SEAT Leon FR – Better Than A Ford Focus?

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Stylish, isn’t it? Look at it, lines as sharp as surgeon’s scalpel and lights that look like they’ve come from the future. Even the key is sexy; black and glossy, like an expensive smartphone.

The car you’re looking at is the new SEAT Leon, which has now entered its fourth generation. More specifically, this is the FR variant. FR stands for Formula Racing, so as you can guess, this means it’s sportier, although you’ll want the Cupra Leon if you want the full-fat sporty one. The FR features a more aggressive design to the front bumper, 17” alloys, and double exhausts, which are *cough* fake.

Stylish, but minimal

Step inside, and you’ll find a smart, but minimalistic interior. So minimalistic, that you may even forget you’re in an FR. There’s just one, lonesome FR badge, which is on the steering wheel, whereas in an Ibiza FR I used to own, it also featured FR badging on the gear lever and the front seats – it seemed more proud of what it was.

Still, the modern Leon FR features a sporty steering wheel with flat bottom, front sport seats and plenty of red stitching, which if you ask me, should be the staple of any hot hatchback. Moving away from the sporty elements of the car, there’s very little in here at all, which is a good thing, but also a bad thing.

For starters, the cabin feels decluttered, and clean, but what SEAT has giveth with one hand, it has taketh away with the other. Without sounding like a bit of a grumpy, moany old man, I really don’t like the fact there are no physical controls for the climate control. It’s all controlled through a visually wonderful 10” touchscreen and when you’re trying to operate it whilst driving, it’s annoying fiddly. Yes, there is voice recognition to get around this, but I’d still much rather have physical controls. If Audi can still do it, why can’t SEAT.

Using the touchscreen in general is not quite as intuitive as it could be as the volume controls are at the bottom of the touchscreen and right in the middle, the place you’ll likely to want to place you hand for support when operating this glossy slab of technology. This means you will probably alter the volume by mistake – that can be annoying. All of sudden, my views of this car seem quite negative, so let me redress the balance.

How does it drive?

The new Leon comes with a good range of engines including, petrol, mild hybrid, plug in hybrid and diesel – yes, diesel is still a thing for SEAT. This means there should be something for everyone – unless you want full EV, of course. The engine tested here is the 1.5 litre four cylinder turbocharged petrol, which offers 130hp, along with 200Nm of torque, which is fed to the front wheels via a 6-speed manual gearbox.

SEAT Leon FR

I’ll be honest, I thought the headline figures were going to offer a bit of a lacklustre drive, and when you bear in mind it takes over 9 seconds – 9.4 to be exact – to hit 62mph, you can see my concerns. However, this engine feels pleasingly punchy, although you can have a 150hp engine if you want more oomph. By the way, that engine also has the mild hybrid system, but can only be had with a 7-speed automatic.

SEAT Leon FR

This 130hp performs well, although I’d never call it fast, but it’s nippy and offers enough get-up-and-go not to feel sluggish. I would personally avoid the 110hp unit as I reckon that would feel a little bit sluggish. The 6-speed manual gearbox in which the engine is attached to works well. The changes aren’t quite as satisfying as the Ford Focus, but they still feel solid, assured, and well weighted. Like the Focus, the Leon offers a choice of four driving modes; Normal, Eco, Sport, or Individual, all of which are pretty straight forward.

SEAT Leon FR

With this being the FR, the chassis features sports suspension, therefore the ride is firm. I wouldn’t say it’s uncomfortable, though, but I would say a Focus ST-Line is a bit more forgiving and compliant in its ride, so that’s worth bearing mind. The Leon can feel a bit lumpy at slower speeds, but it does get smoother with speed, particularly on the motorway, but even then, I wouldn’t say the chassis feels completely relaxed.

On the plus side, the driver’s seat is comfortable and offers a good amount of support, which comes in handy when the mood strikes you to attack some corners. This is where the sports suspension makes sense, and where the Leon shines. There’s limited body roll in the corners, the steering has a decent weight to it, there’s strong levels of grip, and the brakes perform well.

SEAT Leon FR
The inside is a bit more sombre compared to previous FRs.

It’s safe to say the Leon is very competent in the twisties, but when all is said and done, I’d argue the Focus is that bit more fun, it just feels a bit more playful. Having said that, I still enjoy threading the Leon through corners.

How much is it? What’s included?

There’s an ample choice of trim levels available, with no less than six on offer; SE, SE Dynamic, FR, FR Sport, XCELLENCE and XCELLENCE Lux, which range from £22,225 through to £29,715.

As mentioned, this is the FR, which starts from £25,555 but the car seen in this video is £25,885 as it has a more powerful engine. Standard features include FR styling, sport suspension, 17” alloys, LED headlights and rear lights, 10” touchscreen, DAB radio, Bluetooth, smartphone connectivity, navigation, digital cockpit, three zone climate control, wireless phone charger, keyless start, tinted rear windows, SEAT drive profile, front and rear parking sensors, and cruise control with speed limiter.

