The Seat Leon is a five-door hatchback that makes up for its Volkswagen Golf-derived underpinnings with design flair and sporty good looks. The 2005-12 Seat Leon is fun to drive, economical to run in its diesel forms and affordable to buy.
But anyone interested in this pre-February 2013 model, when the superior Mk 3 was introduced, needs to be confident of one of two things: one, they love it and don’t want for anything else; two, most modern family hatchbacks are much of a muchness and they’ve been offered a whopping discount on the old version.
There are basic models at basic prices and hot versions to compete with the likes of the Golf GTI or Ford Focus ST. All adhere to the five-door hatchback formula. Our pick would be the 1.6 TDI Ecomotive, a model designed with penny-pinchers in mind. Its engine is ultra-frugal and the low emissions mean it qualifies for road tax exemption.
That the Leon looks more rakish and sporting than a VW Golf is no coincidence — it has been engineered to offer a sporty driving experience. So the steering, ride comfort and road holding deliberately err on the boy racer side of the hatchback spectrum. That’s fine, just so long as the driver’s passengers don’t mind suffering a stiff ride, which does a great job of reminding everyone on board how Britain’s road network is deteriorating.
Our pick of the range, the 1.6-litre TDI, offers acceptable performance, with a healthy helping of torque low in the rev range at 1500rpm. If you’re in a real hurry, compare it with the 2.0 TDI before signing on the dotted line, but remember that the smaller engine offers the potential for over 70mpg and is exempt from road tax as it emits an average of 99g/km of CO2. The handling is quite sporty but mid-bend bumps can upset its composure, and general refinement levels aren’t as impressive as rivals, such as the new Ford Focus.
This Leon was built as a five-door hatchback only. There is a price to pay for its rakish roofline; namely, a faint feeling of claustrophobia in the rear seats, as the roofline drops down steeply and the rear door handles have been designed to accentuate this stylish look, by being hidden away high behind the windows. It looks good but darkens the rear seating area.
The front of the cabin is practical, with plenty of stowage space, an excellent driving position and straightforward dashboard controls, but it’s not exactly what you’d call a jolly space. It feels dark, moody and a little bit basic in places.
The boot offers 341 litres of space and the rear seats split and fold, and it’s a good square shape.
What to look out for when buying a used Seat Leon Mk 2
Assembled largely from familiar and well-proven Volkswagen Group components, the Spanish-built Seat Leon should be fairly solid. However, VW itself has had a by no means exemplary record in recent years, and the Leon Mk 2 suffered some of the same ailments. Known problems include a stiff synchromesh in the six-speed manual gearbox, failure of the fuel injectors in some diesel engines, ignition coil failure in the 2-litre petrols and excessive oil consumption in engines including the TSI petrols.
Owners have also reported noisy DSG (dual-clutch) gearboxes, problems with the stability control and antilock braking, seized oil pumps, throttle pedal problems, failure of diesel particulate filters, faulty airbag sensors, water leaks through the windows, wiper failure, dashboard/instrument panel failure, climate control failure, electric window failure and a lot of general rattles and build quality defects including easily chipped paint. Not all at once, though. The Seat Leon has been recalled several times, for potential flywheel failure (in the 2.0 TDI with manual gearbox), for sudden power loss from the DSG transmission and for fuel leaks.
It has improved over the years, however, scoring sixth in class in the 2012 JD Power survey and 75th in the Warranty Direct Top 100 for reliability, plus mediocre-to-average results in surveys by Which?.
The One to Buy
Seat Leon 1.4 TSI Sport
- Check Seat Leon used car prices
- 1598cc, 4-cylinder diesel
- 105bhp @ 4400rpm
- 184 lb ft @ 1500rpm
- 5-speed manual
- 0-62mph in 11.5sec
- Top Speed:
- Road Tax Band:
- A (nothing to pay)
- L 4315mm, W 1768mm, H 1455mm