sold 39,978 new cars in the UK, an all time record.
Seat’s new Leon is engineered to use the latest lightweight Volkswagen Group MQB scaleable chassis platform brilliantly used for the new VW Golf, Audi A3 Sportback and the Skoda Octavia family group members.
All Leon models have MacPherson-type coil over strut front suspension with either a semi-rigid rear axle or those above 150PS benefit from a multi-link set up at the back. FR models have 15mm shorter and stiffer springs and shock absorbers.
The Leon is initially available in S, SE and FR trim levels with SE being the most popular by far taking 60% of sales and the other two around 20% each. There are 1.2-litre TSI 105PS, 1.4 TSI 140PS and 1.8 TSI 180PS petrol engines along with 1.6-litre TDI 105PS and 2.0 TDI 150PS diesels. Later this year these will be joined by 184PS 2.0 diesel, a sub-99gkm 1.6 diesel and early in 2014 by a 1.4 petrol with self-selecting 2/ 4 active cylinder technology. Five or six speed manual boxes are standard on most models with DSG automatic on some.
As far as predicted Leon sales for the UK market, SEAT were cagey about making predictions but around 14,000 five door versions should be sold here in a full year while the SC three door should account for around 4,000 annual sales and the ST estate around 2,000 units. Outside its home market of Spain, the UK is the largest market for Leon sales.
The Leon has a UK sales mix of 50/50 between retail and fleet/business user chooser customers. The most popular engine will be the 1.6-litre TDI taking 54% of all sales because of its official 74.3mpg and 99g/km CO2 emission figures which are significant because of company car tax BIK penalties. The most popular petrol engine will be the highly rated and high performance turbocharged 1.2-litre TSI unit taking 14% of sales. This gem of an engine despite its seemingly small capacity is ideal for retail customers because of its lower purchase price, the cheaper cost of petrol fuel over diesel and still offers 57.6mpg fuel economy and 114g/km CO2 emissions so road tax is £0 for the First Year rate and then only £30 per annum for the second year onwards.
The motorsport DNA of SEAT shines through with the new Leon. Whilst its Volkswagen Group fellow family members use the same new platform, the Leon is clearly the sharpest and sportiest for exterior styling. The new Golf still looks like a Golf, the new A3 looks like a conventional classy Audi, the Octavia looks bland but roomy and the Leon looks edgy, purposeful and full of racy intent. Sharp styling lines include sculptured side panels, angular grille and overall, due to its longer wheelbase, it looks well balanced. Another improvement is the slimmer front pillars which significantly improve front quarter visibility.
There is a larger 380-litre boot in addition to improved rear seat legroom and there is more width front and rear. The Leon designers have worked well to create a more driver focused cabin, better controls layout and softer surfaces although there is still plenty of ‘blackness’ which lessens that light and airy feel offered by the new Golf and A3.
Seven airbags protect occupants but owners can also specify additional safety items, driver assistance and technology packs. It has received five-star safety recognition from Euro NCAP testers.
Sitting on a longer wheelbase and wider track than the second generation Leon, the new model has better stability and handling characteristics, the suspension is now more compliant and the ride more comfortable than any other SEAT. Most versions are fitted with an electronic differential which gently brakes the inside front wheel through a corner to improve grip.
The third generation Leon is the most technically advanced version yet to hit the roads and features full light emitting diode headlamps as standard or an option. Depending on the specification level chosen there is the SEAT Drive Profile which has Normal, Sport, Eco or Individual modes covering adjustments for performance of the engine and gearbox, steering input, climate system and ambient lighting. Also available are support systems covering lane assist, automatic light dipping, tiredness monitor, parking aids and collision brake application. A modular infotainment system brings together essential and desirable data on a single multi-function screen for ease of use.
The most popular SE trim and equipment specification level includes front and rear electric windows, electric door mirrors, air conditioning, cruise control, front fog lights and cornering function, 16-inch alloy wheels, electronic limited slip differential and hill hold control.
During my brief test drive I tried the best selling 1.6-litre 104bhp TDI engine and for high mileage fleet and company car drivers this will be the engine given to them. It was smooth, responsive, fleet-of-foot and returned an impressive 59.1mpg during my drive on winding and hilly Cotswold roads. With no VED road tax costs and only 13% company car tax I can see why fleets will go this route. But costing £18,490, that is £1,700 more than the 1.2-litre turbocharged petrol unit which has the same power output and diesel fuel costs more.
I would opt for the 1.2-litre TSI 104bhp turbocharged direct injection petrol engine, it is regarded as one of the best engines available today and is available in other VW group ranges. It develops 129lb f t of torque from only 1,400rpm so it is fantastically responsive accelerating from low speeds without hesitation and it has a slick six-speed manual gearbox or a seven-speed DSG twin clutch auto which is even more fuel and CO2 efficient. Top speed is 119mph and zero to 62mph takes 10 seconds, faster than the 1.6 diesel. With CO2 emissions of 114g/km (112g/km for the auto), from April VED road tax is £0 for the First Year and then £30 for the second year onwards and company car tax is also 13%. Officially this car will return 57.6mpg and my test drive resulted in 37.5mpg so in this area it lost out to the diesel unit but on as longer run it will do better.
Today we must engage our brains as far as smaller capacity petrol engines go. Small doesn’t always mean low power and sluggish performance. The development of turbochargers used in conjunction with direct fuel injection and variable valve and injection timing gives the performance we would have expected from a 1.8/2.0-litre petrol engine but with the low CO2 emissions and fuel economy getting close to a diesel. The big pay-off is that these new petrol engines are cheaper to buy than diesel units and petrol as a fuel is cheaper than diesel. Sometimes it pays to think small these days.
MILESTONES. SEAT Leon SE 1.2 TSI 105PS 5-Door Hatchback. Price: £16,790. Engine/transmission: 1.2-litre, four cylinder, direct injection turbocharged petrol 104bhp, 129lb ft of torque from 1,400rpm, 6-speed manual. Performance: 119mph, 0-62mph 10-seconds, 57.6mpg Combined Cycle (37.5mpg on test), CO1 114g/km, VED roads tax £0 First Year rate then £30 per annum second year onwards, BIK company car tax 13%. Insurance group: 13. Dimensions/capacities: L 4,263mm, W 1,816mm, H 1,459mm, boot 380-litres. For: Sharp and sporty styling, improved interior space, lighter and with better agility, better build quality, improved and more comfortable ride quality, gem of a new generation petrol engine. Against: Dark interior, low boot floor with high rear sill so not easy for loading heavy cases, actual fuel economy didn’t match official figures. Miles Better News Agency