Seat Leon SCIn March this year SEAT launched their Leon C-segment five door hatchback in the UK and now follows three door versions called the SC (Sports Coupe).

The Leon ST (Sports Tourer) estate will follow early next year.

The new Leon SC has been designed from the outset to win over more private buyers to the Spanish brand, said Alejandra Mesonero-Romanos, Design Director SEAT.

“The Leon five-door is a very practical car for business and family use but we decided the SC three-door had to look faster, more dynamic,” he said. “It is the same front end as the five-door up to the A-pillar but the sweeping roof, longer doors and tapering body over slightly fatter rear wheel arches and a shorter wheelbase give it a different appearance.”

“At the front end we have kept the Leon face from the five-door because it conveys an expression of someone who has a purpose, who knows where they are going and will get there with determination. We tend to judge people by first impressions, how they look to us after just a moment’s glance and I think it is the same with cars,” he said.

The Leon range is of paramount importance to the sporting SEAT brand and it has been billed by the Spanish arm of the Volkswagen Group as their biggest launch in the company’s history. The Leon family was introduced with the marketing strapline of Enjoyneering, explained as a word combining Spanish panache in design with German engineering qualities. In the UK the Leon range accounts for a third of their total sales and its share will grow because this is the first time the Leon range has included three door hatchback versions.

Seat Leon SCSEAT sales overall in the UK are at an all-time high with 22,752 cars sold in the first six months of this year, an 18.6% increase over the same period last year. Outside its home market of Spain, Germany is the largest market for SEAT followed by the UK.

The Leon SC three door range mirrors that of the five door hatchback models but the three door prices are £300 cheaper. The new SC starts at £15,370 and goes up to £22,075. As with its five door stablemate the Leon SC will have stiff competition in its sales sector competing against its family group member - the VW Golf which is up to £2,000 more expensive and the Audi A3 Hatchback which is over £2,500 dearer. Of course the main sellers in the C-segment are still five door models so the Ford Focus, Vauxhall Astra and Skoda Octavia will be competitors.

In terms of specification the Leon SC again mirrors the Leon five door with S, SE, FR trim levels with the Cupra to come. The SE is expected to be the most popular. Likewise the engine line-up is the same with the 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 150 and 184PS diesels. Later this year these will be joined by a sub-99gkm 1.6 diesel and early in 2014 by a1.4 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.

SEAT Product Marketing Manager Jo Elliott said at the UK media launch, “The SC three door hatchback will have strong appeal to the drivers who do not need the additional doors for whatever reason.” As an added sales incentive on SE and FR versions, SEAT is giving away £1,900 of LED front lights, navigation system and digital radio. This offer runs until the 30th September so taking in the new ‘63’ registration plate month.

As far as predicted Leon SC sales for the UK market the SC three door should be around 4,000 units in a year. This compares to around 11,000 for five door versions and an estimated 3,500 units for the forthcoming ST estate.

Seat Leon SCThe Leon SC is expected to have a UK sales split of 60% retail customers with 40% taken up by fleet and business user-chooser customers. SEAT estimates the most popular engine will be the 1.6-litre, 105PS TDI turbodiesel taking around 44% of all sales because of its official 74.3mpg and 99g/km CO2 emission figures which are significant when it comes to minimizing tax costs. Road tax is zero cost and Benefit-in-Kind company car tax is rated at 14%. SEAT has a strong following of customers who prefer diesel power but they admit in this three door C-sector they have no experience of buying trends. With the new Leon SC hatch attracting new customers to the brand, the balance of power between diesel and petrol could change.

The most popular petrol engine will be the highly rated and high performance turbocharged 1.2-litre, 105PS TSI unit. But SEAT estimates it only taking around 8.8% of sales, a figure seemingly under-called when already 55% of advance orders for the Leon SC are for petrol powered versions. This gem of an engine, despite its seemingly small capacity, is ideal for retail customers because of its lower £1,700 purchase price than the 1.6 TDI diesel and the cheaper cost of petrol fuel over diesel. It 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. Company car drivers will pay 14% BIK tax.

