SEAT Leon 1.9TDi SE - SEAT LEON Car Review

Review

Added: 25 May 2003
Last update:

COUNTRIES are a bit like soccer teams. When they are on a roll, almost everything they touch turns to gold. Spain's been like that for the last few years - an up and coming nation of vibrant go-getters that even backed the winning side in the war.

Wherever you look tapas bars are springing up, the Spanish were even rumoured to be luring Becks from rainy Manchester. So what else has Spain got - apart, that is, from some of Europe's best beaches, Barcelona and a great climate? As if any more were needed, one of the fastest growing car companies originates there - SEAT.

Under the generous stewardship of the VW group, it has surged forward producing exciting designs that bring a touch of the exotic to ordinary mortals with ordinary wage packets - witness the brilliantly styled Salsa which is likely to become the next generation Leon, and the current 145mph Cupra R.

Less high profile but nonetheless impressive is the cooking Leon fitted with a 110bhp turbo diesel engine that can boast a happy combination of sensational economy with gutsy performance and neat handling. Within the compact body there are five doors and a large square boot, making it a good bet as a family workhorse.

You tend to think that a hatch that will regularly return 50-plus mpg is likely to be a bit short in the excitement department when it comes to driving - especially when you've only had to fork out £14k. Wrong -  the Leon TDi with 110bhp on call produces the goods and rattles off 60 in 10 seconds and can top 120mph if pressed.

Best of all is the mid-range urge which helps the five door make mincemeat of overtaking. In fact the whole demeanour of the TDi puts it on the edge of the hot-hatch sector without the drawback of crippling insurance premiums. The Leon falls into an economical group seven.

Less fun is the interior, which though well screwed together is dominated by black plastic with heavy looking mouldings. Lighten up, SEAT! The leather trimmed steering wheel is a nice feature, though. It's a good idea for doors to open wide, but the front ones on the Leon swing open so far you have to get our of your seat to reach to shut them.

The SE version I drove comes with a stack of goodies for £14,655 including air con, lowered suspension, sports seats, electric door mirrors, electric windows all round and traction control. There is a lower powered 90bhp diesel but it is eight miles an hour slower and no more economical.

If you've driven VWs before you'll recognise various bits of the switchgear, which is taken from the parts bin shared by Audi, VW, Skoda and SEAT. If this is one of the aspects that makes the Leon such a good deal, you'll find no complaints from me.

FAST FACTS

SEAT Leon 1.9TDi SE

Price:  £14,655

Mechanical: 110bhp, 1,896cc turbodiesel engine, driving front wheels via five-speed manual gearbox

Max Speed: 120 mph

0-62mph: 10.7 seconds

Combined mpg:  55.3 mpg

Insurance Group: 7

CO2 emissions: 140gkm

BiK rating: 18pc

Warranty: 3 years/60,000 miles, 3 years paint, 12 years anti-rust

Words: Jon Smith

Keywords: SEAT, LEON