SEAT's short wheelbase three-door Leon SC model offers a smarter styling and an updated feel. Jonathan Crouch reports.
Ten Second Review
SEAT is supposed to be about 'enjoyneering', a marketing phrase the Spanish maker thinks is suggestive of dynamic driving, striking design and German technology. If all of that's true, then we should certainly see it in this car, the Leon SC, a shorter, sportier version of the company's recently improved best selling family hatch.
The SEAT Leon has always had an inherently sporty feel and it's an aspect of this model line's character that is most emphasised by the variant we're looking at here, the coupe-style three-door SC variant. Like the rest of the Leon range, this derivative has recently been updated with smarter styling, improved media connectivity, extra safety provision and some fresh new engine options. The existence of the SC bodystyle is made possible by the clever MQB - or 'Modular Transverse Matrix' - platform around which the structure of all the Volkswagen Group's Golf-sized compact family cars are now based. Thanks to this, models can suddenly be lengthened or shortened almost at will by the constituent companies in the Wolfsburg empire, SEAT of course its Spanish outpost. So the Barcelona brand can easily lengthen its Leon family hatch to create the ST estate version. Or shorten it to bring us something sportier like this three-door SC. Could we go as far as to call this a proper 'coupe' rather than merely a three-door hatch? Interestingly, SEAT's marketing material doesn't do that, but then goes to great length to emphasise this variant's quite distinct lower-slung dynamic character, before listing as direct rivals pretty much every affordable little family hatch-based coupe on the market. Let's check this car out.
You probably won't be too surprised to hear that this Leon SC offers a very similar driving experience to that of its five-door stablemate. And fortunately, that's a very good thing. In this, the Spanish engineers have been helped immeasurably by the fact that like its Volkswagen Group cousins, the Audi A3, the Volkswagen Golf and the Skoda Octavia, this car rides on the organisation's hi-tech MQB platform, underpinnings upon which billions of euros have been lavished. It shows too, this car able to handle even the poorest surfaces with supple confidence, yet hold its own on the twisty stuff, where bodyroll is well controlled. Under the bonnet of this revised version, things are much as before, though there has been a change at the foot of the petrol range where a 1.0-litre TSI three cylinder 115PS unit slots in above the existing 1.2-litre TSI 110PS four cylinder powerplant. Other petrol engine options include a 1.4-litre EcoTSI variant with efficient Cylinder-on-Demand technology. And a 1.8-litre TSI powerplant with 180PS. As before, Cupra versions get the 2.0 TSI petrol engine from the Golf GTI, but in an uprated form developing either 265 or 280PS. Most Leon SC buyers though, will want a diesel. Here again at the foot of the range there's a fresh option, a 115PS version of the VW Group's familiar 1.6-litre TDI unit. Above that sit the usual 2.0-litre TDI units, offered with either 150 or 184PS. When it comes to gearboxes, the range includes five- or six-speed manual options, all well as double-clutch DSG auto 'boxes with six- or seven-speeds.
Design and Build
SEAT see this as their best-looking car ever, a statement the Spanish brand would have been unlikely to have been brave enough to make had this Leon SC been merely a constricted version of the ordinary five-door hatch with a couple of fewer doors. But it isn't. The Spanish maker says that visual style was one of the key reasons why people bought the original version of this car, so it wasn't necessary with this facelifted design to change the aesthetics too much. A few tweaks though, have been made. At the front and rear, there are revised bumpers and bodywork with sharper, more assertive lines, plus there's a smarter chromed front grille. Inside, the ambient lighting LEDs' intensity can be regulated as the driver wishes from the newly redesigned eight-inch central infotainment screen. This monitor eliminates the need for many of the buttons and dials that were scattered around the fascia on the previous model. From this monitor, the LED ambient lighting of the cabin can be dimmed or intensified, giving the interior a classy feel. Otherwise, things are much as they were before, which means that passenger space is very class-competitive and there's a decently sized 380-litre boot - which is the same amount of space as you'd get in this model's five-door sibling. Even with the 60/40 split-folding rear bench pushed forward, only 60-litres of the standard Leon's capacity is lost, the total being a 1,150-litres.
Market and Model
Pricing hasn't changed much so, as before, you'll be looking at list pricing in the £17,500 to £25,000 bracket for mainstream models. Compared to a five-door hatch variant, an 'SC' coupe will save you around £300. Customers get a choice of five trim levels - 'S', 'SE Dynamic', 'SE Technology', 'FR' and 'XCELLENCE'. Beyond that lie the hot hatch Cupra models. There are key changes across the range with regard to media connectivity, this revised Leon SC featuring the latest generation of the brand's 'Easy Connect' infotainment systems, activated by this model's new 'Media System Plus' eight-inch screen. Customers can also specify a 'Connectivity Box' in the central console that enables wireless smartphone charging. And there's the brand's 'Full Link' system, which enables you to use apps from your smartphone on the fascia screen via either the 'Apple CarPlay' or 'Android Auto' media systems. This improved Leon also features many more options when it comes to electronic safety systems. Examples of this include 'Traffic Jam Assist', which virtually drives the car for you in stop/start traffic. And a 'Pedestrian Protection System' which scans the road ahead not only for other vehicles that might pose accident hazards but also people too.
Cost of Ownership
On the engine front, the big news with this improved MK3 model Leon SC is the installation of a three cylinder 1.0-litre TSI 115PS unit near the foot of the range. This powerplant gives you the kind of performance you'd expect from, say, a conventional petrol 1.6 allied to the kind of efficiency you'd want from, say, a 1.2-litre model. Which, in this particular Leon, is pretty much what you get. Expect 64.2mpg on the combined cycle and 102g/km of CO2. That stays the same even if you order the optional DSG auto gearbox. This might be enough for some buyers to reconsider their natural inclination to opt for a diesel. Mind you, the diesel options are impressively frugal - expect around 75mpg on the combined cycle from the 1.6-litre TDI unit for example. Even the 2.0-litre TDI 150PS unit might surprise you, it being capable of 68.9mpg and 110g/km. All the powerplants get a Start/Stop system that cuts the engine when you don't need it, stuck in traffic or waiting at the lights. Plus an Energy Recovery system that stores brake energy usually lost as heat and uses it to help power the car's electrical systems, ultimately preserving fuel. All part of what SEAT calls 'Ecomotive technology'.
You'll never have a better or more credible excuse to own a coupe than this. The Leon SC doesn't even claim to be one but spec it properly and there are all the feelings of fashionable indulgement that ownership of this kind of car can bring. Without the usual downsides of high pricing, cramped rear seating, restricted cargo capacity and a compromised day-to-day driving experience. This SEAT suffers from none of these issues - but of course you can't have everything. There are lower-slung, slinkier coupes. And there are more practical three-door hatches. Finding a reasonably priced car better able to combine these two attributes though, could take you a very long time. So the improved version of this three-door Leon emerges as that most appealing of things: a sensible car that makes you feel special. Which in turn, makes it, in its own sensible, affordable way, a very special car indeed.