What is the SEAT Leon?
The Leon is SEAT’s family hatch in a sporty suit that’s been offering Spanish style with Volkswagen Golf sensibilities for over 20 years. Rivals include its sibling the Golf, the Ford Focus, the Vauxhall Astra and any other compact family car you can think of.
The Leon has been around for three generations, having debuted in 200. A fourth-generation model is expected to be revealed during, given the current third-generation car debuted all the way back in 2012. The current car remains contemporary however, thanks in a large part to truly great looks. It’s one of those cars that hasn’t waned in its appeal over the years because of how visually appealing it is.
Which versions of the SEAT Leon are available?
There are many flavours of SEAT Leon available, though not as many as there once were. In terms of body styles, the three-door Leon SC is no longer on sale, leaving the Leon five-door and the Leon ST estate. The short-lived Leon X-Perience crossover version has also been discontinued.
Engine-wise, the world is your oyster. From diminutive three-cylinder petrols, to chunky four-pot diesels to fire-breathing 370hp super Cupras and everything in between.
Specifications of the normal non-hot versions start out at SE, running through SE Dynamic, FR, FR Sport, Xcellence and Xcellence Lux.
What is the SEAT Leon Cupra?
Right now the Leon Cupra is one of the best hot hatches on the market. Though all-wheel drive and over 300 horsepower has soon to become the norm, the Leon Cupra offered traditional front-driven manual hot hatchery with a great balance and stupendous capability. It’s more raw than a Volkswagen Golf GTI but less brutal than a Honda Civic Type R.
Given the Leon is at the end of its life, mad Cupra R versions are available to see it out in style. These come with altered bodywork, bronze colour highlights and, in the case of the estate, as much as 370hp! You’ll be glad to read it’s also four-wheel drive to help put all that poke down. The current Cupra isn’t long for this world, but it’s sure to go down as one of the modern greats.
Its replacement won’t even be badged as a SEAT – expect it simply to be sold as the Cupra Leon.
SEAT Leon styling and engineering
As is the done thing in the Volkswagen Group, underneath, the Leon is familiar platform fare. MQB underpins the Leon as well as everything from the Audi A1 to the TT, from the Volkswagen Polo to the Tiguan, the SEAT Ibiza to the Tarraco.
Out of all the cars that MQB underpins, besides the TT perhaps, the current Leon is perhaps the best-looking. It really is one of the sharpest hatches of recent years, though not quite revolutionary in its silhouette the way the first Ford Focus was.
Until, that is, you get on the inside. Analogue dials and a small screen, by comparison to rivals at least, show its age, but it was really rather bland to begin with. Ergonomic, yes, per the inimitable Volkswagen Group and MQB logic, and highly dependable, but once you’ve enjoyed the exterior styling, the cabin is a bit of a let-down.
How does the SEAT Leon drive?
The Leon benefits from a family of engines that are as impressive as its looks. Though smaller items can feel a bit strained, you’ll struggle to go wrong anywhere in the range. The diesels are capable, the petrols pull well, especially in Cupra territory. Both the manual and DSG dual-clutch transmission options are excellent.
There’s an unflappability of the chassis that’s common to Volkswagen Group cars, though it’s more benign than playful in less exciting specifications. The steering is also a touch vague. With the Cupra, it’s a different story. It’s viscously capable but excellently balanced when pushing up to and beyond its limits. That wouldn’t be possible without a well-engineered balanced base platform. Eco, normal, sport and individual driving modes make the Leon nicely configurable for drivers, too.
How much does the SEAT Leon cost?
The Leon is very competitively priced, more or less being on or around that of its sibling the Volkswagen Golf. With the Golf, the run-out Match edition offers strong standard fitment. However, with the third-generation Leon also being near the end of its life, there are deals that can be had in terms of equipment and discounts.
The Golf arguably offers a better more high-tech cabin, though. The Cupra certainly offers good value over the equivalent Golf GTI or R. Move outside of comparison with the Golf, however, and the new Ford Focus, Hyundai i30 and Honda Civic become compelling alternatives both in terms of price, technology, equipment, practicality and indeed driving dynamics.
Find out what Leon drivers think of their SEATs with our comprehensive owners’ reviews.
SEAT Leon Model History
Second-generation SEAT Leon (2005-2013)
The second-generation Leon wore a bulbous and curvaceous aesthetic that permeated the SEAT range in the mid-2000s following its demonstration on the Cupra GT concept car of 2003. Like the current car, it ran on a platform very similar to the contemporary Golf, in this case, the Mk5, on the PQ35 platform.
Also like the current car, it also pushed the performance envelope with an at-the-time volcanic 260hp in the Cupra R in 2009. The second-gen Cupra got the most powerful in the form of the 310hp Cupra 310, as prepared by tuner ABT, for the Netherlands. Just 100 were built between 2008 and 2009.
First-generation SEAT Leon (2000-2005)
The first-generation set the sporty tone for the Leon, which was essentially a five-door hatchback version of the already two-year-old Toledo saloon.
It was written from the start, to be the sharper looking, faster driving alternative to the Golf. Twinned with the mk4 Golf, the first-generation Leon brought chiselled looks and serious performance, by comparison to what is considered the softest GTI ever made. How does 225hp sound from a range-topping Cupra R, by comparison to the most powerful GTI of the time at 180hp?
Never mind the fire-breathing versions, the first Leon came with a competent range of petrol and diesel engines and offered Volkswagen Group dependability in a stylish package. Not much has changed with the Leon, then.