Seat's the Leon king

Kings of Leon?

Kings of Leon?

First published in Reviews The Northern Echo: Photograph of the Author by

SEAT has had an end-of-season sort out. The Leon has been around for a bit so bosses have rummaged through the parts bin for some extra goodies while at the same time giving the range a good shake up.

As the sportiest model in the range the Leon always had an almost bewildering array of performance variants. At one point buyers had a choice of the Sport, the FR, the Cupra and the Cupra R.

That line up has been trimmed back a bit - but in a very confusing way.

The Sport is now gone but it kind of lives on as the FR which inherits its less powerful 1.4TSI and 2.0TDI engines.

The FR, meanwhile, makes way for the FR+. This new model gets slightly juicier versions of the 2.0 TSI and higher power 2.0 TDI engines that once propelled the old FR (still with me?). Why has it done this? I don’t know. Maybe it wants to keep its customers on their toes.

The Cupra is also a goner but a Cupra R still sits at the top of the range.

here’s more than a hint of rakish coupe about it thanks to the way the rear door handles are hidden in the C-pillar

Nigel Burton, Motoring Editor

All you really need to know is that the highlight of all this badge chicanery is the FR+ 2.0 TSI.

It’s not as powerful as the Cupra R, nor as economical as the 2.0 TDI FR, but it’s more satisfying to drive than either of them.

Just how good I had forgotten until I clambered behind the wheel of our unfeasibly black (as in metallic black paintwork, piano black alloy wheels, blacked out rear windows and a largely black interior) FR+ on a brilliantly sunny Spring day. It had been awhile since I’d driven a sporty Leon but it all came back to me after a couple of miles. Who wouldn’t be impressed by the crisp gearchange, the pliant ride, the lack of bodyroll and the creamy smooth power delivery of the 2.0 TSI engine? Everyone knows that the Leon is really just a Golf in drag but the FR gets closest to the authentic Golf GTi experience.

The Cupra R might be more powerful (265PS plays 211PS) but point-to-point in the real world I reckon there would be so little in it as to be almost irrelevant. And you wouldn’t have to stop for petrol so often, either.There’s no stop-start green technology or Eco badging but, when a car’s as good to drive as this one, frankly, who cares?

The shake-up in the Leon line-up has gone hand-in-hand with a modest facelift. The grille has a bit less chrome, the chin spoiler is a subtly different shape and the rear lamps are ever-so-slightly tweaked. It doesn’t add up to much but it doesn’t need to. The Leon always was the best-looking Seat.

Inside the dashboard is a bit different and there’s a premium audio system with a touch screen colour monitor but, otherwise, it’s business as usual. It looks a bit cheaper than a Golf (because it is) but nothing squeaks or rattles - and there’s still a whopping great blindspot caused by the thick windscreen pillars that a tiny little window ahead of the front door can do nothing to ameliorate.

The sports seats are comfortable (ours had the optional heated leather buckets) and the chunky flat-bottomed steering wheel is the same one you’d find on a Golf.

The audio “infotainment” system is a doozy - a top-of-the-tree VW set up with digital radio, colour satellite navigation and Bluetooth audio streaming that can wirelessly play music from a mobile phone. It’s easy to operate, too.

The Leon is a handsome hatchback quite unlike its key rivals thanks to the bold sweeping body lines. In fact, there’s more than a hint of rakish coupe about it thanks to the way the rear door handles are hidden in the C-pillar (the Leon was designed by Walter Da Silva who pulled the same trick on the 156 when he was at Alfa Romeo). The FR+ has the performance to match its Latino good looks, too.

All of which makes the FR+ a bit of a performance car bargain.

An equivalent Golf costs almost £5,000 more than the Leon. VW says this doesn’t matter because the Golf sells to an older, more affluent clientele but I reckon anyone who buys the Seat will be laughing all the way to the bank.

SPEC: Engine: 1,984cc, four cylinder, turbocharged, 16v.

Max power: 211PS @ 5,300rpm.

Max torque: 206lb/ft@1,700rpm.

Top speed: 145mph.

0-62mph: 6.9 seconds.

Av fuel consumption: 38.7mpg.

CO2 emissions: 170g/km.

Boot: 341 litres.

Equipment: Electric windows, climate control, satellite navigation, Bluetooth wireless telefony, CD player, 18-inch alloy wheels, rear parking sensors, alarm, immobiliser.

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