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2007 Seat Leon 1.9TDi Reference - 17th October 2007

Review

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When the latest Leon was launched in 2005 I thought it was a breath of fresh air, a departure from the mainstream. It made the competition like the Golf, Focus and Astra look bland. Although, lets be fair, they manage to do that on their own anyway. Until the C4 came along it was certainly the most interesting design in the class and must have moved Seat up in the desirability league in many people’s minds, including mine. Seat bill it as a 5-door hatchback with the appearance of a modern coupe and I can see where they’re coming from. I finally got to try one recently in Majorca. So, did it meet my expectations?

First impressions are very good. The styling still has the edge in an otherwise dull market. The colour of this one, Brisa Blue, enhances the look allowing the observers’ eyes to follow the lines and pick out the neat designs touches, something you don’t always get with a dark colour. Unfortunately the steel wheels with plastic covers are a little disappointing. I have to confess I’m a bit of a wheel man and the size and design of a car’s wheels can make or break it for me, so I’d always go for a model with nice alloys.

One of the most obvious design touches is the lack of a typical rear door handle. Instead of the standard surface mounted handle, the Leon’s is set high up on the inside edge of the door with a recess in the rear quarter light. Whilst this is not a new idea Seat has implemented it rather well and with pleasing results. My only concern was how a new user would find it. So, I decided to have a little fun at my 9 year-old daughter’s expense. I told her that her challenge for the day was to open the back door and get in. So, she approached the car (“this should be fun” I thought), she opened the door and got in. No drama, no confusion, no messing...no fun there then. So it passed the test...form and function.

Other neat touches are the large Seat badge which doubles as the boot release, a VW/Seat favourite these days, and the wipers which tuck away into the windscreen pillars when not in use, which must help achieve the claimed fuel economy of 56.5mpg

Inside, the good times continue. The seats are comfortable and even after several hours punting around the mountain roads and hairpins on Majorca’s North Western coast there were no complaints. Finding a suitable driving position is easy and there is plenty of leg, head and arm room. All the controls fall easily to hand and have a well weighted and solid feel. The indicators have the now obligatory ’quick flick for three flashes’ function, mirrors adjust and fold electrically and there are electric windows all round. The radio looks complicated but didn’t take long to sort out...although after a couple of minutes listening to local Majorcan radio I quickly found the off button and never bothered with it again. It also has an auxiliary input (3mm jack) located in the centre console so you can plug your mp3 player in and enjoy your whole music collection on the road (even my dad would like that - he’s 68 and asked me to buy him an mp3 player for his recent birthday!)

The layout and design of the dash is excellent and it lights up in a soothing red colour at night. Whilst the design is good the quality of materials could be better. I’m a very touchy feely person when it comes to car interiors and I like to prod and squeeze everything. Much of the Leon’s plastic looks and feels hard and brittle and that upsets me. My own Kia Sorento (a perceived budget brand - although that’s an image Kia is working hard to change) is far superior in terms of quality of feel. Plastics aside however, the interior is hard to fault.

There’s a reasonable amount of storage space inside, although the door pockets seemed rather narrow, and the boot is a good size. The problem with the boot is the size of the opening, which is narrow with a high boot lip and a low (ish) roofline. It’s similar to the Astra in this respect but far less practical than the Golf or Focus and would certainly hamper my regular trips to the local dump or DIY store.

Once on the move one thing becomes immediately noticeable. That swooping design results in a long and shallow rake to the windscreen and A pillars and this seriously restricts forward visibility. Wherever I positioned myself it seemed to be a problem on every corner, no matter how sharp. At first I figured the problem was due to my unfamiliarity with driving a left-hand drive car and the disconcerting affect of looking to the right and seeing somebody sat there. I soon got used to that but the visibility issue never went away. Okay, so most cars have A pillars which get in the way to some extent, it just seems to be more of an issue here.

Majorca’s mountain roads are a great place to chuck a car around and the Leon was well up to the job. With the family on board and on unfamiliar roads I was never going to get anywhere near the cars limits. Even so, the steering felt quick and accurate, the handling safe and confidence inspiring and the ride quality on the comfortable side of sporty. The brakes felt powerful and progressive although maybe a little over-assisted, especially at low speed. The engine pulls well from 1800rpm until it runs out of puff at around 4000rpm. For most of the mountain bends second gear was adequate and the pull from this 105PS diesel engine was often enough to have the front tyres scrabbling for grip. Some of the more serious hairpins required a drop down to first gear, giving the front tyres even more of a hard time. The gearchange was light and accurate and certainly didn’t hamper progress and the throttle and clutch actions made smooth gearchanges a doddle.

The mountain roads with the constant acceleration and deceleration showed up the main weakness of this engine...refinement. To be honest I’ve driven numerous cars with this engine in varying states of tune and also with the VAG group’s 2 litre TDI engine, including Golfs, Passats, A4s, A6s and this Leon, and they all suffer the same problem. A characteristic gruffness to its sound, a kind of rough, hard-edged grumbly noise which just isn’t pleasant, especially to someone like me who has a great deal of mechanical sympathy. My Sorento, whilst certainly not the most refined diesel on the planet, just sounds like...well...a diesel. This just sounds rough.

Once up to speed on faster more open roads however, the engine noise is less of an issue and it soon dissipates into the background. Wind noise too is well suppressed, I’m sure helped by those wipers. What is not dealt with so well though is road noise which is always noticeable, sometimes to an intrusive extent.

As I handed the keys back to the rental agent after the three days I was left pondering a question I always like to ask myself when I drive a different car...did it thrill me? Well...in a word...no. There are so many good cars around these days, and this is certainly one of them, but thrilling is not in its repertoire. Then again, the type of person who buys this car probably isn’t looking for thrills.

It looks great, it’s comfortable, well equipped, enjoyable to drive and economical. At around £12,500 (after a bit of haggling) it’s good value too. Would I buy one? No. The boot’s too small for my needs, the forward visibility would annoy the hell out of me and that engine would have me going deaf...not because it’s particularly loud but because I’d have the stereo turned up to 12 to make sure I never had to hear it. Still, I wouldn’t mind having a go in the 2.0TFSi Cupra. I’ll bet that could change my opinion.

Gav.

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