Seat Leon FR 2.0 T-FSI
Wider air intakes mark out the Leon FR
- Engine is powerful, responsive and refined
- Interior is sporty and easy to use
- Excellent value for money
- Diesel option is rare in this class
- Gearknob is unpleasant to use
- Forward view is sometimes restricted by A-pillar
- Dark cabin will not suit all tastes
- Some minor controls a little awkward to use
Adding to its image as a producer of performance cars at reasonable prices, Seat has produced a hot FR version of its Leon hatchback. Alongside FR versions of the Ibiza and Altea, the Leon FR comes with high output engines, sharpened driving dynamics as a well as subtly altered looks, all with a competitive price tag in mind. Slotting beneath the Cupra performance models in the range, the FR aims to give a healthy mix of practicality and performance.
Despite not being the hottest Leon in the range, it has a large dose of performance oriented styling in FR guise compared to the regular car. Both the front and rear gain special bumpers, the front one with larger air intakes and the rear item with a mock F1-style air diffuser. Stainless steel exhaust pipes poke out from beneath the rear of the car, 17-inch wheels are standard with 18-inch versions an option, and the door mirrors are painted silver for a distinctive look.
Inside there are a number of enhancements, including a new-look dashboard with a smart detailed finish, white instruments exclusive to the FR model, an FR-branded gearlever and sports seats, also carrying the FR logo. The dashboard itself is an attractive design, angled towards the driver for a sporty feel but also providing decent oddment storage.
Mechanically the Leon FR benefits from a choice of two sparkling engines, both offering impressive performance. The 2.0-litre T-FSI petrol engine tested here offers a high output but with a linear spread of torque throughout the rev range for flexibility, making it fast and also relaxing to drive when not pressing on. The other option is the powerful 2.0-litre TDI unit, which as well as offering performance very close to the petrol, delivers highly impressive fuel economy, enough to make it a great everyday car.
Elsewhere the FR has had significant tweaks to the suspension to enhance its performance credentials. The front springs have been stiffened by 12 per cent, while the dampers have also been retuned to give more grip and sharper handling. The anti-roll bars have also been made thicker to this effect. The diameter of the brake discs has also been increased to cope with the extra performance.
Our verdict on the Seat Leon FR 2.0 T-FSI
As a stepping-stone to a full-on hot hatch, the Leon FR is almost too close to the real thing. It offers all the performance and handling that most keen drivers could want, but when playtime is over it can still do almost all the things expected of a mid-sized hatchback. A few interior niggles are unlikely to cause too many problems, making the Leon a strong contender in the class.
The car's purchase price is very competitive given the performance and equipment on offer, while running costs should also be reasonable. As long as the insurance is relatively affordable, servicing and fuel costs will only be slightly above average.
Space and practicality
For a family hatch the Leon is quite space efficient. A growing family would have little trouble getting comfortable in the cabin, although there isn't the same level of oddment space as you'd find in its more MPV-like stablemates. The rear seats do split and fold - although not completely flat - and the boot is a reasonable size. The load lip isn't flush with the bumper, which could prove annoying when transporting heavy or awkward objects.
Controls and display
The Leon's main dials are smartly finished and attractive, while the chunky three spoke steering wheel adjusts for both rake and reach, and the height adjustable driver's seat is useful. The car's main fascia is large and angled towards the driver, creating an intimate feel. The layout of some of the controls seems a little odd however, as the ventilation controls are mounted high on the dashboard, while the audio controls are much lower down. The gearlever is also quite unpleasant to use: the shift action itself is fine, but the gear knob is too large and an odd shape, making it awkward to hold.
Supportive seats and good levels of head and legroom fore and aft make the Leon's cabin an attractive place to spend time in. For the driver everything is close to hand, while rear seat passengers will rarely feel cramped. The car's firm ride might prove tiresome for some though, and the noise from the low profile tires is noticeable.
The Leon FR comes with remote central locking with deadlocks and an immobiliser, as well as locking bolts for the alloy wheels.
As with all modern Volkswagen Group cars there is a strong feel to their construction. This is true of the Leon, and is backed up by six airbags as standard and the option of adding a further two. ABS is also standard, as is ESP with traction control and enhanced electronic braking assistance to this model. Tyre pressure monitoring is also fitted as standard, a useful feature on a car in this price bracket.
This is where Seat hopes it has the edge over rivals. You'll instantly notice that the car's suspension is of the firm variety, and while this is for spirited cornering and helps to reduce body roll, the downside is a firm ride around on broken roads. However, as the FR is aimed at keen drivers, the mix of firm suspension and torquey FSI engine is likely to lead to plenty of fun. The Leon is a great car for a twisty road, delivering thrills and a high degree of security.
Family car appeal
The Leon could do a good job as a family car, although with a greater number of children a compact MPV would be the better choice thanks to more oddment storage, flexible seating arrangements and easier access to the rear cabin. Even so, the cabin looks like it could stand up to the challenge and rear space is good.
First car appeal
It's reasonable to think that novice drivers would be attracted to the Leon: it's affordable, easy to drive and park, comes with good levels of equipment and shouldn't cost much to run. It might just stretch beyond the financial resources of most however, particularly with the high output petrol engine.
Quality and image
Seat is viewed as the sporty, affordable brand within the Volkswagen Group, and that's how the Leon is being promoted, particularly with the FR model. It successfully carries off this image, and few would question the sportiness of the FR: it is not just a badge. Quality-wise the car is on a par with products from Skoda, although Seat is rarely held in the same high regard as the Czech manufacturer. That said, many young potential buyers find Seat products more enjoyable and less 'sensible' than those from Skoda.
Front seat occupants will have no trouble accessing and exiting the cabin. Despite the car's low-slung stance, the front seats are set at a sensible height. Rear passengers will also be pleasantly surprised; rear head and legroom is pretty good even though the Leon sports a sloping roof. As with many five-door hatchbacks though, the actual rear door aperture could be larger. No problems at the back - the car's boot shouldn't cause any major issues.
Stereo and ICE (In car entertainment)
A good sounding radio/CD combination is standard fit. Remote control audio buttons on the steering wheel are fitted as standard. While the unit sounds good, the fascia controls could be better - the buttons are quite small and hard to use on the move, and the LCD display is easily obstructed when light shines directly on it.
Colours and trim
Despite the addition of white instruments and flashes of colour, the majority of the Leon's interior is finished in dark grey plastics. However, the quality of the trim is good, and it all feels robustly constructed.
Few people will struggle with parking. The Leon's steering is light at low speeds and the car's mirrors are of a good size. The car's turning circle is pretty tight, but the thick rear pillars can block your view when exercising a particularly tricky manoeuvre.
A space saver spare wheel is fitted as standard beneath the boot floor.
A choice of six engines: 1.6 (102bhp) petrol; 2.0 FSI (150bhp) petrol; 2.0 TFSI (197bhp) petrol; 1.9 TDI (105bhp) diesel; 2.0 TDI (140bhp and 168bhp) diesel. 1.6 and 1.9-litre engines get a five-speed manual gearbox while 2.0-litre units come with a six-speed manual gearbox. Petrol models can have an optional Tiptronic auto and diesels a Direct Shift Gearbox (DSG). Trim levels; Essence, Reference, Reference Sport, Stylance, Sport and FR.
Skoda Octavia vRS Similar mechanical make up but more space
Vauxhall Astra SRI Sharp handling but less roomy
Volkswagen Golf GTI Despite similarities, offers a superlative driving experience
Ford Focus ST Higher performance and more fun, but more expensive too