The Leon family hatchback has been treated to some minor mid-life improvements. We’ve driven it to see what’s new
What do we have here?
The time has come for the third-generation SEAT Leon to get a customary headline-grabbing mid-life refresh to give it some momentum as it heads into the second half of its life.
It’s still offered in three-door SC (Sport Coupe) and five-door ST (Sports Tourer (estate in real-world language) but what may not surprise you though, if you’ve seen the recently updated VW Golf and Skoda Octavia, is that the update is rather subtle rather than gobsmacking.
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But that’s ok with us as the Leon has forged itself a reputation as being one of the most entertaining family hatchbacks on sale today.
While mechanical updates are all but none existent, the main changes are to the styling and introduction of new technology.
The front end gets a new bumper design, there’s a wider grille while the headlight styling has been refreshed, albeit within the same headlight footprint as before. LED headlights are now available for the first time on FR trim and above.
At the rear, there’s a new bumper and new LED taillights.
The only true mechanical change is the introduction of an electronic parking brake on all models other than the entry-level car. Keyless entry and go is also now available as a starter button replaces the old key in and turn.
A new engine has been dropped under the bonnet, a 1.0-litre TSI three-cylinder developing 113bhp. It joins five other petrol and three diesel engines on offer, each of which is accompanied by a five or six-speed manual gearbox while there are optional six and seven-speed DSG automatics available as well.
Inside, changes are limited to a minor tweak around the ventilation controls which feature a new trim finish, new upholstery and there’s also a new infotainment system. The touchscreen grows from 6.5in to 8.0in, has a more modern appearance and reduction of surrounding buttons (from eight to two) with just one rotary dial (instead of two).
The new Leon is available in five trim levels; S, SE Dynamic, SE Technology, FR and a new range-topping Xcellence trim. All of which sit alongside the fire-snorting Cupra and X-Perience soft-roader.
Available across the range is a selection of new safety technology including; traffic jam assist, lane assist – both of which provide an element of autonomous driving at speeds up to 37mph. Also new is wireless smartphone charging located in the centre console, pedestrian protection, traffic sign recognition, blind spot detection and parking assist.
We grabbed the keys to the 2.0-litre TDI diesel 184PS fitted with a six-speed DSG automatic in popular FR Technology trim.
How does it drive?
Under the skin, the updated Leon has been left unchanged from the model it replaces, other than the introduction of the electronic parking brake on every model other than the entry-level S.
And that’s wonderful news, meaning that the well-poised, entertaining handling remains. The Leon feels light, has excellent body control, all meaning that it is eminently chuckable and a riot along a twisty B-road.
While the FR may have sports suspension and a 15mm lowered ride height, it still disposes of road imperfection with aplomb and with much more distinction than cars costing many thousands of pounds more.
Its steering is light to the touch, making it usable and easy to manoeuvre around town. On the open road, it remains light and perhaps a little too light to offer the sort of engagement that matches the brilliance of the handling.
Engage Sport mode on the SEAT dynamic drive, though, and the steering stiffens up, only by 7% mind but it’s all the more welcome for it. Throttle response is sharpened but the suspension remains unchanged.
Out front is a 2.0-litre diesel connected to a six-speed DSG automatic gearbox. Thankfully the steering wheel gets two paddles as standard on the FR trim, making manual up and down gear shifts much simpler and meaning that you don’t need to take your hands off the wheel to change cogs as you knit a series of demanding bends together.
At pull away, the gearbox is a little lumpy but once on the move, it changes gears with class and sophistication. Leave it in auto and gear changes are barely noticeable, accompanied only by a change of engine pitch. Want to get a shift on and the dual-clutch changes gear quicker than you can think about going from third to fourth.
The 2.0-litre pulls keenly with excellent off-the-line traction. Want to slingshot a slower moving vehicle ahead? No problem with plentiful amounts of mid-range torque and the rapid shifting DSG.
On the downside, the engine is grumbly at low speeds and noisy under hard acceleration but no residual vibration makes it through into your driving environment. Add that to limited road and wind noise and the Leon offers excellent levels of refinement.
What's it like inside?
The Leon sidesteps the risk of polarising opinion with radical interior flamboyance. It's conservative at best but well made with good quality materials and some pleasant touches.
You sit low down in the Leon giving it a sporty edge while the sports seats in the FR are supportive and comfortable. They also adjust well for height with a pump lever while a rotary dial adjusts the backrest. A second lever alters lumbar support.
Head room is decent and when combined with the FR’s flat-bottomed steering wheel that has excellent reach and tilt adjustment, most should be able to find a comfortable driving position.
The dashboard design remains pretty much unchanged so it’s neat, tidy, well screwed together if a little on the unimaginative side.
While the larger infotainment screen is clear, reasonably easy to use and now features finger controlled pinch and zoom function on the touchscreen, which is responsive, it has lost the manual zoom dial which can be a quicker way to adjust the map.
In the back, head, leg and knee room is good, although, foot room is restricted a little under the front seats. There’s a narrow but tall transmission tunnel which may restrict comfort on longer journeys. There’s no central armrest but you do get a decent sized door bin.
The boot has a good-sized opening with a low lip, opening to a flat boot floor and offers 380-litres of capacity. There are two bag hooks provided and two side compartments to help prevent your smaller items from rolling around when driving.
The 2.0-litre diesel returns 61.4mpg on an official combined cycle and emits 120g/km of CO2.
This Leon gets a group 23E insurance group banding.
It comes with a three-year 60,000-mile warranty.
As a package five-door family car, the Leon is simply brilliant, offering entertaining handling, a comfy ride and spirited performance.
For us, the 1.4-litre EcoTSI 150PS is the engine of choice (which gets a 9/10 rating) as it's not only several thousand pounds cheaper but also much more refined and entertaining to drive.
However, if you’re convinced that diesel is the way to go, then there are few rivals that will surpass the brilliance of the Leon.