First Drive: Seat Leon

The Leon is Seat's best-selling model, so it's no surprise to see that the Spanish manufacturer has decided to keep changes few and far between for its mid-life refresh.

AOL Cars headed to Barcelona to see if the minor updates improved an on already impressive package.

What is it?

The Seat Leon is best described as a VW Golf that takes life a little less seriously. It has the same underpinnings, but the styling and driving experience are targeted at younger buyers.

For this facelift, the Spanish manufacturer has gone with an 'if it ain't broke, don't fix it' mentality, making only a few changes to the winning formula. That's no bad thing, as the hatchback more than holds its own against more established names in this sector for both driving dynamics and value for money.

What's under the bonnet?

Whatever your needs, there's almost certainly an engine that'll appeal to you. With seven on offer – that's four petrols and three diesels – those looking for everything from low running costs to a healthy dose of performance are catered for.

Our test car came with the entry-level 1.6-litre turbo diesel engine. While 70.6mpg and CO2 emissions of just 105g/km might look appealing, with only 113bhp it feels like it's struggling to pull the Leon along at lower revs.

First Drive: Seat Leon
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First Drive: Seat Leon

What's the spec like?

Apart from the relatively spartan entry-level S trim, equipment levels are impressive across the range, with a leather steering wheel, cruise control and satellite navigation integrated into the new eight-inch touchscreen display.

The old infotainment system was simple and easy to use, and the new media system improves on that. The graphics have been updated, while retaining the simple and logical layout used before.

There are a number of useful connectivity features including Android Auto, Apple CarPlay and MirrorLink, and an excellent wireless phone charger is available for higher trim levels.

Any rivals?

There are plenty of rivals in the family hatchback sector. Chief among them is the car the Leon is based on – the VW Golf. We reckon it's better looking, more fun to drive and costs less than its German relative.

Outside of the VW Group, the Ford Focus and Vauxhall Astra are key rivals. The Seat's interior feels like it's better put together than both, though the Astra does push it close in the value for money stakes.

What's it like to drive?

The Leon remains an excellent steer for driving enthusiasts. The steering weight is perfectly judged, meaning it's not so light inputs are hard to measure and doesn't become cumbersome at low speeds.

It also handles corners better than you'd expect. Admittedly our test route through the mountains above Barcelona involved sun-kissed, perfect Tarmac that can't be compared to Britain's sorry excuse for a road network, but previous experience of the Leon in the UK tells us it should transfer well.

While the diesel was a little disappointing, the petrol options are much more rewarding, particularly in 1.4-litre EcoTSI guise. The punchy power delivery makes it a joy to drive, while Active Cylinder Shutdown means you won't pay the price for performance – official figures read 57.6mpg and 114g/km.

AOL Cars Verdict

We're big fans of the Seat Leon and this model refresh only improves things – though admittedly not by much. The Spanish car's trump card remains its unique styling, but it backs that up with substance.

Both fun and frugal engine options and a well-specced interior make it an excellent choice for families and fleet buyers alike.
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