If you'd like your family hatchback with a dash more attitude than the normal bland box, look to SEAT and its striking Leon, now improved with smarter looks and extra media connectivity. With the car benefiting from the best engineering that the Volkswagen Group can offer, think of it as a Golf with a sharper suit and a keener price tag. Oh, and a bit of a sporty feel in racy FR Technology form.
The Leon made its name as a sporty selection and the latest line-up is powered by efficient yet powerful TDI diesel and TSI petrol engines. In FR Technology spec, you choose between a 150PS 1.4-litre EcoTSI petrol unit or the 2.0-litre TDI diesel with either 150 or 184PS.
The Leon FR hot hatch features an interesting function called SEAT Drive Profile. This allows the driver to vary the characteristics of the power steering, throttle control and even the engine sound via a sound actuator using three modes: eco, comfort and sport. There is also a facility to tailor the settings according to the driver's preference. The interior ambient LED lighting changes according to the selected setting: white in eco and comfort modes, and red in sport. No red mist please.
FR models get firmer suspension and wider tyres than standard variants, but even here, the ride balance is one you'll be happy to live with in the traffic jams, urban jungles and motorway mileages of real life. There's an extra dash of spirit in this car which for some reason, I just don't feel in an apparently identical Volkswagen Golf. Perhaps the sportier styling and more dynamic brand image that this SEAT has lead you to push it that little bit harder, revealing unexpected handling talent that a Golf or an Octavia could also offer if only given the chance. Maybe. But somehow, I doubt it.
As before, Leon FR Technology buyers choose from either a five-door hatch, an 'ST' estate model or an 'SC' three-door coupe. In all three cases, SEAT says that visual style was one of the key reasons why people bought the original version of this car, so it wasn't necessary with this facelifted version to change the aesthetics too much. A few tweaks though, have been made. At the front and rear, there are revised bumpers and bodywork with sharper, more assertive lines, plus there's a smarter chromed front grille. Otherwise, it's as you were, the FR trim level including a well-judged body kit that lifts the look of the standard shape a small but significant amount.
Inside, the ambient lighting LEDs' intensity can be regulated as the driver wishes from the newly redesigned eight-inch central infotainment screen. This monitor eliminates the need for many of the buttons and dials that were scattered around the fascia on the previous model. From this monitor, the LED ambient lighting of the cabin can be dimmed or intensified, giving the interior a classy feel. Otherwise, things are much as they were before, which means that passenger space is very class-competitive and there's a decently sized 380-litre boot in the hatch model. If you need more space than that, the ST estate offers 587-litres.
This improved third generation SEAT Leon looks a very promising package indeed. Better looking than before, classier inside and out, with super-efficient engines and the retention of its sporting appeal in FR Technology form, it's exactly the car the Spanish brand needs to resurrect its fortunes in this sector.
With some previous Leon models, this was a car that you'd recommend with caveats. Something like: 'It's a good car but the interior's a weak point. You need to avoid some of the older diesel engines. And the driver technology is a bit behind the times'. None of that now. This time round, SEAT has surgically excised each of these reasons for passing the Leon over. We're excited, especially by this car in FR Technology guise. If you're looking to buy a family hatchback with a bit of a spark to it, you should be too.Click here to find out more about our SEAT Leon range