Introduction of hybrid technology adds extra appeal to the new Leon as it mixes SEAT’s two core values: dynamics and efficiency
Aside from the Mii Electric (which is basically a re-badged Volkswagen e-up) SEAT has not exactly been forthcoming in embracing electrified mobility – leaving buyers to look to its sister brands for zero emission choices. However, that’s now all set to change with the self-proclaimed young-spirited brand now offering its large family hatchback – the Leon – with plug-in hybrid technology to help move them in a new direction as the world shifts to a more sustainable future. The fourth generation Leon not only integrates an electric motor and lithium-ion battery to both its five door and estate bodies, but it also ups the bar in terms of connectivity, handling and safety. We spend a week behind the wheel of the FR hatchback to see what it’s like.
The development of the SEAT Leon e-HYBRID is possible thanks to the Volkswagen Group’s MQB Evo architecture that underpins the vehicle. The system mates a 147bhp 1.4-litre TSI petrol engine with an 114bhp electric engine to produce an overall output of 201bhp and 243lb-ft of torque. The engine, which uses its turbocharger and direct-injection technology to maximise performance and efficiency, has been specifically configured to run within the plug-in hybrid setup, and as a result the system switches between the different driving modes instantly and seamlessly. Unlike a lot of hybrids it’s very quiet and slick.
The Leon e-HYBRID always starts in all-electric mode (providing the battery is sufficiently charged of course), and then switches to Hybrid mode when the battery is running low or if the speed rises above 87mph. The driver is also able to maintain the battery’s state of charge, saving it – for example –when entering zero emission zones. One of the benefits of a PHEV is that when in electric mode, power is instantaneous and as a result the Leon e-HYBRID has a respectable 0-62mph time of 7.5 seconds before going on to a top speed of 137mph.
The new SEAT Leon’s six-speed DSG automatic transmission now benefits from shift-by-wire technology, meaning it uses electronic signals to select gears rather than having to use a physical shifter, in addition some components were removed reducing the unit’s weight. As a result it’s more efficient, enabling fuel savings of up to 10 per cent compared to the outgoing manual, and the gear change is a lot smoother and almost imperceptible. Unlike a lot of hybrids it’s very quiet, too. There are paddles on the back of the steering wheel for shifting manually but it doesn’t respond as well as leaving the gearbox to its own devices.
The e-HYBRID system obviously requires more space so it has been packaged to maximise dynamics with the engine, motor and Power Control Unit under the bonnet and the lithium-ion battery and fuel tank at the rear. There is however still a weight penalty with the heaviest combustion engined SEAT Leon (1.5 eTSI DSG-auto 150PS) tipping the scales at 1361kg (with driver), compared to 1614kg for the e-HYBRID. Saying that, it still boasts the same credentials as its petrol and diesel siblings with good body control, responsive steering and a punchy powertrain.
The ride errs on the side of firm but it’s involving to drive when you turn off the main roads – probably because it’s the only Seat-badged Leon in the current range to get multi-link rear suspension (in addition to front MacPherson struts) and Dynamic Chassis Control which constantly reads the conditions ahead, considering steering input, braking and acceleration, to optimise damping at each wheel. There are four chassis driving mode pre-sets: Eco, Normal, Sport and Individual. It’s no hot hatch (even in Sports mode), but the e-HYBRID still offers an engaging handling set-up while proving a great mile-muncher.
The brake pedal provides consistent feedback, and unlike a lot of hybrids the regenerative system isn’t intrusive. Some journalists have criticised it for not being able to manually adjust it and while that means it won’t allow for one-pedal driving, with a route plugged into the sat nav, we found it to be very intuitive kicking in when approaching a junction for example or when the speed limit decreases.
With a 13kWh lithium-ion battery pack, the SEAT Leon can travel for up to 40 miles in all-electric mode, and when using both electric and petrol engines, the SEAT Leon e-HYBRID can reach up to 497 miles. In real-world use we were getting closer to low 30s but that’s fine for a lot of people. When you do run out of range, the battery can be plugged in and replenished in as little as three hours and 40 minutes with a 3.6kW charger (like a wall box), or little less than six hours charging via a 3-pin socket.
Thanks to the plug-in hybrid technology it produces CO2 emissions of between 25 and 30g/km and starting with a full battery we were averaging around 85mpg on mixed roads – nowhere near the official fuel economy range of 214 but decent nonetheless. The low tax costs will be appealing for company car drivers with 6 per cent Benefit in Kind while the car’s useable range and low running costs (assuming you can regularly plug in) make it ideal for private buyers who are after a practical family car.
The Leon gets the same three-year/60,000-mile guarantee as every other VW Group car which is some two to three years short of policies on offer from say Hyundai, Toyota, Kia and MG. On the upside, the e-Hybrid falls into insurance group 26 or 27 – more than the petrol equivalent Leon but less than the Mercedes A-Class hybrid, and road tax for alternatively fuelled vehicles is £10 less a year than combustion-engined models.
