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Road Tests

Motoring review: Seat Leon SC - little 'emocion', but my wallet 'enjoyneered' it


Price: £16,635
Engine capacity: 1.2 litres
Power output (bhp @ rpm): 104 @ 4,500
Max torque (lb/ft @ rpm):
129 @ 1,400-4,000
Top speed (mph): 119
0-62 mph (seconds): 10.2
Fuel economy (mpg): 57.6
CO2 emissions (g/km): 114

"It's a Volkswagen underneath. My brother works for them. He says Seats are great." So spake the stranger in the VW Golf parked next to me in a traffic jam. Clearly an evangelist for the brand, and the first such I have encountered. I had taken our test car out, a new Seat Leon three-door (or "SC" in corporate designation, presumably for "sports coupé"), and been considering what I could usefully write about it. I thought I might start out by saying that "it's a Volkswagen underneath", but that, it seems, may not be as universally revelatory as I'd hoped.

Maybe it is common knowledge nowadays, leastways among those who care, that Skodas, Seats and Audis are all "Volkswagens underneath", since they benefit from the engineering resources of the VW Group as constituent brands. And that, therefore, you choose your VW variant on the basis of: value (Skoda); snob value (Audi); or "actually I don't care that much about cars so this is a safe default option" (VW). But what is the motivator in the case of the Spanish chapter of the Group, Seat? "Auto emocion" used to be the slogan; now it's "enjoyneering". The telly ads feature a dad and his kid bonding in a series of vignettes, but they leave one no closer to what "enjoyneering" might mean.

It is more adventurously styled than a VW, but that doesn't set the bar high. The previous generation of Leon had avant-garde lines, but this one is more restrained, the three-door particularly so. To be sure, it has fashionable touches, including a ridge over the rear lights, a sort of Neanderthal brow that seems to be the thing stylists do if they can't think of anything else for the back end of a car. But it is less dramatic than a Honda Civic.

The SC is like a lot of contemporary Vauxhalls and Kias: smart, but not so special. Indoors there is not a trace of Spanish "emocion". I mean, I am not so silly as to suppose that, say, the shape of a Seat's fag lighter could put one in mind of the running of the bulls in Pamplona, Picasso's Guernica, or even the mounting tension of a border crossing into Gibraltar. Still, I'd expect a bit more "enjoyneering" in the cabin.

My test Leon had a cleverly engineered VW 1.2-litre engine that is turbocharged and supercharged, so it delivered decent fuel economy – 38mpg in mostly town driving on my run – with lively performance, of the kind you'd expect from, say, the 1.6-litre diesel, but you do have to rev it to "enjoyneer" yourself properly. The only real mechanical difference between a Golf and a Leon is in the rear suspension – thus, by the way, proving that not all Seats are, in fact, as thoroughly "VW underneath" as you (or your brother) might suppose.

The Leon has a system that is somewhat cheaper to make than the Golf, but which, at what motoring journalists like to call "the limit", may make for less accomplished handling. However, this makes no practical difference to anyone this side of Fernando Alonso. (And the sportier Leons do have that higher-spec suspension component to deliver their performance.) The benefit is that, partly as a result, this Leon is about £3,000 cheaper than its Golf equivalent. Hence, you get the enjoyment of saving all that cash for just a little less engineering. And that, ladies and gentlemen, is my definition of "enjoyneering".