Steve Sharpe tests SEAT’s three-door family hatchback
The SEAT Leon SC – short for sports coupe – is the three-door version of SEAT’s impressive five door family hatchback
It’s based on the same Volkswagen chassis as the Golf, Audi’s A3 and Skoda’s Octavia.
Although the SC model has a 35mm shorter wheelbase than the five-door, handily the boot space is the same. And as well as that the three-door shares the same striking looks as its larger sibling.
The five-door version, with its sculpted panels, smooth lines and hidden rear door handles, certainly looks the part, and the same can be said of this coupe version.
Slightly lower, more squat, and sporty looking than the five-door version, it’s another example of how far SEAT as a company have come.
Inside things are very similar to the five-door version.
Losing the rear doors has resulted in a small amount of headroom and legroom lost in the rear, but although things are cosy, two normal sized adults will be quite happy to travel there, with a third smaller in the centre if needs be.
Up front you’ll get no complaints concerning headroom and legroom, either.
The cabin itself is smart and stylish, in an unspectacular way.
The colour scheme is dark, lifted by the red lighting displays and occasional stitching, and the dials are simple and clear.
The central console is refreshingly straightforward – the three heating knobs are set within easy reach, and the windscreen de-mister, which works with just a push of the button, can be operated while your hand is on the gearstick. Very useful on dank, autumn mornings.
The sporty seats are comfortable and supportive, and you can get a wide view of what’s going on around you, thanks to good visibility all around, including the around the rear columns.
Build quality is good in general, although there were a few squeaks and judders from the dash on my test car, which would become annoying.
Three petrol engines are available in the range – a 1.2 TSI 105 PS, a 1.4 TSI 140 PS and a 1.8 TSI 180 PS, and two diesels – 1.6-litre and 2.0-litre.
I drove the top-of-the-range 2.0-litre diesel FR version – and that’s where the Leon SC really gets interesting.
Because that 2.0-litre engine provides the SC with a cracking drive.
Switch on the ignition and you get a lovely, throbbing tone coming from under the bonnet.
You have to be careful with the clutch, as I found it a bit jumpy at the start, but once that’s sorted, the Leon is a hugely enjoyable car to drive.
Many sporty-looking hatches turn in a slightly disappointing performance while ensuring the best economy figures they can, but this FR model combines both to superb effect.
It will rocket from 0-60 in 7.5 seconds, yet still turns in mpg figures of the mid-60s (although I suspect that figure will drop depending on who’s driving).
What’s impressive about the Leon is the distribution of power.
Acceleration is crisp right from standstill, but dip the accelerator and you get another surge as revs rise.
It’s responsive right through the gears, and even in top while cruising at speed you will get a reaction when you need some extra power. And it’s all accompanied by a satisfying, muted roar.
The six-speed manual gearbox is slick, and you can slip up and down with ease.
Steering is well-weighted and sharp and the suspension is set up as an effective compromise between comfortable and sporty.
There’s little lean while cornering, the tyres grip well and the direct steering ensures effortless cornering, even on the sharpest bends.
Yet the SC is happy to soak up road imperfections at low speeds on the urban run, too.
You really do get the best of both worlds.
Engine noise is well controlled, especially at lower speeds, and while there is some wind noise and road noise coming through, it’s barely worth mentioning.
It all adds up to family hatchback with reasonable levels of room, which is hugely enjoyable to drive and which is remarkably frugal.
When you consider how the Leon is priced it really makes it a tempting option.
This sporty three-door hatchback is cheaper than many of its big-name rivals like the Audi A3 or BMW 1 series, and even undercuts its stablemate the Golf.
Emissions have been reduced so road tax is cheaper, plus you get that mid-60s miles per gallon.
You also benefit from high levels of standard equipment throughout the three trims – the entry S models have air conditioning, heated side mirrors, front electric windows, touch-screen media system, CD player, six-speakers, Bluetooth phone connectivity, remote audio controls, electronic stability control, seven airbags, ISOFIX child seat points, central locking and an alarm.
SE adds stuff like 16-inch alloys, cruise control, rear electric windows, and Hill Hold Control, while the top-spec FR models feature bigger alloys, LED tail lights, dual-zone climate control, front and rear parking sensors, dark tinted rear windows, electric folding mirrors, a cracking eight-speaker stereo and front sports seats
The Leon SC is a hugely enjoyable car to drive, with great handling and powerful acceleration, and with the ability to cruise comfortably on the motorway or chug around town to the shops or the kids’ school.
SEAT have made sure that the SC ticks all the boxes a modern family hatchback should – stylish, practical (even without rear doors) plus good value for money, both in price and running costs.
It’s an impressive and a truly tempting package.
SEAT Leon SC
Engine: 2litre diesel.
Transmission: Six-speed manual.
0-62: 7.5 seconds
Top Speed: 142mph.
Economy: Avg 65.7mpg