Skoda, Volkswagen, Audi, and SEAT all have their way of approaching this segment. The new SEAT Leon is one of the lowest in the hierarchy, but being the proverbial underdog often has its advantages. And it really does for the new SEAT Leon 1.5 eTSI FR.

Kept an eye on our social media the past month? Then me getting my hands on the new SEAT Leon can’t have gone unnoticed. I’ll admit straight from the start that I fell for the looks of this car and was way too eager to post photos of it. It wore a lovely color called ‘desire red’ and the rear LED strip was mesmerizing. So much in fact, that after four days I realized photos of the front were missing in the set. Oops. And a month later and subjectivity made way for objectivity and it’s time for my verdict!

What is it?

As always, there’s a need to explain to you folks just what this car is. Being a bit coarse one could say that SEAT has positioned the new Leon as the cheapest but most sporty of all its siblings. It’s a direct competitor to cars like the Ford Focus, Hyundai i30 (review here), Toyota Corolla (review here), and Mazda 3. In terms of size, it measures 1800 mm in width, just under 1500 mm in height with a length of just under 4400 mm. Trunk size? 380 liters and a lot more with the back row down of course. And then there’s the mass, with the new SEAT Leon weighing in at just under 1300 kilograms.

SEAT offers a wide range of engines for the new Leon, but this review is solely about the 1.5 eTSI version. That letter ‘e’ refers to it being a mild hybrid, or MHEV (mild hybrid electric vehicle). Both the petrol and electric power source push out their power onto the front axle. The power unit pushes out 150 horsepower and 250 Nm, making the Leon capable of hitting a hundred in 8.5 seconds.

How does it drive?

Balancing damping correctly between sportiness and comfort isn’t an easy one, but the new SEAT Leon hits that sweet-spot precisely. Cornering it is immensely fun, with very little body roll. Understeer isn’t happening all too quickly either. It’s only when you start pushing the new Leon that you start to notice little, yet forgivable, flaws like somewhat disconnected steering feel, slow reactions to downshifts, and a slightly indirect feeling of the brake pedal. But drive it with socially acceptable norms and you never really feel those little downsides.

The mild-hybrid tech worked with a slight jolt under acceleration when the engine was cold but other than that it did its job impressively. Fuel consumption in the city was an impressive 6l/100km and overall I managed 5.1l/100km. Other technological aids did their job as expected, but the lane-assist cut out earlier than expected in heavy rain.

Looks and feel

I’m a fan of the exterior of the new SEAT Leon, the FR launch package adding to that sporty look and the Desire Red paint just looks tasty. Full-led all round (that LED-bar ❤️) and a projection on the ground saying ‘hola’ make the car feel special.

Climb inside the new Leon and you instantly notice you’re seated correctly. The dashboard and infotainment are where you need them, armrests too. Place your hands on the steering wheel and it hints at its slightly sporty character. Just don’t touch the paddles, they even bend slightly when you use them. Start feeling around and most of the materials feel more than acceptable. Only at the back did it feel a bit like too much plastic.

There are very few buttons to be found inside the car. Most of its functions are controlled via touch-based surfaces or either via the infotainment. The latter is quick to respond, but sadly without haptic feedback. Its layout is intuitive to use and can be tuned slightly, or you can choose to use the flashy preset SEAT offers.

Overall impression & verdict

The new SEAT Leon surprised me tremendously in terms of looks, chassis response, and overall presence. SEAT appeals to one’s playfulness with details like the projector saying ‘hola’ and its engaging drive. It’s a balanced package composed of a serious car and nonchalance that makes it a loveable whole. Take into account that the SEAT Leon’s prices start at just over 21k in euros (BE), and you should be realising that you’re getting a lot of car for your money. The car I drove would set you back 25.400 euros.

Want to know what Audi made of the SEAT Leon’s sibling, the A3? Then check out Beau’s review here.