Parkers overall rating: 4.1 out of 5 4.1
  • Three petrols, one mild hybrid, one plug-in hybrid and one diesel, spanning 110-204hp
  • New mild hybrid version called eTSI
  • New plug-in called e-Hybrid

Like the VW Golf it's so closely related to, you get a choice of petrol (TSI), diesel (TDI) mild hybrid (eTSI) and plug-in (e-Hybrid) engines in the SEAT Leon, with a six-speed manual gearbox on all versions except the automatic-only eTSI and e-Hybrid. Petrols range between 110-150hp, and there's only one diesel with 115hp available at UK launch.

The six-speed gearbox is slick to use, with a slightly shorter lever and a narrow gate (the movement between each row of gears) – so much so, that initial use led us to sometimes believe that we had engaged first gear, rather than 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 a leisurely 10.9 seconds to travel 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. It's a sweet enough engine, but has very tall gearing - so you have to rev it quite hard and drop a gear or two to maintain decent progress on faster roads.

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, with a correspondingly brisk 8.4sec 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 similar 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 - a warm hatch in disguise

The plug-in hybrid (badged e-Hybrid) uses a 1.4-litre petrol engine and a 75kW electric motor to produce a combined 204hp. The official 0-62mph time is an impressive 7.5 seconds, but where the e-Hybrid comes into its own is in the 50-70mph sprint that's all so important for overtaking. When the petrol and electric combine it gives drivers a real shove in the back. This aids smooth and safe overtaking, but also provides just a little bit of fun in day to day driving.

The Leon starts up in e-mode, the driving mode that tries to use electrical power rather than petrol. The car's intelligent enough to cycle between e-mode and hybrid mode itself, but drivers can also choose in one of the endless sub menus. Drivers can also maintain the battery's state of charge manually, saving it for built up areas.

SEAT Leon charge port

And don't worry, if you are in the mood for overtaking and want to draw on both power reserves, you don't need to go into a menu. Simply mash your right food into the carpet and the petrol engine will coax into life. 

The 13kWh battery provides an official electric-only range of 40 miles (considerably up from most plug-in hybrids, or 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, so you'll start each day with a full battery.

One diesel available

The sole 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 latest SEAT 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 found on the previous one.

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 body roll. 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, are less affected by wet weather conditions. When it comes to stopping, the Leon's 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.