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SEAT Leon 2.0 TDi 184 FR review (2013 onwards)
Model: SEAT Leon 2.0 TDI 184 FR
Bodystyle: five-door hatch
Engine: 2.0 TDi turbodiesel
Transmission: six-speed manual
Date of test: March 2013
What is it?
The original SEAT Leon launched in 1999 in racey Cupra hot hatch form had 179hp. Now we’re on the third generation Leon and you can get this car with a 184hp engine. Thing is, the engine’s a diesel, it comes in sporty, but not Cupra-grade, FR trim and nobody’s really making too much of a fuss about it. That, my friend, is progress.
There will be Cupra and possibly Cupra R versions of this mk3 SEAT Leon in time and they’ll dwarf the 2.0 TDI 184 FR model for sporting focus and sheer potency. It’s a sign of the times, though, that a mildly sporting diesel family hatch now has 184hp, a pulverising 280lb ft of torque and a 0-62mph time of 7.5s. Who needs a proper performance hatchback?
Where does it fit?
Admittedly, this Leon is right up there with the quickest diesel hatchbacks on the market. The same engine is fitted to the GTD version of the Leon’s close relative, Volkswagen’s mk7 Golf. If you want the hot diesel experience outside the VW Group you could look to the likes of Alfa Romeo’s Giulietta 2.0-litre JTDM (170hp) or Volvo’s V40 D4
it’s just a family hatchback that happens to be very, very quick over the ground
(177hp) but there’s not much to seriously eclipse the Leon on the sane side of BMW’s tarmac-shredding 125d (218hp).
Is it for you?
As firebrand as this diesel Leon appears, and as we’ve already indicated, FR is SEAT-speak for warm hatch. It gets you firmed-up sports suspension, 17” alloy wheels, sports seats with imitation leather bolsters, tinted rear windows, sports bumpers and twin chrome exhaust finishers. In combination with the new stark, angular lines of the third generation Leon, it looks plenty purposeful.
On the equipment list for the FR you’ll find dual-zone climate control, the SEAT Drive Profile system with its Sport, Comfort, Eco and Individual modes, parking sensors with a visual display and an 8-speaker stereo. So this car has 184hp, sporty looks and loads of equipment. You’re beginning to detect the imminent arrival of a catch aren’t you? Well, here it is: perhaps unsurprisingly, this Leon FR 2.0 TDI 184 starts at £23,000.
What does it do well?
Don’t think of this Leon as a hot hatch, it’s just a family hatchback that happens to be very, very quick over the ground. Those maximum outputs of 184hp at 4,000rpm and 280lb ft between 1,750 and 3,000rpm translate into a whole bundle of B-road pace. The engine’s flexibility is outstanding to the point that it often seems as though any gear will do but it also responds to throttle inputs like a petrol engine, giving a sense of sharpness that’s rare indeed in a four-cylinder diesel hatch.
There’s sports suspension and big-ish 17” alloys but the ride is impressively comfortable. The Leon only comes with independent rear suspension when you shell out on models with 150hp and over so there’s another reason to stretch the budget. In truth, the difference isn’t huge over the lesser models with their sprung rear axle but the FR does feel a touch more planted and stable at speed.
The engine’s flexibility is outstanding
There’s a 19mm anti-roll bar added on this Leon too, which helps keep the FR 184 in check through the corners. There’s more roll than you’d get in a super-stiff hot hatch but the car is still fun to punt about. The experience is helped by the compact and wieldy steering wheel and a slick 6-speed gearbox
What doesn’t it do well?
There aren’t many nits to pick with this Leon. It’s pretty competent across the board with just the final few layers of polish missing to stop it getting onto the level of its painstakingly produced VW Golf sister vehicle. The engine’s refinement is pretty good, it actually sounded smoother and quieter than the 150hp version we tried, but road noise is prominent in the cabin.
The Drive Profile system adjusts the steering along with other parameters but switching from Comfort to Sport mode only adds a little extra weight. A greater feeling of connection to the road would have been appreciated.
What's it like to live with?
The second generation SEAT Leon was a bit of a let down on the cabin quality front but there are no such issues with this version. Some of the materials aren’t quite as upmarket as those in a Golf but the gap is small and SEAT has successfully added its own sporty mark with sharp detailing that reflects those angled exterior lines.
It was good to find a huge range of adjustment on the steering column that contributed to a really comfortable driving position. The touchscreen infotainment system (probably the only option I’d really recommend at £500) seemed intuitive and slick in its operation. The car seems solid from a practicality standpoint too. You can easily get a
It’s a fast, fun and economical hatchback with few dents in its armour
couple of six-footers in the back seats and the boot is big at 380-litre.
How green is it?
This Leon is 52mm shorter than the second generation car but it’s 48mm wider and, much more importantly, 90kg lighter too. This is made possible by the VW Group’s advanced MQB modular platform that will form the basis of innumerable VW, Audi, Skoda and SEAT models of various sizes in the coming years.
The weight saving, in turn, helps this rapid diesel hatch deliver remarkable combined economy returns of 65.7mpg. Is that more evidence of progress in action? Well, let’s just say you’d be happy to see half that figure from the 1999 mk1 SEAT Leon Cupra we mentioned earlier.
Would we buy it?
There’s a lot to like about the SEAT Leon 2.0 TDI FR 184. It’s a fast, fun and economical hatchback with few dents in its armour. There are similarly sized models from SEAT’s VW Group partners and others that have a little more finesse and upmarket ambience about them but within the confines of the SEAT’s youthful, sporty, moderately affordable brand remit, this Leon just about hits the nail on the head.
Right now it looks a fine buy, even at £23,000. It will continue to do so too, for as long as the relentless tide of automotive progress lets it.
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