The new SEAT Leon on test for Changing Lanes!
The new SEAT Leon on test for Changing Lanes!

SEAT has achieved great success in Ireland with its new range of SUVs like the Arona and Tarraco, but it’s the SEAT Leon you could say that put the brand on the map in the first place. Produced since 1999, it’s now in its fourth generation with more than 2.2 million sales worldwide.

Volkswagen Group membership has been good for SEAT with access to top quality powertrains and technology taking the brand from zero to hero. But SEAT has found a way to differentiate itself and it’s always been about designing with more emotion. They are happy to embrace their ‘Created in Barcelona’ colours and there is nothing Ireland likes more than a little bit of Spanish sunshine, something we are all missing right now.

The new SEAT Leon designed, developed and built at SEAT’s facilities in Martorell, Barcelona, at least brings some glamour and good will to the dealer forecourt. The new generation SEAT Leon arrived here in 2020, and goes on sale priced from €24,275. The brand cites it as their most advanced car ever. It was time for Changing Lanes to discover this car in more detail. Because photographs can only tell you so much.

The Leon goes on sale in Ireland priced from €24,275
The Leon goes on sale in Ireland priced from €24,275

What’s new for SEAT Leon in 2021?

Based on the latest MQB Evo platform from the Volkswagen Group, the new Leon has moved on again in terms of design, powertrain and technology. Electrified powertrains feature for the first time in 2021 with a new plug-in hybrid promising an electric range of up to 60 km using just the energy stored in the vehicle’s battery.

On approach for the first time, the new SEAT Leon is undoubtedly a sharp dresser, marking an exciting evolution of the brand’s design language. It looks bolder than the previous generation of the car, ready to stand out and be counted among C-segment hatchbacks.

The car is characterised by a new nose, longer bonnet, more deep set LED headlamps, smooth flowing surfaces and the perfect mix of curves and edges. That’s all nice but it’s the ‘coast-to-coast’ rear light signature where it’s really at with this car. Design flourishes like that require some thought and application, but go a long way to give the Leon a more distinct character – whether on the road or in the car park.

Inside the 2021 SEAT Leon
Inside the 2021 SEAT Leon

Inside the 2021 SEAT Leon

Inside there’s an all-new cabin design. Out with the old and in with the new. Everything at eye level looks glossy and slick, wrap around ambient lighting creates just the right mood, while the latest digital technology brings the Leon up to date with the best in class. There are some cheaper plastics in the doors and the centre console, but the overall impression is good.

The cabin has been ergonomically designed to increase comfort, and decluttering Marie Kondo would be proud of, with a large scale reduction in the number of physical buttons on the centre console. You have to really look for them. And you still won’t find them. That’s because everything is now controlled via the super glossy touchscreen, including ventilation. The focus is now on the main infotainment screen, for better or for worse. The SEAT Digital Cockpit brings together a high-resolution 10.25-inch configurable driver instrument cluster and 10-inch infotainment system.

The digital instrument panel works perfectly, a responsible digital upgrade for the times we live in. The touchscreen to the driver’s left looks impressive with bright, colourful graphics and menus accessed via some simple swipes. But a few more buttons for the ventilation controls for example are just more convenient when you are on the move. The tapping and swiping can be frustrating when you just want to turn the air con on. The system does pair seamlessly with Android Auto and even offers wireless connectivity with Apple CarPlay.

Away from the vehicle, users can access their vehicle’s data remotely via SEAT Connect, as well as manage the battery charging and control the electronic air conditioning in plug-in hybrid models.

A digital transformation for the new Leon
The new SEAT Leon is available with a range of petrol, diesel and hybrid engines

Is it practical?

The Leon’s new platform has reaped dividends for interior space. The Leon will seat five and the increased wheelbase translates to more legroom for rear occupants. The space in the footwells in the rear is undoubtedly among best in class.

The boot volume remains the same in the hatchback as the previous generation of the car, but it is a competitive 380 litres.

There is also a Leon Sportstourer available with even more boot space – 617 litres – and numerous other practical features like a low loading sill and split folding rear seats.

What are my options?

The new Leon is available in six trim levels: SE, SE Plus, Xcellence, Xcellence Plus, FR and FR Plus.

Standard equipment includes 16″ alloy wheels, keyless start, LED headlight technology with automatic high beam, electronic parking brake, an eight-inch infotainment system, cloth upholstery, leather steering wheel and gear stick, adaptive cruise control and SEAT Connect technology.

SE Plus adds 17-inch alloy wheels, rear view camera, auto wipers and dark tinted rear windows.

