Parkers overall rating: 4 out of 5 4.0
  • Three petrols and one diesel, spanning 110-150hp
  • New mild hybrid version called eTSI
  • eHybrid version uses Golf GTE running gear

Like the VW Golf you get a choice of petrol (TSI), diesel (TDI) and mild hybrid (eTSI) versions, with a six-speed manual on all versions except the automatic-only eTSI. Petrols range between 110-150hp, and there's only one diesel with 115hp.

The six-speed gearbox is fun to use, with a slightly shorter lever and a narrow gate – so much so, initial use led us to sometimes believe that we had engaged first gear, rather then reverse. The Ford Focus is still a bit more involving to drive but this is close.

The entry-level petrol engine is a 1.0-litre three-cylinder, developing 110hp and 200Nm of torque. It takes 10.9 seconds to reach from 0-62mph and its top speed is 122mph. The on-paper figures may not look particularly exciting, but this should be adequate for those who don’t regularly carry a car-full of passengers or cargo.

The mid-range petrol is a 1.5-litre four-cylinder with 130hp and 200Nm of torque. It takes 9.4-seconds to reach from 0-62mph and top speed is 130mph.

Power delivery felt a little inconsistent when we tested this engine, but once above 2,000rpm it was smooth, eager to rev and pulls strongly. It can be reluctant below this point to regain speed, which can prove frustrating having slowed down for a roundabout or junction, but it's a far better iteration of the earlier 150hp version found in other VW Group models.

The most powerful engine is a 150hp version of the 1.5-litre, developing a higher 250Nm of torque as well, with an 8.4-second 0-62mph time and a top speed of 134mph.

Of more interest is the eTSI mild hybrid system, which uses the same flagship petrol engine and achieves the same performance figures. All that’s different is the use of a seven-speed DSG automatic gearbox. The mild-hybrid system uses a 48-volt starter-generator, which allows the car to coast at certain speeds, shutting off the petrol engine completely – the net result is better fuel economy and lower emissions. There's also a modest electrical boost from the hybrid system under acceleration, too.

Plug-in hybrid on its way

The plug-in hybrid (badged e-Hybrid), due to arrive in summer 2020 uses a 1.4-litre petrol engine and a 75kW electric motor to produce a combined 204hp. We’ll find out when it arrives, but these figures are very much in common with the previous Volkswagen Golf GTE, so we’d expect to see similar figures of 350Nm of torque and a 0-62mph of around 7.6 seconds, with a top speed close to 138mph.

The 13kWh battery pack is predicted to provide an electric-only range of 38 miles (considerably up from most PHEVs, which seem to take you 20-or-so miles max). You can plug it in to a standard electric car chargepoint, and SEAT says it will fully charge from empty in around 3.5 hours on a typical domestic charger.

One diesel available

The diesel is a 2.0-litre producing 115hp and 300Nm of torque. Considering its size, the performance figures may seem a little underwhelming, but considering this has been tuned for achieving maximum fuel economy, having a relatively unstressed, large-capacity engine should work in its favour.

It should make for a relaxed cruiser as well. It’s still quicker than the 1.0-litre petrol, with a 0-62mph time of 10.4 seconds and a top speed of 125mph.

Handling

  • Sharper steering than before
  • More engaging to drive, closer to Ford Focus
  • Responsive brakes

Previously, the Leon was described as one of the more sporting hatchbacks, but in reality that was always in relation to the closely-related Volkswagen Golf, Skoda Octavia and even Audi A3. Compared to the best driving hatchbacks, such as the Ford Focus and Mazda 3, the Leon was still some way off.

We’re pleased to say the Leon is close enough in terms of driving fun to be considered a genuine rival for the Ford Focus now. The steering response has been sharpened up and while there’s little feel through the wheel, there’s a bit of weighting that builds up. It’s still an improvement to the numb steering fitted to the previous model.

Switching between the drive modes doesn’t make a discernible difference, but you can build into a rhythm down a winding country lane. There’s lots of grip and the firm suspension on FR models plays its part here, with a great level of composure and containing the level of bodyroll. Should you push beyond the limits, the Leon is quite playful as well, which could never be said of the last model.

Traction levels are high and, unlike the previous model, is less affected by wet weather conditions. When it comes to stopping, the brakes are strong, the pedal is nicely weighted without feeling too assisted and brings the Leon to a halt quickly enough helping it feel quite light on its feet.