SEAT Leon 2.0 TDI FR: a trip to Wales

  • Leon impresses as the miles rack up
  • Taut handling yet silky ride quality
  • Fiddly CD player location frustrates

A weekend trip to the Welsh coast meant I needed a car that would be comfortable and economical over a long journey but engaging enough to keep me awake on the long slog from east to west. Borrowing the keys to Graeme’s Leon long-termer turned out to be a great move.

Around 550 miles later I’m more of a fan than ever of the car’s talents. Its 2.0-litre TDI diesel engine has oodles of torque, meaning it’s flexible enough to lope along in high gears on twisting Welsh tarmac and can make short and safe work of overtaking slower traffic.

It’s quiet and smooth too, making motorways a little more bearable, and the six-speed manual gearbox is a pleasure to use – really, don’t bother speccing the automatic DSG transmission unless you absolutely want an auto.

What’s more, the Leon’s ride quality is very good indeed, especially considering the larger-than-standard 18-inch wheels with low-profile tyres we’ve specified for our car. Even though the FR model has firmer suspension than other Leon derivatives – as Graeme has described in a previous update – it dealt with the rippled tarmac across some of the narrower lanes on the route as if the bumps simply weren’t there.

The winding roads in mid Wales were also a great opportunity to enjoy the Leon’s assured handling. It’s a thoroughly confidence-inspiring car to drive on an unfamiliar road, with plenty of front-end grip and a stable, unshakeable feel. Occasionally in very long, fast corners it’s possible to feel Seat’s ‘XDS’ differential at work, which gently brakes the front inside wheel to subtly tighten the car’s line, providing further reassurance.

I’m glad Graeme ticked the box for the optional Alcantara sports seats, as they’re superbly supportive on twisty roads and make the otherwise rather plain cabin feel a bit more special. Although they are on the firm side, they didn’t leave me feeling too numb at the end of the initial 280 mile journey.

Seat Leon FR seats

Optional sports seats look great and offer plenty of support

It’s not all good news though, as there are a few niggles.

Firstly, the CD player is located in the glovebox, an efficient use of space but fiddly to use if travelling without a passenger. Changing a CD on the move (yes, some of us still buy them) means leaning awkwardly across to the glovebox, and trying to feed the disc into a slot that’s difficult to find by feel and impossible to see unless you lean right out of the seatbelt’s clutches. Bet Euro NCAP didn’t think about that when they gave the Leon five stars.

You can hook up an mp3 player via the standard USB port in the glovebox, although the SEAT didn't always detect my player automatically if I turned the engine off for a while. Yet more leaning over to the gloevbox to fiddle with the lead.

Our Leon has the optional all-LED headlights, which really do look great but I’m not entirely convinced by their performance on full beam. Although the beam illuminated the edge of rural roads effectively, it felt as though it wasn’t thrown as far ahead down the road as other cars’ more conventional headlights.

Graeme's still to find a day short enough to drive the car in the dark, so I'll await his opinion.

There’s also no symbol on the instrument panel to let you know the headlights are on (unless they’re on full beam) either, and I managed to drive for some distance with them still shining after a daytime thunderstorm without meaning to.

Like Graeme, I too haven’t broken into the 50mpg bracket in terms of fuel consumption, according to the trip computer anyway but these are very minor flies in an otherwise pretty impressive ointment. Makes me wonder why you’d buy a Golf…

Current mileage: 5,095 miles

Average economy: 48.9mpg

Seat Leon TDI

Boot easily accomodated plenty of luggage