What is it?
Spain’s attempt to out-Golf the Golf. In the past, buyers who wanted something Golf-ish for a bit less money have tended to buy, erm, a second-hand Golf, but the third-generation Leon – based on the same spangly MQB platform as the MkVII Golf and the new Audi A3 – might finally be the car to lure budget-conscious hatch buyers from the German end of the new car market.
For a start, it certainly looks more distinctive than the hyper-conservative Golf, with sharp swage lines and wing mirrors pointy enough to disembowel pedestrians. That can could for a lot with buyers.
Compared to the Golf and Focus, the Leon’s road manners have traditionally been a touch unrefined. Not so the new one. The Leon’s drive is as good and pointy as its looks: like the Golf, the Leon offers either a torsion-bean rear axle or a more sophisticated multi-link set-up. Keen wheelsmiths should opt for the latter, which, in conjunction with the lovely 1.4 TSI petrol engine in particular, serves up a pleasingly fizzy experience.
The six-speed manual is clean and precise – there’s a clutchless DSG available too – and the Leon feels light on its feet: like the new Golf, it has shed up to 100kg depending on model. Despite Seat dropping such dreaded phrases as ‘sporty handling’, the Leon doesn’t feel brittle, just neat-riding and delicate on its feet.
On the inside
Seat has worked hard to raise the Leon’s cabin towards Golf quality, and for the most part the results are successful. Nasty hard-touch plastics are eliminated from the dash top, the seats and stitching are smart and, if you opt for a high-spec version, the motion-sensing sat nav will spot your hovering finger and obligingly display lots more buttons.
But even the most loaded Leons still sport a great swathe of empty space on the centre stack ahead of the gear stick: Seat says it wanted to keep unnecessary buttonry to a minimum, but it has the effect of making the Leon feel meagerly specced even when loaded with kit.
Despite sharing much DNA with the Golf, don’t expect the Leon to return quite the same bulletproof residuals as its German cousins. But build quality feels stellar and the mechanicals are all tried-and-tested VW Group fare, so there’s little to fear. It’s well priced, too: the Leon undercuts the equivalent Golf by around ten percent, and a couple of grand isn’t to be sniffed at in this market. The engines are as economical as in the Golf too, and so are very fuel efficient indeed. You can’t argue with a 74mpg 1.6 TDI and even the sparkling 1.4 TSI averages nearly 55mpg.