Seat has released a fresh batch of images of its new-generation Leon, showing the family hatchback on the road for the first time.
Despite the global automotive shutdown due to the coronavirus pandemic, the Spanish brand still intends to bring the first examples to UK shores before spring is over. Prices have not yet been revealed, though.
The brand is promising greater efficiency, a new technological standard and a greater emphasis on design than ever before for the latest Leon. The model is also the first Seat to come with both mild-hybrid and plug-in hybrid options.
It will be joined soon after by the new Cupra Leon performance model, itself available in both petrol and plug-in hybrid guises.
The fourth-generation Leon continues a lineage that has accumulated more than two million global sales since its beginning in 1999. It's the latest of the Volkswagen Group's new MQB-based C-segment models to be revealed, after the Mk8 Volkswagen Golf and the Mk4 Skoda Octavia.
Pitched as the sportiest and most 'emotional' of the trio, the new Leon has what appears to be an evolutionary design at first. However, every body panel and exterior component is actually different from its predecessor.
Seat's head of exterior design, Joaquín García, told Autocar: "The new car is founded on a very strong base: the current Leon. Since then, we've had the Ateca, Ibiza and Tarraco, all evolving Seat's design language further. Now the Leon arrives to culminate that. It has a certain DNA of its predecessors."
The front end brings forward the look seen on the Tarraco SUV, with revised proportions over the old Leon, including a curvier front profile and a more upright windscreen that sits closer to the driver. This was done, García claims, to create more of a "cockpit" feel and reduce the impact on forward visibility of the A-pillars.
The side view features the same three styling lines as the old car, albeit positioned differently, kept because the design "doesn't need more complexity". The kink in the window line is also retained.
It's at the rear where the changes are most visible, though, thanks to a more expressive tailgate shape that's joined by what Seat calls a 'coast-to-coast' full-width LED tail-light. Said to increase the Leon's visual width, it also integrates the central brake light to replace the usual unit mounted high in the rear window. Further details on top-spec cars include scrolling indicators and an Audi-style animated lighting display when the car is unlocked.
Size-wise, the new Leon is 17mm wider and just 3mm lower than the old car, but a significant 86mm has been added to its length, with 50mm of that in the wheelbase. Chassis development chief Marcus Keith claims this has all gone into rear leg room (a claim this 6ft 3in reporter can substantiate). Along with features such as three-zone climate control and a pair of USB-C ports in the rear, this is aimed at making the Leon's rear quarters a lot more accommodating.
The new Leon Estate is 93mm longer than its predecessor but has the same wheelbase extension. While boot capacity is unchanged in the hatchback ("Our customers were fine with that," says Keith), the wagon has gained 30 litres, taking it up to a Ford Focus Estate-beating 617 litres.
The interior innovations are most profound in the front, though. Much influence has been taken from the new Golf, most notably in the infotainment system. On SE Dynamic trim and above, the Leon features a 10.0in touchscreen, while the climate functions are integrated via a dedicated portion of the display and separate touch-sensitive 'sliders'. This set-up is complemented by a 10.25in configurable digital instrument display (cheaper variants retain conventional analogue dials).
As with the Golf and Octavia, the new infotainment system introduces features such as natural speech recognition, gesture control, real-time information via an embedded SIM card and an overhauled sat-nav system. The Leon is also ready for Car2X connectivity, which enables drivers to receive a warning of hazards ahead from other cars.
Further useful technology that's new to the Leon includes USB-free Apple CarPlay, wireless smartphone charging and the new Seat Connect app, which provides remote access to driving data, can lock and unlock the doors, sends an alert if the car has been stolen and can sound the horn. On plug-in hybrid models, it also allows you to manage the charging process and condition the interior before you set off.
Like its MQB siblings, the Leon has a shift-by-wire gear selector for its automatic gearbox, freeing up space on the centre console. The most interesting new feature inside, though, is a lighting strip that spans the dashboard and both front doors. Complementing the LED ambient lighting, it also changes colour in accordance with features such as blindspot monitoring. As expected, the suite of active safety systems is enhanced to include predictive adaptive cruise control, traffic sign recognition and more advanced emergency lane-keeping assistance.
Unsurprisingly, the Leon's engine range mirrors those of the Golf and Octavia. Four turbocharged petrols (two with the option of 48V mild-hybrid technology) and two diesels will be offered, alongside a petrol-electric plug-in hybrid.
The petrol range begins with a 1.0-litre three-cylinder unit that produces 109bhp. It comes with a six-speed manual gearbox or, in mild-hybrid form, a DSG dual-clutch automatic. A 1.5-litre four-cylinder motor is available in 129bhp and 148bhp forms, with the latter offered as a DSG-equipped mild hybrid. The 187bhp 2.0-litre comes with a seven-speed DSG only.
Meanwhile, a 2.0-litre diesel four-pot is offered in two states of tune: 114bhp (manual only) and 148bhp (manual or DSG).
But it's the Leon eHybrid that's the biggest story. This mates a 1.4-litre turbo petrol engine with an electric motor, a 13kWh battery pack and a six-speed DSG. Making 201bhp (no torque figures are quoted), it's claimed to have a 38-mile electric-only range, with a full charge taking just over three hours from an AC charger. This powertrain will be available in both the hatchback and estate.
The Leon will be offered in six trim levels, each with equipment upgrades over its predecessor. Prices are expected to start from around £20,000 – about the same as the equivalent Octavia.
Q&A, Marcus Keith, head of white vehicle development and chassis, Seat
Which cars did you benchmark as the dynamic target for the new Leon?
In regards to the chassis, we were benchmarking a sporty Ford [the Focus ST] and a sporty Hyundai [the i30 N] even for the standard Leon models. We don't see them as competition, but also the Volkswagen Golf and Golf R and the Audi A3 and S3.
Does this mean the Leon will feel firmer and sportier than the Golf?
Absolutely: a sporty feeling is paramount. The behaviour of a Seat isn't supposed to be comfortable, but still in among the sportiness we've made a very comfortable car. The FR model is 15mm lower and has adaptive dampers; if you want, you can take the needle from Comfort over to Sport.
What challenges were brought by engineering the plug-in hybrid?
Hybrid was a new area for us. We wanted the mild hybrids to offer behaviour you can feel as they regenerate and assist. In the plug-in hybrid, there was a big undertaking on tuning the behaviour of the car. Compared with the Golf GTE, we changed a couple of things in the DCC [Dynamic Chassis Control] to make it stiffer. Then we calibrated the powertrain differently at places like the Nürburgring.
Why no 12V mild hybrid and why does the 48V system come with only a DSG 'box?
The 12V system won't make it into the Leon. There's so much current that you need so many cables in the car, and it doesn't bring enough benefit. To do a manual is more time-consuming, because you need to take into account the gearchanges of the customers. The product team said no, because we're selling quite a lot of automatics now.
Have you made efficiency improvements elsewhere?
Yes: you feel it in all engine combinations. We've improved more than 60% of the variants compared with the old ones. We tried hard to get good CO2 emissions and good aerodynamics. The old car has [a drag coefficient of] 0.32 Cd; this one is 0.29 Cd.
Can you tell us more about the Cupra variants?
There will be both plug-in hybrid and straight petrol Cupra Leons. We have an outstanding sporty brand. We're tuning them to be sportier. Just last week, I had the 306bhp engine in the estate and it was just not noisy enough; we talk about exhaust backfire, sportier shifting and more direct steering.