The design of the LEON is inspired by, wait for it, the light of Barcelona. Make of that what you will, but to add some credibility to that fluffy statement is was at least designed, developed and produced at the car maker’s HQ in Martorell, just outside of Spain’s enchanting seaside city. The only tell-tale signs that it’s a hybrid are the flap covering its charging port on the front wing and e-HYBRID lettering on the right side of the tailgate.
Despite the new Leon increasing in length by 86mm, it’s 17mm narrower and 3mm lower. Drag co-efficient has improved by around 8 per cent compared to its predecessor and with its blend of sharp edges and flowing curves it’s a good-looking car. Don’t take our word for it, it got more than a few admiring looks and comments over our time with it. Up front there’s a stronger three dimensional connection between the grille and lighting, talking of which the headlights are set back creating what SEAT call an eyebrow effect. The side mirrors now include integrated LED indicators and the driver and passenger benefit from some rather cool welcome lights that project the word Hola! on the ground. At the rear a full-width LED strip, together with the roof spoiler and dual chrome exhaust pipes all help to make it look sportier.
Inside, there’s a central 10” infotainment screen and a 10.25” digital cockpit – which comes as standard in the e-HYBRID version and provides information such as what mode the vehicle is running and battery state of charge. The notification system is very good, in that it prompts you with information such as phone charging status or sat nav turns then goes away, we also like how configurable it is. The media system includes gesture recognition to reduce the number of buttons in the cabin and the diagonal graphic design theme of the screen is inspired by one of Barcelona's most important avenues Avinguda Diagonal, which cuts the city in two diagonally with respect to the grid pattern of the surrounding streets. It’s slightly fiddly to use on the move (it can take up to three inputs to change drive modes, for example), but we liked the fact that it intuitively splits into three segments for the sat nav, radio and phone.
Interior light is an important feature of the all-new Leon and includes a wraparound dashboard light that covers its entire width and through to the doors and changes depending on what drive profile you’re in as well as helping to identify several key functions such as blind spot detection or exit assist. The cabin is not particularly inspiring or plush as say the Mercedes A 250 e with a lot of plastics on show, but it is comfortable, functional and minimal. Equipment levels are impressive, too, even on basic FR trim as per our test car (which included 17” alloy wheels, four USB ports, wireless device charger, three zone climate control, electric windows front and rear and park assist). You can choose to step up to FR Sport, Xcellence and Xcellence Lux.
The Leon is SEAT’s first fully connected car – that basically means you can bring your favourite contact list, music and mapping systems into the car via Apply CarPlay or Android Auto, and with the Connect app it gives you remote control over a range of functions including the ability to access driving data, parking position, lock and unlock the vehicle, as well as PHEV specific features such as manage the charge process and pre-heat the cabin. And thanks to an embedded SIM it means e-HYBRID will never lose its connection to the digital world, and, in future developments, the system will allow users to access the latest infotainment apps which can be updated at any time.
The e-HYBRID also features a range of new advanced driver assistance systems including Predictive Adaptive Cruise Control (ACC), which can position the car based on route and GPS data delivered from the navigation system, also allowing it to correct its speed depending on the road layout ahead, Emergency Assist, Travel Assist (which uses information from the ACC and Lane Assist to actively keep the vehicle in the centre of the lane and adjust speed to the flow of the traffic) and Side and Exit assist (when stationary and opening a door, the vehicle will give an audible and visual warning if traffic is coming).
Space in the rear hasn’t been compromised meaning there’s room for four adults or a family of five and storage around the cabin is pretty decent, but the luggage capacity has taken a hit as a result of the petrol-electric drivetrain – with the 5-door version offering 270 litres (loosing 110 litres) and there’s no under-floor storage for the cables. If you’re after more space your best bet is to opt for the more versatile Sportstourer with 470 litres which costs an extra £1030.
The SEAT Leon has always been an important vehicle to the brand, having accumulated more than 2.3 million sales since its introduction in 1999. And this latest incarnation should help to take the brand to the next level thanks to its advanced plug-in hybrid powertrain giving it a liveable electric range for the average person. It also has price on its side, starting from just under £31,000 making it one of the most affordable plug-in hybrids on the market (just a few hundred more than the Kia Niro and Hyundai Ioniq), it’s decent to drive, looks good, boasts appealing in-car tech and is easy to live with. Put simply it’s a good all-rounder, and if it inspires more people to go fully electric for their next car, even better.
Price (RRP OTR): From £30,970; as tested £31,115
Top speed: 137mph
0-62mph: 7.5 seconds
Driving range: 40 miles
CO2 emissions: 25-30g/km
Fuel consumption: 214-181mpg
Charging time: 3 hours 42 mins (3.2kW/h, 0-100 %); 5 hours 48 minutes (2.3kW/h, 0-100%)
Insurance group: 26
Vehicle warranty: 3 years/60,000miles