UK Drive: The Seat Leon Estate continues to be an accomplished family car
What is it?
Volkswagen-owned Seat is really finding its feet within the VW Group these days – being the sportiest and youthful of all the ‘core’ brands, which also includes Audi and Seat.
And it’s the firm’s family car-sized Leon that remains the top-seller for the brand, impressing with its combination of value and fun, yet always retaining much of the quality and tech of its more expensive rivals – the Volkswagen Golf and Audi A3.
But in its latest incarnation, can it continue the success? We’re testing the new Estate model to find out.
You could take a look at what was new with the latest eighth-generation Golf and the same would pretty much apply to this new Leon. Based on the latest MQB Evo platform, it’s available with hybrid powertrains for the first time – gaining both mild-hybrid and plug-in hybrid options.
The interior also adopts the true digitised look – which we’ll get on to later – while the styling has arguably grown up compared to its particularly cool-looking predecessor. A new suite of safety technology has already helped it to earn a top rating from experts Euro NCAP, too.
What’s under the bonnet?
Demonstrating the shift away from diesel, this option is no longer available with the Estate, so instead there is a choice of petrol, mild-hybrid petrol or plug-in hybrid.
Under the bonnet of ‘our’ car is the brand’s tried-and-tested turbocharged 1.5-litre petrol engine – developing 148bhp and 250Nm of torque. You can choose it with a six-speed manual or the seven-speed DSG automatic we’re trying, which gains ‘eTSI’ mild-hybrid technology with its 48-volt starter-generator and small battery. This means the engine can ‘switch off’ while coasting, and garners energy to provide a light performance boost while also helping to improve efficiency.
It’s very clever and smooth and makes a pretty good all-rounder that credibly replaces a diesel – reaching 0-60mph in 8.5 seconds, yet returning almost 48mpg, with low CO2 emissions of 133g/km.
What’s it like to drive?
The Leon continues to do what Seat does best – offering a slightly sportier drive than its siblings which makes the Leon rather good fun for a mid-spec estate car. It handles neatly, with minimal body roll, while a range of settings allow you to pick between ‘Eco’, ‘Normal’ and ‘Sport’ modes, depending on your mood and how quickly you want to get from A-to-B.
Our test car is the racier ‘FR’ trim, which means it gets a sports suspension setup. It does mean that it’s quite firm, especially on poor sections of road, while there’s also a hefty amount of road noise. You might argue it’s a worthy compromise for the more involving drive, but if you’re looking for something a bit more refined and comfortable, an ‘SE’ or ‘Xcellence’ trim car would be a better option.
How does it look?
Like its predecessor, the Leon also gets the full suite of brilliant LED lighting, which is most impressive at the rear where this Seat utilises a full-width light bar that runs between the two main tail lights, and looks particularly sleek at night. It’s a feature you’d only expect to find on the most expensive Audis a few years ago, so it is cool to now find it on an affordable family estate car.
Despite the sleek design, though, we reckon this new car has lost a bit of the stylish sparkle of its predecessor, which moved the game along significantly. This new Leon feels more evolution, rather than revolution.
What’s it like inside?
But if Seat’s played it safe on the outside, it certainly hasn’t on the inside – adopting the latest trend that is to digitalise absolutely everything.
Just about all traditional buttons have been binned and are now housed within the main 10-inch touchscreen. It certainly looks impressive and is slick to use – as are the digital dials of the same size – but it makes for a pain to use in the real-world. Things as simple as turning the temperature down a degree need to be done through the screen, and it feels distracting to use and – to be frank – a bit of a backwards step.
More pleasingly, though, the Leon gets the fundamentals of an estate car nailed. Thanks to a slight increase in dimensions, there’s now plenty of room for adults in the rear seats, while the large 617-litre boot is 30 litres bigger than before. It’s a seriously capable family car in this respect.
What’s the spec like?
Seat knows how to deliver on value for money, and the Leon Estate doesn’t disappoint, with even entry-level cars coming with alloy wheels, a touchscreen with full smartphone integration, cruise control and keyless start. FR spec is a great option, though, bringing luxuries such as the fancy LED lights, wireless smartphone charging and ambient lighting. The only thing it could perhaps do with is a reversing camera.
As for pricing, Estate models cost around £1,000 more than a like-for-like hatchback, with models starting from £23,065 – making it a good value proposition. Our test car was quite a lot more at £28,505, though if you’re not fussed about the mild-hybrid tech or an automatic gearbox, you can quickly save yourself £2,000. It also undercuts the latest Volkswagen Golf Estate by a healthy amount.
While we’re not convinced the latest Seat’s digitised interior was a change that needed to be made, we reckon you would soon adjust to it over time, and it fails to detract from what is an otherwise seriously good package.
This latest Leon Estate is better-equipped, safer and roomier than ever, yet continues to look the part and remains far better to drive than you’d expect a car of this type to be. Pick the right spec and engine and it’s also great value for money. It’s a true all-rounder in this class and one that comfortably has an advantage over its competitors.
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