The FR trim model on test adds sporty front and rear bumpers, 18″ alloy wheels, dual exhaust pipes and a unique suspension set-up. Inside the cabin, FR includes leather multifunction steering wheel with red stitching, drive modes, three-zone air conditioning, wireless charging and two additional USB points in the rear.The FR trim also brings full-LED technology to the rear of the vehicle including the coast-to-coast light and LED dynamic indicators (front and rear), and illuminated front and rear aluminium door plates.

Boot space in the new SEAT Leon
Boot space in the new SEAT Leon

Leon petrol, diesel and hybrid for the first time

The new SEAT Leon is offered with a full complement of engines in 2021: petrol (TSI), diesel (TDI), mild hybrid (eTSI) and plug-in hybrid (eHybrid), with 6-speed manual and 7-speed automatic DSG gearboxes available. Petrol options include the 1.0-litre TSI with 110 hp and a 1.5-litre TSI with 150 hp. The diesel options include a 2.0-litre TDI with 115 hp or 150 hp with a DSG gearbox. New to the range is the mild hybrid petrol engine – 1.0 eTSI (110 hp) DSG and 1.5 eTSI (150 hp) DSG.

Petrols are available from €24,245, while diesels are available from €25,995. The mild hybrid petrols are available from €26,815. The technology uses a 48 volt starter-generator and lithium-ion battery to allow the car to coast with no pedal input from the driver with the engine switched off, while retaining all key electric functions, such as power steering. It also harvests energy under deceleration and provides electrical torque assistance during acceleration. Clever!

The model on test was a SEAT Leon 2.0-litre TDI diesel with 150 hp and DSG gearbox. In FR trim, this car has a list price of €31,990. The diesel engine introduces a new Selective Catalytic Reduction system that includes dual AdBlue injectors to significantly reduce NOx emissions compared to previous generation diesel engines and meet the latest emissions standards.

In February, the brand also announced the arrival of the all-new SEAT Leon eHybrid. This plug-in hybrid uses a 1.4-litre petrol engine, 13 kWh battery and electric motor to produce 204 hp and can be driven on electric power alone for up to 60 km using just the energy stored in the vehicle’s battery. This model is available from €34,990, including Government grant and VRT relief.

SEAT has added a plug-in hybrid to the Leon range for the first time
SEAT has added a plug-in hybrid to the Leon range for the first time

Driving the new SEAT Leon

The 2021 SEAT Leon uses the MQB Evo architecture that provides an inherently strong and stiff safety cell, which allows the integration of some of the most advanced driver assistance systems available, including Predictive Adaptive Cruise Control and Emergency Assist 3.0, to make it the safest car that SEAT has made to date.

The new exterior has been specifically developed to enhance the vehicle’s overall efficiency with improved aerodynamics – the drag coefficient has improved by around 8% compared to the previous generation.

On the road the new Leon feels lighter and more precise than ever before. FR models sit about 15 mm lower than other models in the range and with the aid of big wheels, this car will take on the road with impressive stability and control. The trade off is a firm suspension that picks up more imperfections in the road surface. The Leon is good but not the most refined car in its class, bringing some audible wind and road noise into the cabin.

The 2.0-litre diesel is a joy to drive with great flexibility and power meaning that overall it returns an impressive 5.0 litres per 100 km because it’s just never under pressure. It works well with the DSG automatic gearbox, making long distance or stop start driving in town really simple and straightforward.

The SEAT Leon is practical and fun to drive
The SEAT Leon is practical and fun to drive

Did you like it?

The new SEAT Leon makes a strong statement with an elegant sporty design and seriously upgraded cabin. It’s now happy to stand out, but with the technology and powertrains to back it up.

The engine range is extensive, now offering petrol, diesel and hybrid for the first time.

The Leon still offers value in its class, with cars well specced from base. The FR and Xcellence trims add more visual chutzpah, but beware of the FR’s firmer suspension. It looks good and is fun to drive, but it’s not the most comfortable hatchback you could ever buy in this configuration.

Let’s not overlook that this is a genuinely spacious hatchback, more accommodating for carrying passengers than some rivals. SUVs have put the squeeze on the classic hatchback, even within the SEAT range. But the Leon’s simplicity and style should earn it some fans. Those that choose to discover the Leon will find a very capable and practical hatchback.

The 2021 SEAT Leon is on sale now
The 2021 SEAT Leon is on sale now

Caroline Kidd

Model tested: SEAT Leon 2.0TDI DSG FR
Price: 
€31,990
Engine: 2.0-litre turbo diesel
Power: 
150 hp
Torque: 360 Nm
0-100km/h:  
8.6 seconds
Top speed: 218 km/h
Economy (WLTP): 4.6-4.9 l/100 km
CO2 emissions (WLTP): 119-132 g/km
Motor Tax:  €190 per year