Seat Leon 1.6ltr diesel

By Philip Hedderman

Nostalgia is a funny thing.
The more we advance the more we look back.
Apparently it’s good for the soul and the older we get, the more we do it.
This week proved a prime example of that.
It all started with a casual chat with my big bro Peter – the man responsible for my unconditional love of all things automotive.
The Thursday gathering in my Mother’s kitchen went from from general waffle to a trip down memory lane and ended with a fully-fledged history lesson.
The reason?
The SEAT Leon.
So, how could two great motoring minds clash?
It all started with a throw away comment.
“Who’s drivin’ the swanky Fiat outside”?
“Ye mean, SEAT”?, I replied.
“That’s what I said, aren’t you listening?
“Take swanky and Fiat … put them together and you get SEAT, just like Jedward.
“Er Helloooooo!!!”
Now, the last time I looked the Spanish car maker was an arm of VW, but back in the day it was closely affiliated with their Italian neighbours.
Anyway, I’m still a bit puzzled.
How did you swanky up a Fiat in the late 70s I wondered.
“They produced the first 4-door 127 in 1976 and sporty version of the 128 and the fabulous 132, although the 4-door never materialised here and only went on sale in Spain,” came the reply.
Well, excusssse me!!

Now, the fancy wrapping didn’t stop there and as we made our way into the ’80s, the Ritmo, Malaga, Marbella and Ibiza rolled off the assembly line.
With it came seismic changes and in 1986, Volkswagen purchases 51% of SEAT in June and, by the end of the year, increases this to 75%.
It’s the dawn of a new era, my era and the marque originally known as “Sociedad Española de Automóviles de Turismo”, was shortened to SEAT in 1991.
It got a new corporate identity and the badge and logos changed colour from blue and white to red and silver.
All that was missing was the model which would blow the socks off the motoring press.
That came in the guise of the all-new Leon which made its debut in 1999.
What a fabulously rakish looking hatchback it was.
It was the first SEAT with a 180bhp engine, a six-speed gearbox and four-wheel drive.
That is over the whole range, but the bread and butter models with more frugal engines were to be Irish favourites.
It got a midlife facelift with that now trademark sweeping line which swoops from the bonnet to the perky rear end give it a really sporty feel while the sunken door handles gives it a real coupish look.
Because it’s built on the chassis of the MkV VW Golf chassis, it drives and handles like a dream.
The steering is crisp and precise and the105bhp 1.6 diesel powerplant seemed a lot more powerful and responsive that you’d expect from the entry level oil burner.
It’s got pretty impressive green credentials too with a reading of 109g/km meaning annual road tax of €104 while returning an eye-watering 60mpg.
That’s all down to the stop start technology which to be honest seemed a trifle annoying.
Sometimes it worked, sometimes it didn’t. It seemed to have a mind of its own and in traffic became really tiresome.
Because the rest of the car was so impressive the whole thing began to bug me, big time.
I dispatched an email to the very kind folk at SEAT who returned with the simplest of explanations.
The engine has to reach an certain running temperature before the stop/start technology kicks in.
So when you get the ‘not available’ message on the on-board computer it means that the Leon is actually saving you money.
This, amazingly, is standard on the 1.6 TDi Special Edition
It comes with a long list of free goodies including front fog lights with cornering technology, heated electric mirrors, and multi function steering wheel with on-board computer which enables you to control your phone and radio with your fingers tips.
It comes with snazzy 16” alloy and is jam-packed with safety features, such as the latest generation of anti locking brakes (ABS) and six airbags.
It’s a great pity the interior didn’t get the same level of Germanic detail on this otherwise fulfilling carriage.
The use of cheap plastics, especially in the central console where it looked like the designers ran out of ideas.
The seats felt a little spongy and a bit delicate and the absence of a driver’s arm rest spoiled longer, motorway journeys.
To be fair, the pluses far outweigh the minuses and the biggest advantage is the price.
The entry level 1.2 TSi special edition starts at €16,820, while the 1.6 TDi special edition comes in at €18,170 under SEAT’s double scrappage offer.
It is the perfect antidote to a Megane, Astra, Golf or Focus and if SEAT could shave a little more off, the crown as the King of scrappage is there for the taking.