Let’s begin with a blanket statement: This is a fantastic car. That really should come as no surprise, because it’s essentially a Volkswagen Golf underneath, which I am a big fan of. So I was delighted when my local Enterprise branch handed me the keys to the Leon last week, because I’ve been wanting to drive it, not least because reviews of the car from the automotive magazines have been very favourable.
I had requested a diesel when I reserved the car, but they weren’t able to get me one. Though initially a bit disappointed, that disappointment quickly faded when I drove the first few miles with the 1.2L TSI engine. Volkswagen has developed the TSI by fitting a small turbocharger to a small engine to deliver both power and fuel economy. And the result is brilliant. The little 1.2L makes 105bhp and 130 lb.-ft. of torque, and while those numbers aren’t big, peak torque comes at 1400rpm. Yes, that’s right, 1400rpm. And it barely drops off all the way up to 4000rpm, which means you’ve got all this little engine’s torque exactly where you want it for everyday driving. Combined with a very nicely shifting 6-speed gearbox (you get a satisfying ‘click’ with every shift as it slots confidently into the next gear, and you can very easily move up and down the gears without using the clutch), I was blown away by how good the two worked together. The car, though not fast, feels good enough for everyday driving. It accelerates nicely, and with the torque so low in the power band, you can put your foot down in any gear and feel the car pull. Accelerating out of corners in second gear is fun, and I simply could not believe how effortless it felt to accelerate from 50-70mph in sixth gear. On top of it all, the engine is silky smooth, and very quiet. A few times I thought to myself that I wouldn’t mind trying the 1.4L TSI, which makes 130bhp, but then realised that I was really enjoying the 1.2L, and actually could be happy with this on my driveway.
The small engine mated to the 6-speed gearbox also means good fuel mileage. And it delivers very well. Throughout the journey we averaged 51mpg, which is on the low end of diesel territory. Cruising at 50mph in sixth through the construction zone, the computer was telling me that we were averaging a steady 70mpg. You really could not do much better than that with a petrol engine. Combined with a fair-sized fuel tank, we did 600 miles before having to fill up.
In addition to a great drivetrain, the Leon is a genuine pleasure to drive. It is so smooth and stable at speed. The only thing I would want different is for the suspension to be a bit stiffer for the corners. This base model cruised very nicely on the motorway, but felt a bit soft in the corner. Upgrading to the Leon’s FR suspension package might fix that, though (the FR setup on previous Leon’s was deemed too stiff by many, but it is supposedly quite a bit better with the new Leon). Still, it feels like it holds the road well. In addition, the steering feel and weight is great, the brakes are great, and it soaks up the bumps nicely. On top of all that, it is a quiet, solid ride.
Inside, though its materials are not quite up to the same standard as the Golf, the Leon is a pleasing place to be. Some of the plastic pieces feel cheap, but overall, it’s comfortable, visibility is excellent, and in terms of ergonomics, all the controls are exactly where you want them to be. My only quibble would be that the steering wheel is a bit thin, but simply upgrading to the leather-wrapped option would fix that (and really, after a few days, I wasn’t even noticing how thin the wheel was any more). The car is nice and spacious too – there is lots of headroom, leg room, and there is plenty of room in the boot.
Finally, the Leon just looks good. The sharp angles give it a bit of a sporty look (which is even better when you upgrade to the FR trim with bigger rims and a slightly lower stance). Every time you walk outside and see the car parked, it’s just a nice car to look at it.
So, that brings me back to my initial statement: This is a fantastic car. It was an absolute pleasure to drive over the weekend, and it would be a car, even with the little 1.2L, that I would be happy to drive everyday. And since it is slightly cheaper than the Golf, and I think it looks a little better, I do believe that, were I in the market for a car, this might just be the one for me.
Engine: 1.2L TSI petrol, 105bhp, 130 lb.-ft.
Gearbox: 6-speed manual
Mileage at pick-up: 20,340
Distance driven: 550 miles
Photo location: 52°30’47.6"N 1°21’09.9"W