Quick Bite: SEAT Leon 1.2 TSI

BY Azfar Hashim

The Spanish brand is now available locally again, and the aggressive product assault means consumers are the big winners; this Leon is at the forefront

Photos by Azfar Hashim

If you remember clearly, SEAT once had prominent presence on our road, namely with their Ibiza and Toledo models. After all, the former was priced affordably to the point it was the first car for many young drivers; the latter on the other hand was given a competitive price tag good enough to lure family man who wanted something different next to the usual Japanese suspects.

Now revived thanks to a new dealer (the same people who brought in the Chery brand), the Spanish brand’s foothold in the local automotive scenery seems positive. The dealer has gotten it all sorted — they’ve hired a PR agency, the publicity tactic looks (and sounds) properly thought out and most importantly, a good product range.

With us today is the 5-door family hatchback.

What is this?

Based on Volkswagen’s Golf, this is the Spanish equivalent, the Leon. Far more stylish and sexier than the German, you could see how detailed the exterior is thanks largely to lines flanking the car; unsurprisingly towards the rear it does remind you of its more expensive cousin, the Audi A3 hatchback. Then lets not forget the handsome face it’s endowed with.

How does it fare in terms of practicality?

It shares the same platform as the Golf, which meant it got for itself a sizeable cabin and boot; these two features have always topped the priority list for buyers looking in this segment, so it is good news that nothing is compromised here in the Leon.

Boot space on offer - with all seats in place - is 380-litres. Compare that to its other peers like the Ford Focus hatchback (316-litres), Mazda 3 hatchback (350-litres) and even VW Golf (380-litres), you instantly know the Leon is deserving of praises (along with the Golf, of course) for its ability to cope with daily demands. That said, the Peugeot 308 still leads the pack with 470-litres though...

How is it inside?

The cockpit is well thought out, with every control buttons perfectly placed around the driver; its well-sized steering wheel feature controls for the audio and Bluetooth system, and also multi display screen. There are ample storage spaces and cubbyholes for you to place items securely — SEAT obviously understood their main target audience.

Overall build quality is similar to the Golf, and that is one strong selling point of the Leon. Auto climate control and a 5-inch multi-function screen in the center console - both standard in this car - adds a further premium touch; unfortunately if you do want the seats and door panels covered in cow, you need to pay extra.

The rear seat offers good amount of legroom and breathing space, and as tested, even able to sit three abreast. In a surprising twist, the seats seem to be more comfortable in here than the Golf’s; they do not feel as overly padded. A pair of rear air-con blowers definitely added more comfort, especially in a tropical climate like ours.

What powers it?

Power comes courtesy of Volkswagen’s widely utilized 1.2-litre, 4-cylinder turbocharged TSI powerplant. Paired to a 6-speed manual — yes, you’re reading that right — power output is a healthy 108 bhp, with maximum 175 Nm of torque available from as early as 1,400 rpm. With kerbweight just slipping past the 1.2-tonne mark, zero to hero is dispatched in 9.9 seconds while top speed capped to 194 km/h.

How does it drive?

Yours truly sometimes run out of words while describing a car’s overall performance, and that happens usually with cars that are priced towards the <$500k spectrum. However, the same occurred with the Leon — it is just a hoot to drive, providing so much fun. Besides the (a) gear stick’s precise shift actions during upshift and downshift, along with (b) a nicely weighted clutch, the force-fed engine reacts predictably without any family-unfriendly shove-you-into-the-seat actions taking place; instead, it does so in a linear manner.

The handling department is brilliant, despite running on comfort-biased 205/55 R-16 Michelin Energy rubbers. This is the car that should make Ford worry; this is the car that feels a shot better than the donor it’s based on. Steering weight and feel is positive, allowing the driver to put in the correct amount of input when driving enthusiastically. Even if you accidentally get overzealous, understeer is kept to a minimal; this thanks largely to the alert ESC system.

In a nutshell, the Leon is the most entertaining and satisfying family hatchback money can buy. Even in this form, it has enough cache to embarrass Suzuki’s Swift Sport. So yes, it’s a family hatchback that provides similar entertainment level as a hot-hatch; with a manual transmission, ensures you have no DSG woes to be concerned of.

That said however, the local dealer will gladly sell you a DSG-fitted one if a self-shifting unit is still the one you desire.

Price with COE: $105,500

Signal and cruise control located on just one stalk

Signal and cruise control located on just one stalk