Are the optional extras on Seat's hot hatchback worth splashing out for? We find out
The Seat Leon is arguably the dark horse of hot hatchbacks in 2014. Based on VW’s phenomenally successful Golf platform, the Leon Cupra 280 is currently the fastest two-wheel drive hatch to set a lap of the Nurburgring, outpacing all rivals including Vuxhaull’s Astra VXR, the Renault Megame 225 and Ford’s ferocious Fiesta ST. However, it’s worth keeping in mind that no matter how fast you might be able to push it on the track, you’ll be spending most of your time inside the cabin, sticking to the speed limit on your daily commute.
This is where comfort, infotainment and safety become a bigger priority than raw performance, so it’s important to get the best possible configuration before driving your car off the forecourt. In order to see what Seat has to offer Leon customers in 2014, we borrowed a Leon SC FR 2.0 TDi and put it through its paces to see what’s worth upgrading, and what could be left in the stock configuration.
Included as standard
As we’ve come to expect from VW Group cars, Seat is incredibly generous when it comes to standard features. A lot of the kit we’ve listed below will be optional on many other cars, which goes a long way to justifying the higher base price of the Leon. So what does £22,000 on the road get you?
Seat Media System Plus
Top of the list for in-car luxuries is the 5.8in colour touchscreen, which sits recessed into the centre console. The basic leon has a 5in colour display, but the FR upgrades this to 5.8in as part of the SEAT Media System Plus package. It’s fully touch-controlled, although the eight shortcut buttons on either side of the screen helps the driver find a particular function quickly. There’s also a knob for changing the volume of the sound system, so you don’t have to fiddle with the screen. The display is bright, making it easy to read in direct sunlight, and looks fairly sharp too, making text and map routes stand out against the dark background.
The infotainment system includes an AM/FM radio, MP3-compatible CD player, USB port, SD card slot, AUX input and Bluetooth audio streaming, which can all be controlled using the touchscreen, centre console dials or buttons mounted to the steering wheel. Pairing a smartphone will let you download your address book into the car’s computer for quick dialling and voice lookups, and you can also control playback using on-wheel multimedia controls – saving you the need to reach for your smartphone every time you want to change a track.
In its base configuration, the integrated sat-nav system uses 2D graphics rather than 2.5D or 3D images, but still displays important details such as upcoming turns, traffic and congestion. It’s quick and easy to add a destination, either tapping in the address using the touchscreen or selecting from a list of saved favourites, and the audible instructions are clear and concise. YOu can also put driving directions on the trip computer, saving you the need to keep glancing at the centre console when travelling to an unfamiliar destination.
Overall the system is sensibly laid out and responsive to both touch and button commands. It’s not the prettiest UI we’ve seen in a car, but it gets the job done and lets you concentrate on the road.
Dual-zone climate control
Having the ability to set different temperatures on either side of the cabin will certainly please anyone driving long distances with a fussy passenger, even if it does mean using more fuel to power the air conditioning system. Three knobs in the centre console let you control both sides simultaneously, or adjust each side independently. Temperature readouts on either side let you specify to the degree, and the driver can always override the passenger settings using the sync button.
Were this an option it could be difficult to justify spending extra just to offset the temperature by a degree or two, but as a standard feature in the FR it’s a welcome inclusion for those rare times when you can’t come to an agreement on the temperature.
Front and rear parking sensors
Reverse parking is the bane of many a driver, but it doesn’t have to be an issue with the Leon. Both front and rear parking sensors are included as standard on the FR, giving you a visual and aural indicator of how close you’re getting to the cars behind and in front. The Optical Parking System display predicts the path of the car when moving, although we didn’t find this as helpful as a visual readout showing exactly where the objects we were getting close to were in relation to the car.
We felt that the audible beeps were spot on where we would want to stop, as in other systems we’ve found them rather restrained. With the Leon, we never got out after parking thinking we had more space than the parking sensors had let on.