On top of that, there’s safety features including 6 airbags, lane keep assist, autonomous emergency braking, brake control system and driver alert system. At the time of filming the Leon is yet to be crash tested by Euro NCAP but the signs look good for a high score.

Ask Aaron

What do you think of the looks?

I think it’s a smart looking car, but I don’t think this Magnetic Grey paintwork flatters the design in my opinion.

Is it basically a Ford Focus?

No, but the two cars are very similar in quite a few different aspects.

Not a question, but those are the coolest rear lights I’ve seen

Yes, they are pretty snazzy, aren’t they?

SEAT Leon FR

As good as a Focus?

Yes, and in some ways, it’s better. Compared to the equivalent Ford Focus ST-Line it’s cheaper, and offers features such as digital cockpit, larger touchscreen, three zone climate control, better performance and a slightly bigger boot. Ok, it’s only 5 litres, but it all counts. As I said earlier, though, I’d say the Focus is a bit more fun to drive, and the ride is also a little bit better.

What’s the steering feel and ride comfort like maestro?

Steering feel is pretty good, but from memory I’d say the Focus is a bit better. As I mentioned earlier, the ride is a bit lumpy at slower speeds and it is firm, but it does get smoother with speed.

Would you take this over Leo?

Well, that is a good question. Don’t get me wrong, this would be the easier car to live with as it offers more space and it has many more mod cons, but as a device to offer properly exciting performance, my M2 Leon Cupra otherwise known as ‘Leo’ wins hands down.

Is it really an FR, or is it a badge and trim level? Like a diesel AMG?

Well that’s an interesting question. Going back to the Mk2 Leon, the FR variant had the same engine as the Golf GTI of the same era – the Mk5. This meant offering 200hp, which was pretty agreeable, whereas the new Leon FR offers a maximum of 150hp and the gap between FR and Cupra isn’t quite as close as it used to be, probably a deliberate move by the Spanish brand to make a clear separation between the two.

Yes, that is a bit of a vague way to answer your question but I’d say it’s a bit of both. It still offers decent performance and handling, but it doesn’t seem quite as sporty as it used to.

Is it practical? 

Right, let’s cover practicality, and start with the boot. Open the tailgate and you’ll be greeted by 380 litres worth of space, which is about average for its class, and actually exactly the same as the last generation Leon. If you want a hatchback with a bigger boot then you’ll want to take a look at the Leon’s sibling, the Skoda Octavia – that offers a very impressive 600 litres. There’s quite a large load lip, so you may find loading bigger or heavier items on to the boot floor a bit tricky.

If you want even more space you can of course fold down the 60/40 rear seats to offer 1,210 litres. If you need even more than this, then there is the option to have this as an estate, which offers 617 litres, which is 30 more than the Mk3. There’s a hook either side so you can hang up a bag, and there’s a 12v socket. For those of you wondering, there’s no spare wheel, but there’s a tyre repair kit.

The boot may be the same as before, but rear space has been improved thanks to a wheelbase that has been increased by 50mm. As always the driver’s seat has been set for me, I’m 6’2” so I am of course a taller chap. Despite this, the room back here is agreeable. I’ve got a good amount of leg room and knee room, and I’ve got more headroom than I was expecting, although the new car offers 1mm less than before. I know, scandalous, right?

I think it may be a bit tight to get three adults back here, but it’ll be fine for two, and there are of course isofix points if you’re more concerned about carrying children. In regard to practicality, the doorbins offer a good size, and the centre armrest offers 3 cupholders. There are also two USB charging points, but SEAT has decided to go for USB type C, which means you’ll probably need an adaptor.

The front also offers a good amount of space and it’s easy to get comfortable as the steering wheel adjusts for rake and reach, and the driver’s seat also offers a good level of adjustment. In regard to practicality, the doorbins offer a good size, there’s two cupholders in the middle, a slot down here where you can place your smartphone, and as I mentioned earlier, this car comes standard with wireless phone charging. There’s also two more type C USB ports.

There’s a decent amount of storage under the centre armrest as well as a 12v socket and last but not least, you have a glovebox that offers a good amount of space.

Conclusion

There’s quite a bit to like about the new SEAT Leon FR, and I can think of a fair few reasons to buy it. It looks the part, plenty of kit and tech, a decent amount of practicality, a rewarding drive and a competitive price. Some may find the ride a bit firm, though, and the touchscreen a bit too fiddly, but I wouldn’t say those are deal-breakers.

SEAT Leon FR

Car Obsession Rating: 4 out of 5 stars (4 / 5)

Pros:

  • Stylish
  • Rewarding drive
  • Plenty of kit
  • Strong choice of engines

Cons:

  • Fiddly touchscreen
  • Doesn’t feel as sporty as previous FRs
  • Ride could be a bit too firm for some

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