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 Hatchback looks like a conventional classy Audi, the Octavia looks bland but roomy but the Leon in three or five door forms looks edgy, purposeful and full of racy intent.

Perhaps the current top of the range racy FR models available with the 1.4 TSI 140PS petrol or 2.0-litre, 150 and 184PS TDI diesel units could look a little more aggressive in terms of exterior styling to compete against the new sharp handling Golf GTi, Ford Focus ST and the new kid on the block – the Kia Pro-cee’d 1.6 GDi which has more equipment and a longer warranty but is not as sharp or pleasing to drive if fun is on your driving agenda.

At 4,228mm long the three door SC hatch is only a little shorter in length than the previous generation Leon five door models. Like the latest five door models the SC has a large 380-litre boot in addition to improved rear seat legroom and there is more width front and rear. The headroom in the rear of the Leon SC is less plentiful than the five door models and of course getting in and out of the rear seats is always an issue with three door hatchbacks. Just as with the Leon five door the 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.

The Leon’s suspension is more compliant and the ride more comfortable than any other SEAT for the S and SE versions. The sporty FR models with lower and stiffer suspension and 17-inch alloy wheels offer a firmer ride which doesn’t ‘cushion’ the lumps and bumps of our UK road surfaces as well. The benefits of this suspension are sharper cornering with more grip and slightly better agility. Most versions are fitted with an electronic differential which gently brakes the inside front wheel through a corner to improve grip. During the press launch over winding Cotswold roads with their patchwork of repaired surfaces, cars with the most popular SE specification on the standard 16-inch wheels and tyres provided a more comfortable and quieter ride than those fitted with optional 17-inch ones.

The most popular SE trim and equipment specification level includes front 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.

Seat Leon SCSeat Leon SCSeat Leon SCDuring my brief test drive I tried the best selling 1.6-litre 104bhp (105PS) TDI engine and for high mileage fleet and company car drivers this will be the engine given to them. It was smooth, responsive with 184lb ft of torque from 1,500rpm. It is relatively fleet-of-foot with a top speed of 119mph with zero to 62mph taking 10.7 seconds. On my test drive the engine returned 59.8mpg covering winding and hilly Cotswold roads. The official figure is 74.3mpg. With no VED road tax costs due to the 99g/km of CO2 emissions and and only 14% company car tax I can see why fleets will go this route. But with the best selling SE version costing £18,190, that is £1,700 more than the 1.2-litre SE turbocharged petrol unit which has the same power output, this engine is not necessarily the best choice unless really high mileages are being driven.

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 an even better seven-speed DSG twin clutch auto which is even more fuel and CO2 efficient. Top speed is 119mph and zero to 62mph takes 10.0 seconds, faster for acceleration than the 1.6 diesel. With CO2 emissions of 114g/km (112g/km for the auto), VED road tax is £0 for the First Year and then £30 for the second year onwards and company car tax is also 14%. Officially this car will return 57.6mpg with the manual gearbox and 58.9mpg for the auto. My test drive resulted in 51mpg, not far behind the diesel and this petrol car costs £1,700 less to buy.

MILESTONES. SEAT Leon SC 3-Door 1.2 TSI 105PS SE manual. Price: £16,490, (£17,740 the 7-speed DSG auto model). 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 10.2-seconds, 57.6mpg Combined Cycle (51mpg on test), CO2 114g/km, VED roads tax £0 First Year rate then £30 per annum second year onwards, BIK company car tax 14%. Insurance group: 13E. Dimensions/capacities: L 4,228mm, W 1,810mm, H 1,461mm, boot 380-litres. For: Sharp and sporty styling, roomy interior, agile handling, 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, two wide opening passenger doors still limit easy rear seat access.    Miles Better News Agency

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