SEAT Leon SC 1.8 TSI FR - that petrol engine

  • Turbocharged 1.8-litre petrol engine star of our Leon SC show
  • Expertly mixes economy and performance
  • Loves to rev, helped by excellent six-speed manual gearbox

Not that long ago the petrol versus diesel argument was in full swing. Those looking for economy and efficiency, allied to lower running costs, were pointed towards the affectionately named 'oil-burner'.

It especially made sense for those covering large mileages, the greater economy and lower cost of fuel making up for any premium in the list price. But now petrol is fighting back, and in the last five years we’ve seen a glut of small-capacity (and occasionally small-cylindered) turbocharged petrol engines.

The result for SEAT is it now offers a 1.2-litre turbocharged four-cylinder petrol with the power of a 1.6-litre naturally aspirated car, and more importantly similar fuel economy and CO2 emissions to a 1.6-litre diesel.

And while our new SEAT Leon SC 1.8 TSI FR isn’t all about downsizing – the 1.8-litre is the largest petrol engine in the non-Cupra range – the same rule applies, and it’s punching far above its weight. Truth be told we doubt anyone will buy an SC 1.8TSI with economy, efficiency and running costs solely on their mind anyway.

If they do they’ll be pleased to hear that driven gently the four-cylinder petrol engine can achieve 47.9mpg and emits only 137g/km – opt for the seven-speed DSG automatic and that changes to 49.6mpg and 132g/km of CO2.

Leon driving

It’s no surprise that we’ve not seen any figures close to that, managing only 34mpg so far, and we’re far behind the 49mpg average we achieved in our previous 2.0-litre diesel. But it’s early days, the odometer yet to tick past 1,000 miles, and we suspect the average will increase as both the time and miles pile on.  

With the difference in fuel costs (at time of writing petrol is 7.5 pence per litre cheaper) the gap isn’t quite as large as it first appears either, and with a significant £1,785 saving over the similarly powered 2.0-litre diesel SC you’d need to travel around 40,000 miles before this real-world trend was reversed.

SEAT Leon engine

But enough about economy, efficiency and costs; what really appeals about this engine is its performance, refinement and excitement. Only 10 years ago 178bhp would have been enough to qualify this Leon as a proper bona fide hot-hatch, and regardless of decade the 0-62mph time of 7.4 seconds is genuinely impressive. If we’d opted for the seven-speed DSG automatic version that would have dropped to 7.1 seconds.

However it’s the manual gearbox that makes the package here; not only is it smooth and easy to operate, but the gear ratios have been expertly selected. If you’re in a real hurry you can pass 60mph in second gear, and 70mph in sixth only registers as 2,450rpm on the tachometer.

Maximum torque of 250Nm is on-tap from only 1,500rpm, but the engine only makes its 178bhp power figure beyond 4,000rpm. The good news is the 1.8 loves to rev, remaining refined, smooth and even vaguely sonorous all the way towards its 6,800rpm rev limiter.

Leon revs

Like our diesel, and all higher-powered Leon models, our SC benefits from the multi-link rear axle, and allied to the rest of the talented chassis it makes RJY an absolute joy to drive. The linear and well-weighted steering could offer more feedback, but you never have anything less than absolute confidence in the chassis.

In fact the car is as at home attacking the twisting country roads around my house as circumnavigating the roundabouts outside our business park office address. Even the 18-inch alloy wheels can’t detract from the supple suspension on my 115-mile daily commute.

We might only be 828 miles into our Leon SC experience, but while there’s definitely a case for the diesel I already know that for me, the petrol wins this particular argument.

Mileage: 828 miles

Economy: 34.0mpg (calculated)