Recessed between the speedo and rev counters, the full colour trip computer has separate screens or navigation, media, telephone and trip metrics, letting you quickly check etting you check the currently playing track, next driving direction, fuel consumed or incoming callers. It’s controlled by the buttons on the right side of the steering wheel, and the colour display certainly stands out between the red dial needles.
As well as these headline features, the FR also includes electrically folding door mirrors – a welcome inclusion for anyone used to parking on busy roads. Of course, the sporty FR spec includes a sports suspension package, tightening the ride and giving you a little extra feedback through the wheel when driving in anger.
There’s an awful lot included with the FR before you need to break out your wallet, but there’s plenty to choose from on the options list too. We’ve gone over some of the most popular add ons to see if they are worth the cash.
By the time you read this, Seat’s limited special offer will have ended and customers will have to pay for the technology pack, which includes LED headlights, an upgraded navigation system and DAB radio. During our test drive it was included as a free upgrade, making it a no-brainer, but now the price makes things a little more complicated. To select it as an option you have to add each part individually, which now qualifies you for a discount. You’re still looking at over £1,000 of extras, but considering that includes the uprated 3D satnav system which is integrated so well into the rest of the centre console, we expect most customers will be opting to add it to their cars.
SEAT sound system – £225
Included as standard with the more expensive Cupra trim, the Seat sound system will set you back an additional £250 if you want it fitted to an FR spec car. It includes a 135 watt, six-channel amplifier, nine speakers and a boot-mounted subwoofer, giving the FR some serious sound power. Throughout our time with the car we played a range of different musical genres, and the Leon didn’t disappoint with any of them; even driving at motorway speeds, we could enjoy the more nuanced details from acoustic and indie tracks, but switching over to rock and electronica brought the subwoofer to life. It’s not enough to rattle the seats, but it’s a welcome step up compared to a standard stereo system and could save music fans the hassle of adding their own aftermarket kit later.
Adaptive cruise control – £505
We’ve tried the VW Group’s adaptive cruise control system in an Automatic Golf, but the Leon gave us our first change to experience it with a manual gearbox. Moving the controls to a stalk, rather than having digital buttons on the steering wheel takes a little while to get used to, although it’s far enough down the steering column that you won’t ever confuse it with the indicator. Once engaged, you can adjust speed and distance or toggle it off temporarily (for when stuck in traffic, for example).
The system is smart enough to slow you down when the car in front does, or someone pulls out into your lane; it reacts quickly and firmly, braking if necessary or simply letting off the accelerator if immediate action isn’t needed. It sets a sensible distance between you and the car in front, giving you time to react if anything dangerous happens on the road ahead of you. It makes motorway driving an absolute breeze, even in the 2.0l manual diesel we drove for this review.
If you’re constantly driving on motorways or routinely travel long distances, £500 is very easy to justify.
Electronic sunroof – £700
This £700 addition might not get a huge amount of use here in the UK, but there’s no question it brings a welcome amount of sunlight into the cabin. The Leon is by no means dark when the sunroof cover is pulled across, but it becomes much brighter when thrown back.
The glass itself is opend using the knob sat between the driver and passenger sunshades. You can twist it part way to open it a crack, or twist and hold to open it fully on sunny days. It’s not particularly quick, but it opens and closees without making a lot of electronic whirring.
By the time you add on the extras, our Leon FR would cost around £24,120 on the road. That’s significantly more cash than the average family hatch, but considering this includes the punchy 2.0litre turbo diesel engine you’re getting an incredible amount of car for your money. While it’s true that the VW Golf provides a little extra luxury for slightly more, you won’t be able to get the same amount of power without going significantly over budget.
With the VW Group’s renowned reliability, excellent set of standard features and some compelling options, the Leon is an excellent family hatch. It’s available on the road from around £16,000, or £21,000 for the FR model reviewed here, from your local Seat dealer.