Review: SEAT Leon

Stylish exterior with performance reliability

16 Jun 15 Tim Barnes-Clay


  • Precise steering

  • Stylish image

  • Reliable


  • Small and low boot space

  • Firm ride

  • Some interiors can feel cheap

Our expert rating

The SEAT Leon is a small Spanish-made family hatchback that has been in production since 1998.

Based on the VW Golf, it is currently in its third generation. The use of Volkswagen engines and components ensures servicing is pretty simple and fairly priced.


The wide range of engines means the SEAT Leon’s economy differs depending which model you go for, but most are thrifty and perform well. Indeed, a low-down driving position adds to the car's accent on drivability and entertainment.

The Ecomotive second generation (2005-2012) version, with its 1.6 TDI diesel, will do up to 74.4mpg, while even the rapid FR+ version can officially achieve 38.7mpg.


Ride and handling

The Leon is a great handler, whichever type you choose. The steering is precise, the gear change is smooth and general road-holding is excellent. Sadly, its good grip and lack of body roll comes at the price of comfort.

The SEAT’s sporty character makes for a hard ride, so potholes and other road imperfections are very obvious. This results in the car crashing and banging over some surfaces. It is not awful, but the Leon is just not as composed as, say, a comparatively aged Ford Focus.

Also, most variants are quiet but the older diesel engines can be on the hoarse side.

SEAT Leon interior

Interior space

The SEAT Leon is a relatively sizeable hatchback for four adults, and access is good because all models have five doors. Storage space isn’t great, though, and the glove box is petite.

Alas, the main boot area is not the best either. It is not very deep and the load floor is irritatingly low-set compared with the lip of the hatch opening.

Car boot

What to know before you buy

The SEAT Leon is generally reliable, but watch out for the hotter-hatch models. The 2.0-litre FSI turbo petrol and the 2.0 HDI turbo diesels can take a lot of ill-treatment, but you still need to be cautious.

Ensure the petrol engine isn’t loud on start-up, because it should tick over very softly. Of course, you won’t get the same hushed experience from the diesel, but just be aware of any dark smoke billowing from the exhaust when on your test drive.

Black clouds from the tailpipe are a signal that there is an issue existing that will potentially curtail the engine life, or result in you splashing out cash in the future. Whether there is smoke, or not, will become clear when you accelerate briskly.

Also, be on your toes when it comes to the clutch slipping. A quick way to establish if the clutch needs repair is to test it with the car stopped but running. Put the Leon in 2nd or 3rd gear and let out the clutch. If it doesn’t stall, but the revs go up and the SEAT doesn’t move, the clutch is not good and needs to be replaced.

Finally, make sure the suspension feels okay. Symptoms of suspension problems may include the Leon pulling to one side on a drive or disproportionate bouncing and swaying, even at leisurely speeds.

Alternative cars

On the whole, the Peugeot 308, despite it looking less sexy than the Leon, offers better fuel economy. VW Golfs also tend to consume less fuel than some corresponding Leons, even though they use the same engines.

A Vauxhall Astra is also a worthy, if rather dull and ubiquitous, secondhand rival. The same can be said for the Ford Focus, although it is better at soaking up the lumps and bumps.

Leon and Golf

Overall verdict

Even older Leons have a youthful image, but compared with a VW Golf, the SEAT feels budget-based inside. The boot could be more giving, too. The Leons offer alluring mixture of VW Golf performance and reliability but with an extra layer of exterior style.

So, if you are an enthusiastic driver, with a family, a used Leon could be for you.

Expert review



Space & comfort

Running costs

Value for money


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