Seat’s new Leon: It’s now better than the VW Golf it’s based on

The last Seat hatchback to impress us so much was the second-gen Leon, 15 years ago

Seat Leon
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Year: 2020
Fuel: Petrol

Seat has delivered a big surprise: the Spanish marque now boasts a car that's better than the VW Golf upon which it is based.

The Catalan-based car brand has had a few pedigree offerings over the years, but much of its reputation is based on the lineage it receives being an offshoot of the VW Group, luring buyers with better prices and often sportier exterior styling. But for Seat to overtake VW in the hatchback market: now that is a landmark moment.

The last time we were this impressed by a Seat hatchback was nearly 15 years ago, when the second generation of Leon landed in showrooms, delivering on the brand’s promise to be the sporty looking, more youthful member of the burgeoning VW family.

On the road, the car is poised, even on roughly surfaced roads, and you can comfortably take on cross-country trips without complaint

What was noticeable even then, however, was that the engineers on the equivalent Golf still seemed to be able to call dibs on all the latest new tech and gadgetry. No more, it seems. This Seat has all the connectivity and power options available in the VW Group.


The first impression of the new Leon is a hatchback that’s one of the sharpest dressed in this segment at present. The exterior design is sporty and elegant, the interior is smart and sophisticated. It’s a proper, grown-up hatchback that doesn’t demand compromise as a trade-off for competitive pricing.

The fact it shares an award-winning chassis with the Golf is a boon, and the extra length compared to the previous version means the cabin feels spacious, both for front and rear passengers. On the road, the car is poised, even on roughly surfaced roads, and you can comfortably take on cross-country trips without complaint. The Leon is an easy drive. Like the latest Golf, the steering could be more engaging, but in terms of power and performance there is certainly no complaint.

For the first time in weeks, there wasn’t a plug socket on our test car. It was powered by an old-school 1.5-litre turbocharged petrol engine, putting out 150bhp and matched to the VW Group’s ultra-smooth DSG dual-clutch auto transmission. On our version, it was further supported by a mild-hybrid 48-volt battery pack. The combination really suits this car.

The power mix seems well matched to the Leon and while some may be tempted by the idea of VW’s 1-litre petrol in the entry-grade model, I suspect the extra grunt here is the best compromise for both performance and economy. A 2-litre diesel is on offer but with this mild hybrid 1.5-litre as tested boasting official fuel economy figures of 4.8 l/100km, it’s hard to justify that option.

The cabin boasts a major tech revamp, in line with the recently launched Golf. That means you get most functions via the touchscreen or touch-sensitive slide strips, for volume and temperature control. These are as stylish and as fiddly as they are on the Golf. I’d make another plea to VW Group to return to a simple turning knob for volume control when the facelift for these cars comes around in three year’s time.

There are some nice individual touches to the cabin, however, with a lovely ambient light strip that runs around the dash and onto the door panels. This acts as a blind spot alert, changing colour when a passing vehicle comes up alongside, while it also turns red when the door is open, a useful safety feature for other traffic and cyclists at night. And like the Golf, for automatic versions Seat has ditched the traditional gear stick for a smart-looking little stubby button. All in, the cabin has a better sense of quality and tech than we've encountered in its hatchback rivals like the Toyota Corolla or the Ford Focus.

For the average hatchback owner, this Seat delivers a pretty stellar all-round package of great looks, smart cabin, good tech and, in the form of this 1.5-litre mild hybrid, usable performance

Prices start at €23,910 for the 1-litre petrol SE, rising to €26,710 for the mid-spec Xcellence, and topped with the FR – our test car – from €28,390. The diesel versions start at €26,040 for the lower-powered 115bhp 2-litre.

Opting for our test car’s mild hybrid set-up with automatic transmission adds €2,500 to the regular 1.5-litre petrol version’s price. For town or suburban driving it’s worth the investment – and with hybrid all the rage these days, it may prove worthwhile to have some electric flavour to the car when it comes time to sell it on again. If you are serious about electric then perhaps wait for the plug-in hybrid, landing in showrooms this autumn.

To put those prices in perspective, the Golf starts at €23,950  for its entry version with the 1-litre 110bhp petrol engine (though its website configurator says €27,750). Of course, the long-held popularity of the Golf means it holds its resale value better than other hatchback rivals, and that’s not going to change, but there are enough ticks in the pros column for the Leon to do well here as well. And you can always remind any used buyer that it is a Golf at heart, only in smarter Spanish styling.

With the new Leon, Seat’s got the beating of the VW Golf. Arguably, it’s what the Golf would have been if German eyes hadn’t fixated on its new all-electric ID.3.

I may seem to be fixated on referencing all the Seat’s attributes against the Golf, when in reality there is a fleet of competitive rivals out there, including the popular Toyota Corolla and Ford Focus. However, it’s the Golf that in many ways sets the benchmark in this class for all-round ability. It’s the car against which others are judged. And in the case of the Leon, the judgment is very favourable.

For the average hatchback owner, this Seat delivers a pretty stellar all-round package of great looks, smart cabin, good tech and, in the form of this 1.5-litre mild hybrid, usable performance. All at a competitive price.

Lowdown: Seat Leon 1.5 eTSI FR

Power 1496cc four-cylinder petrol engine with mild hybrid support from a 48-volt battery pack putting out a total of 150bhp. Dual-clutch DSG auto transmission.
0-100km/h 8.4 seconds
L/100km (mpg) 4.8 (59)
Price €30,890
Verdict Spanish surprise: smart, sophisticated and stylish hatchback has the beating of its German cousin

Michael McAleer

Michael McAleer

Michael McAleer is Motoring Editor, Innovation Editor and an Assistant Business Editor at The Irish Times