Engine: 2-litre, common rail, turbo-diesel.
Power: 168bhp and 258lb.ft.
Performance: 0 to 62mph in 8.2 seconds and 133mph
Fuel economy: 53.3mpg (combined)
CO2 emissions: 139g/km
For: A stylish and economical performance hatchback.
Against: Some flaky interior materials.
Stylish Leon FR proves a cut-price Golf rival.
HAVE you ever considered how two brothers might go on if they were on a night out and really fancied a shot at the same girl?
This is not a scenario I have to worry about, even ahead of this weekend’s night out with my big bro...it's his stag do and I value my manhood too much for my girlfriend to have anything to fear.
But sitting behind the wheel of SEAT’s sporty diesel, the Leon FR TDI, I began to ponder the relationship the Spanish hatchback might have with Volkswagen’s newly-launched Golf GTD.
I wondered how well the Volkswagen Audi Group might manage the “brothers on a night out” scenario as I sparked the FR’s 168bhp common rail turbo diesel engine into life.
SEAT, of course, are part of the VAG family and it seems hard to believe that the two similar sized cars—equipped with the same two-litre engine—won’t compete for attention at some point.
For SEAT, the Leon FR TDI’s £18,440 list price might just be enough to seal the deal—making the Golf’s £23,035 look somewhat lofty and aiming the SEAT more towards the impressive Mazda3 2.2D.
For 2009, the Leon range has undergone revisions aimed at improving quality and sweeping in a few technological advances.
Its distinctive silhouette was best left alone...and is. The handiwork of former Lamborghini designer-turned-head-SEAT-designerLuc Donckerwolke, the Leon remains his finest work with the Spanish manufacturer.
Larger headlights bring a wider and sharper-edged appearance to the front end . The eagle-eyed may notice that the discreet FR badges have changed location, but the makeover is as subtle as they come.
With its deeper front bumper, 17-inch alloys and silver wing mirrors, the FR’s appearance suggests impressive performance.
Despite a fairly unremarkable-sounding 8.2 second sprint to 62mph, the FR's power is served up with a hearty side order of 258lb.ft. of torque, which means that it feels somewhat quicker in reality.
Impressive in-gear acceleration above 2,200rpm ensures that the Leon can maintain an effortlessly brisk pace down a country road, overtaking at will, without the need to overwork the gearbox’s six ratios.
This low stress approach also means that you can begin to approach SEAT’s other performance claims of 53.3mpg and CO2 emissions of 139g/km while making impressive progress.
And with SEAT’s new XDS system mimicking the characteristics of a limit-slip differential, the FR has the ability to rail around corners on a wave of torque and front end grip.
With images of Yvan Muller surging out of tight bends in his Leon TDI on the World Touring Car circuit coming to mind, the FR’s torque and poise generates genuinely impressive lick through the twisty stuff.
While the suspension nowhere near as firm as, say, a Civic Type-R or Astra VXR, its more supple approach equips it with a composure that ensures a comfortable flow down the enticing, but sometimes broken surfaces of many of our B-roads.
The only place where the Leon loses out to more expensive rivals, and some of its key rivals to a lesser degree, is the feel of its interior.
Genuine quality was evident in the driving position and the stylish set of black fabric and grey alcantara, ‘FR’ embroidered, sports seats of the test car.
A flat-bottomed steering wheel and the optional (£1,450) Technology and Convenience pack with touch screen Sat-Nav, Bluetooth, bi-xenon headlights and parking sensors are other highlights.
I was also heartened to see the mouldy old potato of a gear lever (it was a rather unusual shape) has been replaced with a more conventional item.
But the plastics making up the centre console, door inserts and the silver coloured dashboard still feel hard and cheap.
The functionality of controls and build quality doesn’t suffer as a result, but the lofty standards set by the engine, dynamics and design are not quite met.
SEAT’s Leon FR is a compelling blend of style, performance and practicality and though the Volkswagen Golf is a genuine touch of class in the hatchback sector—an undisputed class leader—due to its sheer depth of quality, the SEAT his the mark in so many ways.
Same power same size and a £4,550 head start on price gives it enough to look good on paper and even after four years it still has the ability to do the same in the metal.
Little brother might just have the upper hand...