SEAT’s Leon has been jostling for position with the Ibiza to be the Spanish company’s top dog in the UK for some time.
In 2007 the Leon actually got its nose in front of its supermini sibling to take position as number one.
Since then the all new version of the Ibiza has regained top spot in the sales charts but this revised version of the five door hatchback should be nudging its read bumper before long.
Because the Leon (pronounced Lay-on, by the way) is a good car one you get to feel comfortable with very quickly.
For a start the Leon is deceptively attractive. That is on first sight it appears to be more or less an unremarkable hatchback.
But after a while you begin to appreciate its sporty, classy look. The front end has a sleek curve to the wings, with a simple, swept back grille breaking up the line of the bonnet.
The striking headlight clusters sweep around toward the rounded rear end.
The flanks are also unblemished by door handles, as they are tucked up neatly and unobtrusively in the corner of the rear windows. All of which adds up to a attractive, sporty yet subtle apperance.
The Leon comes in a number of engine variations, ranging from the entry level 1.4 litre to the 2-litre turbo diesel.
I drove the SEAT Leon 1.9 Ecomotive TDi, which comes with lots of eco friendly innovations. For this enviromentally friendly family car, CO2 emissions have been reduced by nearly 15 per cent and a diesel filter has been fitted to further reduce the nasty stuff.
The engineers have also made th Leon lighter, which results in manufacturers figures of being able to travel 1,500 miles without refuelling ( although I had to visit the garage after considerably fewer miles). All well and good, then.
But happily these haven’t affected the performance too much. It’s part of what makes the Leon such a likeable car.
I was surprised to see that the 0-62mph figures are recorded at 10.9 second because the SEAT seems alot quicker than that.
Certainly in low gears its sprightly enough without being breathtaking. Its eager through second and third, and only falters in high gears, partly due to the gearing being altered to lower emissions. But I took the Leon, with the family, to the Peak District and the hatchback cruised comfortably at motorway speeeds all the way down the M1.
The only noticeable downside was the constant road noise which, while certainly not at high levels, was still apparent. Wind noise, though was very well muted.
But although the Leon was comfortable transporting the family on motorways, its really happiest on A and B roads.
With precise steering and little body roll, the Leon loves cornering, following the bends like its on rails.
Its got great tyre grip which, couple with that good low gear acceleration, makes it a really enjoyable ride, although the firmed suspension makes potholes, bumps and ridges a little uncomfortable.
The diesel engine increases volume as the needle rises but at lower speeds its not intrusive.
Although roomy on the inside, with plenty of head and leg room, the boot is an awkward shape, requiring the hoisting of cases, etc to get them over a high lip.
Rear visabiliy is hindered by thick pillars, but things are crystal clear from the front. Inside the cabin, you soon become comfortable with the Leon. The seats although narrow are comfortable and it was a good driving position for me.
The dashboard plastics use both soft touch and hard, and although unremarkable are decent enough and look sturdy.
The dials in the dash are clear but I had real problems with the controls on the centre console.
Even with the lights on, the little read lights illumination things are very faint and I found it hard to work out which control was which while on the move.
In a competitive sector, against the likes of the VW Golf, the Honda Civic and the Vauxhall Astra, the Leon has to be priced competively to stand a chance.
And with this entry level 1.4’s coming in at less thant £13,000, rising to just under £20,000 for top of the range, SEAT has the pricing right.
Equipment levels are good throughout the range, with basic models getting six airbags, electric front windows, remote central locking and air-conditioning.
The SEAT Leon Ecomotice I drove, which would set you back £16,700 had aircon, satnav, a good radio/CD player, ABS and autmatic lights, wipers and parking sensors.
And because this particular Leon is an Ecomotive, the economy figures come in at 62mpg, with the lowered emissions meaning a road tax of just £35.
Its a good looking sporty family car which is fun to drive and handles well, and is doing its bit for the enviroment.
SEAT LEON ECOMOTIVE SE 1.9 TDI
Engine: 1.9 Diesel
Transmission: five speed manual
Top speed: 116mph
Combined mpg: 62.8mpg
OTR Price: £16,700