The Freelander heads to Eastnor for a real test of its off-road ability
SEAT Leon SC review (2013 onwards)
SEAT Leon SC: summary
It's the sportier, three-door version of the new SEAT Leon range - a more distinctive, sportier take on the five-door Leon hatchback. A Leon estate joins the range in 2014.
What: SEAT Leon SC
Date: July 2013
Price: from £15,370
Available: July 2013
Key rivals: Vauxhall Astra, Renault Megane Coupe
We like: quality, driving manners, tech, £2k less than a Golf 3dr!
We don’t like: bumpy ride on large wheels, fussy styling
Read MSN Cars' SEAT Leon five-door hatch review
Buy a used SEAT Leon on Auto Trader
On Bing: see more photos of the new SEAT Leon SC
SEAT Leon SC: first impressions
SEAT hopes the Leon family in its latest iteration will become the bedrock of its range. The SEAT Leon has always been one of its strongest sellers, but in the past it's been hamstrung by a lack of bodystyles. Where previously there has been only a single five-door Leon hatchback, now that model is joined by this three-door, lower-roofed, coupe-inspired hatch and, from spring 2014, a five-door estate with more boot space than a Ford Mondeo Estate.
The new 2013 SEAT Leon SC is a neat-looking design, with enough stand-out differences from the five-door hatch to warrant its coupe-alike tag. In traditionally vibrant SEAT colours, it looks great, only the angrily oversized, gaping-eyeball headlamps detracting from a very pretty shape. It's certainly a car you'll be noticed in, and with prices from £15,370 the SC should make it onto many buyers' radar.
SEAT Leon SC: performance
The new SEAT Leon SC is basically a VW Golf in Spanish drag
What you need to realise about the new SEAT Leon SC is that it's a VW Golf in Spanish drag. Based on the same box of oily bits as the German benchmark, the Leon family shares virtually all of the Golf's hardware. So there is an abundance of choice. Pick from 1.2, 1.4 and 1.8 TSI petrol engines offering from 105-180hp, or a spread of diesels spanning from 1.6 to 2.0 litres, mustering from 105-184hp.
The bestseller by far will be the 1.6 TDI, which will be perfect for most drivers. It's a willing unit and very smooth, but hardly justifies the sporting tag of the SC model badge. Trade up to the top-dog 2.0 TDI for more sporting thrills and a heady 280lb ft of pulling power on tap all the way from 1,750rpm. We'd settle for the better value of the 1.6 TDI and its compelling 99g/km of CO2, though.
A variety of five- and six-speed manual transmissions are offered, each with a typically precise VW throw and action. The seven-speed DSG twin-clutch gearbox is worth a mention, too, for its wonderfully fast changes and ability to switch between slusher and sports character.
SEAT Leon SC: ride and handling
The Leon SC proved remarkably sensitive to the myriad wheel, tyre and suspension combinations available to customers. The first edition we drove was the 1.6 TDI upgraded to the 17in Dynamic wheels. Steer clear of the big rims: the car jolted and juddered over road scars and the dashboard and trim ended up rattling along like a school nursery. It was disappointing.
However, that single model was seemingly an aberration. Next we drove the 1.2 TSI 105hp model, which rode more sedately on its 16in alloy wheels. The Leon is a sweet riding and handling hatchback - whether in five- or three-door trim - although if we're splitting hairs we'd say you notice the loss of hydraulic power assistance compared with its more feelsome predecessors.
But this remains a fun hatch to punt along, whether you're navigating twisting British back roads or at a motorway cruise. The Golf-sourced architecture endows the Leon SC with a chassis finesse that few rivals can boast.
SEAT Leon SC: interior
The cabin of the newest SEAT Leon range is perhaps its strongest advance over the first two generations of mid-sized hatchback. Earlier Leons were always plasticky to the point of qualifying for the Lego appreciation society, but penny-pinching materials and low-rent design are now a thing of the past. The three-door Leon has a well-built, attractive interior.
The cockpit is characterised by swooshing lines, echoing the geometric anarchy outside. But the quality is first-rate: all soft-squish plastics and no shortage of amazing tech, on account of its Volkswagen Golf roots. SEAT on its own could never afford to develop systems like the wonderful, swipe-along, iPad-esque central screen without VW's parentage. But they have, and it works a treat. Hover your fingers over the infotainment system and it knows what you're about to press, bringing up likely "soft-key" functions even before you've tapped the screen.
Space is reasonable in the Leon SC. Front-seat passengers are generously accommodated, while rear-pew accommodation is fine once you're installed. The front chairs flop forwards with admirable simplicity to let you scramble to the back seats and the boot is a good size, although there is a vast lip to lower luggage past. We still love the tilting SEAT badge, which doubles as the boot handle. Little things like this are an enduring delight for long-term ownership.
SEAT Leon SC: economy and safety
Our advice would be to stick to the diesel models if you want real-world economy
Our advice would be to stick to the diesel models if you want real-world economy. The 1.6 TDI we tested - the expected bestseller in the UK - averaged 54mpg on our Cotswold jaunt, despite its manual gearbox boasting a slender five speeds. And we weren't hanging around. But driving on similar roads in the 1.2 TSI with the DSG transmission yielded a disappointing 34mpg.
It just goes to show that you shouldn't always believe the official fuel consumption figures published by manufacturers (SEAT quotes 57.6mpg for this model). Small engines which need to be worked hard may suffer in real-world driving conditions. The cleanest Leon is supposed to average 74.3 miles on every gallon of fuel, while even the most powerful turbocharged petrol model will average a claimed 47.9mpg.
SEAT Leon SC: the MSN Cars verdict
It's difficult not to be impressed by the SEAT Leon SC. The Spanish brand continues to grow in the UK, as VW pumps money into its hitherto less successful offshoot. The investment has brought us new models, such as the Mii, and now the Leon family has come of age.
While the Leon SC may not be quite as sporting as SEAT would like you to believe (until the Cupra models arrive, that is), it is a very polished three-door hatch with an impressive degree of choice on offer. The fact that it's £2,135 cheaper than a Golf will seal the deal for many buyers, even if it's not ultimately quite as good.
SEAT Leon SC: spec and data
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