15/06/2005 00:00 | By By Peter Burgess

Seat Leon review (2005 onwards model)



If you have been bemused by SEAT’s recent new car offerings, snigger no more. The Leon is about to arrive, and it will undoubtedly cause a stir.

New Seat Leon

New Seat Leon

It’s all of five years since the SEAT Salsa concept was revealed as the dynamic new look for the Spanish car company. Since then we’ve had new models – Ibiza, Altea and the determinedly weird Toledo – that bore very little of the Salsa promise. The new Leon certainly does, capturing the spirit of the show car by combining the style of a coupe with the practicality of a five-door hatchback. We have driven the closest thing yet to the forthcoming Cupra version, the 185bhp 2.0 FSi Turbo. But first that body. With a bonnet line that blends into the windscreen pillars, it’s as rakish a family car you are likely to see. The extreme angle of the screen and the high waistline mean that the glass area is far smaller than on a traditional hatch. That’s necessary to give the hint of coupe and helps the “curves and muscles” sensation that SEAT strived for, but it limits the view out.

First Drive: New Seat Leon

Reversing the Leon is marred by blind spots, while the low windscreen line means the driver has to duck and dive on twisty roads to see around the rear-view mirror. This is nothing new to coupe drivers, but maybe to those who want the Leon to double as a family car. But Cupra drivers are prepared to compromise to get their performance fix. Current owners will delight at the fabulous new sports seats that provide superbly bolstered lateral support and deep cushions. The fascia isn’t too exciting, although there is a carbon-effect to the whole area that is unique to the top-end sporting Leons. The six-speed gearlever and steering wheel naturally get leather cladding.

On the road

On the road

This is the first time the VW Group’s 2.0-litre FSI engine has been turbocharged and while 185bhp is healthy enough, there will be more to come in future. In this guise the Leon is great fun to drive, with punchy performance and the great rev range that’s the preserve of petrol engines and still an essential ingredient of a good hot hatch. The Leon turns into corners with sharpness and accuracy, coupled with masses of grip. Even bumps mid corner don’t phase it. This makes for an entertaining driving experience, which you can exploit further by switching off the stability control to get full, tyre squealing, on the limit cornering without any apparent danger. It’s unlikely that all this will be enough for current Cupra drivers, however. The power steering now has the fashionable electrical assistance that manifestly fails to give the weight or feeling of the old car.

New Seat Leon - interior

New Seat Leon - interior

And it’s all rather predictable. This is hot hatchback motoring 2005 style, more about sophistication than raw thrills. It may even cover ground as quickly as a Cupra, but it’s not as visceral an experience. But the new Leon looks good in the flesh and that will help sell cars quickly. There’s nothing else that looks this sexy in the Focus segment, and buyers will pay as much attention to the clever rear door handles mounted behind that final rear window as they question the high boot sill that limits this as a load carrier.

If you want the real Cupra experience you’ll have to wait until 2006, for this Leon isn’t the full Monty. It’s a bit too soft and friendly, without a raw edge in sight. 2006 also sees the launch of the sub-Cupra, Leon FR with 200bhp. SEAT won’t let on how much power the full-blooded Cupra R will offer, but reckon on close to 240bhp and you won’t be far out. Golf GTi owners will weep.

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