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SEAT Leon Ecomotive S review (2010 onwards)
Summary - SEAT is the latest to join the sub-100g/km CO2 family car scene. Compared to the Ford Focus ECOnetic, the Leon Ecomotive is a bargain; it's a sporty way for families to cut their carbon emissions.
We like - Amazing economy, stylish looks, equipment and price combination, standard stop-start
We don't like - Stiff ride, needs six speeds, cabin ambience
MSN Cars ran a sub-100g/km CO2 SEAT a few years ago. That car was a little Ibiza supermini - such is the pace of the car industry, SEAT is now introducing a much larger, faster and more comfortable family hatchback capable of exactly the same low CO2 figure.
Not only that, it's also just as economical, averaging a remarkable 74.3mpg. Not bad for a genuine five-door, five-seat, free road tax car. Particularly as SEAT isn't charging a fortune for it, either. Ford dares ask over £20k for its green-thinking motor. SEAT starts from a much more realistic £16,840 for the Leon.
That's cheaper than even the most basic non-green petrol Focus - but neither this, nor the car's economy mindset, affects what you get as standard. Alloy wheels, air con, curtain airbags, ESP and alarm are all included as standard; the posher (and pricier) SE throws even more in.
Visually, it's little different to a regular Leon. The front grille has been closed off to smooth airflow, and there are tiny winglets to improve aerodynamics. Alloys have low-resistance tyres, too; otherwise, it's the same sporty shape that surveys prove draws buyers in. Badges apart, nothing gives away its paltry CO2 emissions.
SEAT sold an older version of the Ecomotive Leon, with a 1.9-litre TDI engine. That was eco, but this new one is even better, thanks to a newer 1.6-litre TDI. Despite the smaller capacity, it has the same 105hp output, and uses common-rail fuel injection for sweeter running and less clatter.
In action, it's smoother than the older engine, and is way less snatchy in response to the throttle. This helps you drive more fluidly, although you need to rev it a bit more to really get motoring. Below 1,500rpm, it can feel a little flat compared to the snappy 1.9-litre.
Easier said than done, this; the car only has a five-speed gearbox. This wouldn't be a problem, but the maker has really stretched third to fifth gears to cut engine revs. It means fourth is unusable in town and the quiet engine means you can be caught out at speed if you let engine speed dip.
You need to watch the rev counter and recognise each gear has a broad range. It's not a major fault, though, more a characteristic. Overall, this engine is far nicer than the vibrating old motor. It has stop-start as well, which works faultlessly. The engine cuts off when you stop and quickly restarts when you press the clutch.
Ride and handling
Bizarrely, eco cars like this often have lowered, sporty suspension settings, to drop the body lower to the ground and reduce air resistance. The SEAT is no different; as it's already a racy-feeling car, this means the Ecomotive seems unusually hot hatch-like through the bends. Body control is firm and roll is minimal when you press on.
The steering's a bit light but the front end is eager and accurate; even the eco tyres are fairly wide and grippy. The pay-off, though, is a firm ride. The Leon can be jostly in town, and is stiffer over bumps than many rivals. Step from, say, a Golf, and it's noticeably harder.
The Leon range got a refresh last year, which was meant to lift interior quality. The Audi-style white dials and racy steering wheel are nice, but there are still lots of hard plastics away from the soft-touch dash. It is also very dark in there; the Ecomotive has black trim that's really austere.
Thick, steeply raked windscreen pillars don't help here, although they do make it seem more coupé-like than rivals - it's more purposeful behind the wheel, particularly atop the firm front seats. Space is OK in the rear though, even if it is gloomy, and the boot is usefully deep and wide.
Equipment levels are worth noting. These green models used to be really stripped back to cut weight - it meant you couldn't choose many options, either. SEAT's cracked that here: if you have the cash, you can buy DAB radio, xenon lights, auto wipers and Optical Parking Sensors.
This will help attract London motorists downsizing from larger and posher cars; Mayor Boris Johnson is proposing to make sub-100g/km cars exempt from the Congestion Charge, from next year. Don't think we're London-centric, either - the capital's charging model is seen as many to be one relevant for other cities, too...
Economy and safety
The Leon has all the latest emissions cleaning gear, including a particulate filter that helps it meet the very toughest Euro 5 emissions laws. There is a gearchange indicator too - although it is over-optimistic on the engine's pulling power abilities. Certainly, going up hill, it's best ignored.
Safety isn't as good. The Leon only gets a four-star Euro NCAP crash test score, although it does have ESP as standard to avoid accidents. Curtain airbags are standard too, and if you choose the SE, you can get optional rear side airbags - a big boon for those seeking child-safe cars.
The MSN Cars verdict
It is the Leon's combination of price and economy that draws us to it. For the money, it's a cracking sub-100g/km CO2 car; even better, it feels like a sporty hatch to drive - although this does compromise the ride quality. We're not so keen on the cabin, either, and wish it had a handier six-speed gearbox, but overall we rate this stylish cut-price-Golf CO2 champ.
|Need to know|
|Engine diesel||1.6-litre TDI 105 diesel|
|Torque lb ft||184|
|Top speed mph||118|
|Ride & handling||***|
|MSN Cars verdict||****|
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