Verdict on latest spicy diesel hatchback
The entry-level 138bhp FR diesel looks the part, and delivers a strong mix of real-world pace, miserly running costs and practicality. But it lacks the sparkle of the more powerful 168bhp model. While it’s keenly priced and well equipped compared to rivals, the quicker FR+ is only £1,195 more, marginally less efficient and adds proper hot hatch pace to the Leon’s pleasing overall dynamic package. Sport sells, especially for SEAT. So the company has widened its FR performance sub-brand to include two new models, and also spiced up the existing range.
One in four Leons sold wears the sporty FR badge, and that proportion should increase now the line-up has been split into FR and FR+. The FR gets the choice of 123bhp 1.4-litre TSI petrol or 138bhp 2.0 TDI diesel engines, while the FR+ has either a 208bhp 2.0 TSI or a 168bhp 2.0 TDI. We tried the 138bhp FR diesel – set to be one of the best sellers.
Video: watch CarBuyer’s video review of the SEAT Leon
Although the Leon is getting a little long in the tooth now, it’s still a striking alternative to the Ford Focus and VW Golf. The FR builds on these good looks, adding a deeper front grille, more aggressive bumpers, twin chrome exhausts and subtle FR badging. It sits on a set of 17-inch alloys, and contrasting silver door mirrors and neat LED tail-lights complete the effect.
The cabin has been given a similarly sporty revamp, with the flat-bottomed leather steering wheel, grippier sports seats and large central rev-counter pushing the right performance buttons.
All of the major controls feel extremely precise and well built thanks to their VW Group origins, and there’s plenty of space, too. The plastics used in the centre console could be better, though.
With 138bhp at your disposal, this FR is a warm hatch, rather than a full-blown hot hatch, but it’s still no slouch. It serves up 320Nm of torque, provides lots of punch for overtaking and feels faster than its 0-62mph time of 9.5 seconds suggests.
Buyers choosing this model over a higher-powered Leon will feel the benefit at the pumps, with the FR returning close to 60mpg. The 125g/km emissions mean road tax is £20 a year less than for the 168bhp version, too.
While the smooth and refined diesel engine pulls strongly in any gear, you have to work the crisp six-speed manual box to keep momentum high. The FR feels more at home cruising on the motorway than it does blasting down back roads.
The muted exhaust note doesn’t help, and you soon find that under the sporty body, the new FR is a capable and stylish, but rather ordinary, hatchback.
* Price: £20,245
* Engine: 2.0-litre 4cyl diesel
* Power/torque: 138bhp/320Nm
* Transmission: Six-speed manual, front-wheel drive
* 0-62/top spd: 9.5 secs/127mph
* Econ/CO2: 58.9mpg/125g/km
* Equipment: 17-inch alloy wheels, air-conditioning, ESP, automatic headlights, rain-sensing wipers, multifunction leather sports steering wheel, electric windows, LED tail-lights, parking sensors
* On sale: Now