It is near impossible to not compare the third generation SEAT Leon to the other VW Group models which share the lightweight and highly manoeuvrable MQB platform, but it’s a comparison which works in its favour on the whole.
The Leon’s five engine line-up closely resembles its MQB cousins with three petrol units (1.2, 1.4, 1.8 TSI) and two diesel (1.6, 2.0 TDI).
The 1.8-litre TSI packs the perkiest punch with a 0-62mph time of 7.5seconds but diesel drivers still get plenty of excitement from the 2-litre TDI (8.4s) and every engine we tested was a joy. Every engine included stop/start technology too.
Company fleets will be most intrigued by the manual 1.6 TDI model which emits 99g/km of CO2 at a combined fuel economy of 74.3mpg and 13% Benefit In Kind.
Yep it’s the same engine that boosted the fleet appeal of VW’s Golf, the Skoda Octavia and Audi A3 but if want to avoid the price premium of the VW badge, the A3’s dull shape and something shorter than the Octavia then the Leon is a tempting proposition.
Over half of all Leons sold in the UK are expected to pack this 1.6 diesel (54%) and they’re going to have a great time with it. Naught to 62mph might be 10.7seconds but the 1.6TDI picks up well and keeps on giving well past the legal motorway limit with satisfying and natural gear ratios.
There’s more engine and cabin noise with the 2.0 TDI but it is immediately more fun and notably more responsive. The entry 1.2 TSI engine has plenty of motoring exhilaration to offer too, even if it needs to be worked harder.
The Leon has always been a pleasing sight on the road but its 2013 look is notably sharper, literally in some places with the angle-edged wing mirrors, LED headlamps, the bold lines running the length of the exterior and more pointed rear.
The third generation Leon is 52mm shorter than previous model at 4263mm but its wheelbase has been stretched by 58mm. It is wider by 48mm at 1816mm and a smidge taller (+4mm).
All this comes together to deliver a roomier cabin, more interior space and an extra 39 litres of boot space (380 up from 341). It is also 90kg lighter on average.
That cabin is of a decent quality too. The Leon is undoubtedly well put-together with pleasant quishy plastics dotted about, the buttons and switches all solid and durable and the Alcantara upholstery is £440 well spent.
If we’re picking nits then some plastics, particularly the door handle and lower storage compartment felt scratchy and stingy. It’s one of the few minor compromises.
Standard spec includes 5” colour touchscreen MP3/CD player with USB/SD/Aux ports, Bluetooth, six speakers, tinted windows, 15” steel wheels, front electric windows and enough safety kit to bag a five star Euro NCAP rating.
Middle tier SE trim will make up six in ten Leons sold and throws in 16” alloys, hill hold, cruise control, electric windows all round, leather steering wheel, gearknob and handbrake.
The range-topping FR trim includes electric folding door mirrors, eight speakers, 17” alloys, front and rear parking sensors, dual-zone climate control and lots of lovely chrome.
SEAT will bolster the Leon with the addition of at least three extra engine options.
A 184PS 2-litre diesel will arrive at the back end of 2013, outperforming the 1.8 TSI’s claim as the most powerful Leon, along with an extra frugal 1.6-litre diesel with sub-99g/km CO2 emissions.
The second half of 2014 will see the introduction of a 1.4 petrol unit with Active Cylinder Technology; a nifty VW Group feature which disables half the engine’s cylinders when they’re not required in a bid to conserve fuel.
A sporty ST model will also be revealed at Frankfurt in September while an estate model will be available before the end of 2013.
SEAT Leon MK3 in numbers:
Boot space: 380 litres
Best combined fuel economy: 74.3mpg (1.6 TDI manual - £17,370)
Lowest CO2: 99g/km (1.6 TDI man.)
Fastest 0-62mph: 1.8 TSI man. (7.5s – 140mph max. speed)
Trims: Three - S, SE, FR
Cheapest option: 1.2 TSI S (£15,670)
Priciest option: 1.8 TDI FR auto (£22,635)
Benefit In Kind: 13% (1.6 TDI man. & 1.2 TSI)