Even the first generation is well equipped for the era. The later generations are no different.
Spacious interior almost overcomes the budget styling present in the first two generations.
Cheap to run when compared to the competition.
Great handling, it holds the road as a poised hatchback ought to, inspiring confidence even on uneven road surfaces.
Fantastic exterior styling.
Bulletproof Volkwagen engines plus a few homebrewed stunners give owners a great choice of powerplants to choose from.
Both the second and third generations received five star NCAP ratings.
Wind noise is a problem at speed.
The smaller power engines sound strained when asked to perform. The diesels also only seem to quieten down once a steady speed is reached.
Build quality, especially regarding the interior, can be a real issue in the first two generations.
The 1.9 litre diesel made before 2010 is a relic to be avoided.
The Seat Leon is the Spanish manufacturer's much touted hatchback model. First released in 1998 it's based upon the Volkswagen Group's A Platform and is well suited to the needs of a small family. There are currently 3 generations of Seat Leon to choose from.
First Generation (1999 - 2006):
The initial Seat Leon was marketed as a sportier yet cheaper version of the [B:VW M:Golf]. It picked up numerous awards including the 2001 Car of the Year award in Portugal. The engines for the range open with the 1.4 and 1.6 petrol units which are fine for running around town but certainly struggle a bit on the motorway. The 1.8 20v and the Cupra are definitive sports models which offer fantastic performance with surprisingly good fuel economy, in high gear on the motorway at least. A 1.9 diesel is also available and with its 180 BHP output is surprisingly quick, if a little noisy.
Second Generation (2005 - 2012):
Released in 2005 the second generation Seat Leon was a great improvement on the already successful first generation. Still based on the VW Golf it features an entry level 1.6 litre, a 2.0 litre and the sporty Cupra. The 1.9 diesel makes another appearance in addition to a new 2.0 litre TDi. In 2008 a specially tuned 1.4 litre was released which managed to combine better midrange performance than the 1.6 whilst delivering better fuel economy, despite the small capacity it really is fun to drive. 2010 saw the replacement of the noisy old 1.9 litre with a much smoother 1.6 litre TDi.
Equipment levels continued to be generous just as with the first generation. Every model include air conditioning, electric windows, adjustable steering, adjustable mirrors and remote central locking as standard. Further goodies are available throughout the range depending upon trim level. These were simplified in 2009 and run through S, S Emocion, SE and Sport.
Third Generation (2012 - Present):
The first thing that hits you about the latest Seat Leon is the beautiful styling. More than just a facelift when compared to the second generation it's fair to say the Leon is a stunning car. The improvements aren't just exterior either with the interior quality having improved markedly.
The choice of engines is smaller this time around but with their highly tuned low capacity set up, they do impress. The 1.2 litre and 1.4 litre TSi powerplants are both fairly nippy though the latter should be your choice if you expect to cruise on the motorway in any kind of peace. The 1.8 litre and the Cupra are out and out performers that offer real automotive fun, the Cupra is so upgraded as to be a separate model in and of itself. The 1.6 and 2.0 TDi diesels make their triumphant return, both are solid choices with the 2.0 TDi still impressing with its straight line performance. The same trim designations are used for the third generation Leon as with the second.
Seat went all out with the toys in this generation too. The three driving "moods" of eco, normal and sport alter the engine response and steering to create three differing cars depending upon need. It's a nice touch and as we progress through the trim range we see all the usual luxuries like 15 inch touchscreens and big alloy wheels. One particular improvement we see at SE level is the XDS system which prevents the front wheels from slipping during acceleration by automatically adjusting power. All in all, the third generation is a refined stunner.
The Leon started life off as a cheaper but more exciting VW Golf. Over the years it has refined itself and with the vast improvements made to the interior with the third generation, it is now a great car in its own right. That said, the Focus is still more fun to drive and the Golf still edges the Leon out when it comes to build quality and reliability.