SEAT has been scoring big sales with its SUVs recently, but the company’s revival was really kick-started by the third generation of its Leon family hatchback, first introduced in 2012. Now the fourth iteration of the VW Golf and Ford Focus rival is here, ahead of UK sales starting in late spring.
The Mk3 Leon sold more than a million units and it was always known as one of the more striking offerings in the family car class. As such, SEAT’s design team hasn’t interfered too much with the Leon’s looks; the styling shift between Mk3 and Mk4 is clearly evolutionary, with a recognisable side profile. The car also uses the same platform as before: the ubiquitous MQB architecture that underpins most of the bread-and-butter models in the VW Group.
But that doesn’t mean that there are not significant differences. The new car is almost 90mm longer than before, and 50mm of that increase has been inserted into the wheelbase in a bid to improve one of the Mk3’s biggest failings: rear cabin space.
That aside, the bonnet looks longer because the windscreen has been made more upright than before. The same goes for the Leon’s nose, which now has a stronger, prouder stance. The rear incorporates SEAT’s familiar tail-light motif into a full-width LED set-up, and higher-end versions will also get ‘welcome’ and ‘farewell’ animations displayed when the car is locked and unlocked. There’s a change of badge, too, because the old techy Leon script is replaced by a ‘signature’ that will be rolled out across all the SEAT range in the near future. This car’s bodyshell is eight per cent more aerodynamically efficient than the outgoing model’s.
As with the recently announced Mk8 Golf, the new Leon gets a refreshed powertrain line-up that incorporates varying levels of electrification. The range will start with a 109bhp three-cylinder 1.0-litre turbo petrol engine. Then there’s a 1.5-litre four-cylinder unit with either 128bhp or 148bhp, and a 2.0-litre with 187bhp. There are two 2.0-litre diesels, too, with either 113bhp or 148bhp.
The standard transmission is a six-speed manual, but the petrol engines can all be ordered with an automatic gearbox. Going auto also opens up the possibility of adding 48-volt mild-hybrid technology on the 1.0 and 148bhp 1.5 petrol variants, to boost efficiency. For buyers who really want to cut fuel bills, the range also includes a 1.4-litre petrol-based plug-in hybrid edition that can travel up to 38 miles on electricity alone.
Inside, the dashboard is a lot cleaner and simpler than before, because the infotainment screen now sits on the front of the fascia instead of being accommodated within it. The car in our images has the top-spec 10-inch system, complete with the same sliding controllers for temperature and infotainment volume that you’ll find on the latest Volkswagen Golf.
SEAT’s engineers have also worked hard to make the Leon’s ambient lighting more than just a personalisation gimmick. So while the shades and hues will continue to be user-configurable and can match the selected driving mode (red for sport, green for efficiency), the car will also flash the interior strip light if it really needs to get your attention quickly, such as for a blind- spot warning or if it senses oncoming traffic as you’re reversing out of a parking space.
Based on our time with the Leon in the studio, SEAT looks set to deliver on one of the new car’s key targets: better cabin space. It’s noticeably easier than before to get into the rear seats, while leg and kneeroom are definitely more generous than in the Mk3 Leon. The boot is basically unchanged, at 380 litres, but there’s now 617 litres on offer if you choose the estate model. That bodystyle continues into the Mk4, but there’s no return for the three-door Leon SC, which was dropped from the third-generation car’s line-up almost 18 months ago.
The range will start with SE, which brings keyless entry, LED headlights, 16-inch alloys and an eight-inch infotainment screen. Stepping up to SE Dynamic adds 17-inch wheels, the 10-inch infotainment set-up complete with nav, a digital instrument panel, front and rear parking sensors, plus tinted rear side windows. The sportier FR variant, as pictured here, has revised front and rear bumpers, a different design of 17-inch alloys, lower, stiffer suspension, full LED tail-lights with animations, three-zone air-con and a wireless smartphone charging tray. SEAT will also offer FR Sport, which includes a Winter Pack (with heated front seats, steering wheel and windscreen washers), wraparound ambient lighting and 18-inch alloys.
As with the Mk3 Leon, Xcellence will offer higher-end buyers a more luxury-focused option instead of FR. It has the same Winter Pack and ambient-light tech, but gets its own design of alloy wheels, plus chrome trim on the side windows and a suede cloth finish on some of the interior. Xcellence Lux takes this specification and adds leather seats and 18-inch wheels.
The SEAT will be available in a choice of seven colours, with metallic paint standard across the range. The new Leon, in five-door and estate forms, is due on sale in the UK at the end of March. There’s no word on pricing yet, but the extra kit and tech should mean a small increase compared with the outgoing car, giving a starting price of around £18,750.
Q&A with Marcus Keith
SEAT vehicle and chassis development engineer Marcus Keith joined us to explain more about the latest Leon.
Q: When did the project for this Leon actually start?
A: “About four years ago. We sat down and discussed the characteristics of the Mk3 Leon, looked at how it compared with its peers and rivals, and then took on board advice from our colleagues in product marketing on trends and the areas that we needed to focus on.”
Q: The car looks very similar to the previous model and has the same boot capacity as before. So practicality wasn’t an issue for existing Leon customers?
A: “Actually, the boot size is the same on the five-door, but it’s larger on the estate. And the big thing is inserting the 50mm into the wheelbase, because that allows us to address one key area: rear cabin space. It’s much improved in the fourth-generation Leon and the aperture to get into and out of those back seats is wider.”
Q: Have you enough scope to differentiate the upcoming Cupra model from the regular SEAT?
A: “Yes, very much so. Of course, there’s a SEAT Leon FR, but we have known all along that there would be a Cupra Leon and this has been taken into account when we have been tuning across the range. You won’t have to wait long and you will see and feel it is a very distinct product.”
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