I always think of Seat as being the “sporty” arm of the VW stable, with Skoda providing a more comfort-orientated product and the German manufacturer sitting firmly in the middle of the two.
That is, of course, grossly over-simplifying the situation and, certainly, wildly inaccurate but take a look at the new Leon and you can see why I have that mindset.
It sits in the highly competitive family car sector with strong competition in the shape of the Ford Focus, the VW Golf and Mazda3, to name but a few.
It looks sharp and sporty on the outside and that impression is carried over when you climb inside thanks to a seating position that is significantly lower than what you’ll find in the Focus. Overall, the driving position is excellent with pedals that are perfectly aligned with the seat and steering wheel and a seat that offers comfort and support in equal measure. All trims are equipped with adjustable lumbar support.
Reasonably thin A-pillars mean you enjoy a good view out of the front but the thick rear pillars impair visibility out of the back. You’ll be grateful, then, for the standard rear-parking sensors that give welcome assistance in tight situations.
SE Dynamic and above throws in front sensors and step up to Xcellence trim and you’ll get a rear-view camera. Powerful LED headlights are standard across the range but FR trim cars and above are equipped with high-beam assist, meaning they’ll automatically dip to avoid blinding oncoming drivers.
Basic SE trim cars get an 8.3in touchscreen, DAB radio and Apple CarPlay and Android Auto, a seven-speaker sound system and two USB-C ports. All the other models in the range are fitted with a 10in touchscreen with sat-nav and natural voice recognition. FR models throw in a couple of additional USB-C ports too.
The 10-inch touchscreen in the FR trim model reviewed here is bright and clear, with crisp graphics and an intuitive interface. The fact that it’s a touchscreen means that you have to divert your attention away from the road occasionally to operate it but its position on top of the dashboard means that you can at least keep half an eye out the front.
Less welcome are the touch-sensitive buttons on the centre console. They sit below the LCD panel and impossible to find without glancing away from the road to make sure you’re pressing something other than just a random piece of plastic.
Which brings me nicely onto, er, plastics. The interior is blessed with squishy, dense materials across the top of the dash and above the door armrests. The switchgear and steering wheel-mounted buttons all operate smoothly and feel nicely weighted.
Headroom in the front is excellent and the seats slide a long way back too so no matter how tall, or short, you are you should have no trouble getting comfortable.
There’s ample storage including a decent-sized glovebox, generous door bins, a tray for your mobile in front of the gear lever, a cubby below the front armrest and two cupholders.
Space in the rear is generous but if you’re stuck in the middle you do have to straddle a rather large central tunnel.
Boot capacity measures up at 380 litres with the 60:40 split-folding rear seats in place and 1,210 litres with them stowed away. There’s a ski hatch for, probably, carrying anything but skis without sacrificing the two outer-most seats.
The range starts off with a 1.0-litre petrol with 110PS, then there’s the 1.5 TSI 130 and 1.5 TSI 150 which is the same engine but offering different power outputs. The range is topped off with a plug-in hybrid that mates a 1.4-litre petrol engine with an electric motor.
The TSI 130 under the bonnet of my review car proved a willing performer. Performance is hardly stellar, but it will certainly be brisk enough for the average driver and it offers impressive flexibility. It pulls well from low down all the way up to the red line.
It isn’t especially quiet, though, particularly when you’re working it hard when it can sound a little coarse. You’ll find a fair amount of wind and road noise permeating the cabin too when you’re cruising along at motorway speeds.
The FR models, like the one reviewed here, sit on sports suspension as standard. It is firmer than the standard set-up, which I’ve yet to test, but it’s compliant enough to tackle sharper ridges and bumps without making occupants wince though you do occasionally get bounced around a little even on seemingly smooth roads.
The trade-off is a car that remains relatively flat through corners and thanks to a decent level of grip and naturally-weighted steering – which can be adjusted via the touchscreen to make it lighter for urban driving – tackling twisty roads can be rewarding for enthusiastic drivers. The front end turns in and holds its line effortlessly at speeds that will satisfy all but the most demanding of motorists.
The light but positive clutch pedal and oh-so-sweet manual gearshift play a positive role not only along fast A-roads but also around built-up areas.
The Leon is a terrific all-rounder. Refinement isn’t as good as, say, the Golf but it handles well in FR trim on the sports suspension and comes loaded with a decent amount of kit. There’s a generous amount of room for passengers and their luggage and the 1.5 TSI 130 petrol engine offers decent fuel economy so it should be reasonably cheap to run.
Seat Leon FR 1.5 TSI EVO 130PS manual
As tested: £23,515
Engine: 1.5-litre TSI
Transmission: 6-speed manual
Max power: 130PS
Max torque: 200Nm
Max speed: 130mph
Fuel economy (WLTP): 46.5-50.4mpg
Emissions (CO2): 126g/km
For more information visit www.seat.co.uk