Fleet update, September 2018: The SEAT Leon

What you see below is a car that has just passed its MOT with no advisories.

Back in July, I knew that wouldn’t be the case, however. The front strut mounts were worn quite badly, the cheap Chinese tyres I had used as a stop-gap were cracking on the sidewalls, and one of the inner CV gaiters was torn. It was also leaking a little coolant from somewhere, an ongoing problem that I have been trying to diagnose for quite a while now, and like I always do before an MOT, I intended to give it a service. So I got the Leon up on jackstands, and used all the available daylight hours to sort out these few issues. Continue reading “Fleet update, September 2018: The SEAT Leon”

One of the worst things that can happen to your car

The worst would be wrecking it, of course. But having dealt with a particularly trying malady over the past fourteen months, I would like to suggest that a wet interior ranks pretty high on the ‘stuff you never want to happen to your car’ list.

The autumn after buying my SEAT Leon, I noticed the passenger footwell was very wet. The problem was traced to perished seals, both on the pollen filter housing, and the doors. I made quick work of repairing the seals, but drying out the car is something I’ve been working at now off and on for nearly fourteen months, and has required disassembling significant portions of the interior.

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SEAT Leon (Mk1) front suspension overhaul

Next to your engine and gearbox, maintaining your suspension is one of the best things you can do for your car. The suspension is both what keeps you connected to the road, and what absorbs all the road’s imperfections, and in a bad state of repair, it will hurt your fuel economy, decrease the lifespan of your tyres, and adversely affect your car’s ride and handling, not to mention make your car less safe to operate.

Thankfully, rebuilding a suspension on many cars is not a terribly expensive or exceedingly difficult undertaking, and doing so can make a tired old car feel much newer again. It is also a job that can quite often be done an average DIY-er.

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Replacing the door seals on a Mk1 Leon

Several months ago, I noticed that the front footwells in the Leon were quite wet, and began tearing the interior apart to figure out where the water was coming from. Part of the problem was a perished seal on the pollen filter housing, allowing water to come in through the fan housing. This was made worse by the fact that the drain passages on the inside of the wing were blocked.

However, the bigger problem, and main source of the water, was that the door seals were perished. It is very common for the door seals to rot on Mk1 Leon’s, so it was not difficult to find an online guide to aid with replacing them. I used this guide, and found the whole job to be simple and straightforward as a result. Continue reading “Replacing the door seals on a Mk1 Leon”

Best tutorial for changing the timing belt and water pump on a 1.8T VW engine

This weekend, after detecting a leaking water pump, I replaced both the water pump and timing belt on my Leon. Below is the tutorial I used, which is simply the best one available on YouTube. The instructions are clear, the camera work is good, and the narrator provides lots of helpful information. Though still a big and rather complicated job, I found it to be straightforward with the help of the video.

For fun, I documented the process using Instagram’s new ‘Story’ feature. Below I’ve compiled the various photos and video clips I took while I was doing the work.

Leaky Leon

As temperatures have gotten colder, I’ve noticed a lot of condensation on the inside of the Leon’s windows. Today I did a bit of poking around and, to my dismay, discovered the carpet in the passenger’s footwell was soaking wet, and damp in the nearside rear footwell. This is not the type of thing you want to find, because it inevitably means doing what you see below to try and find the source of the leak.

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New shoes for the Leon

When I bought the Leon, it came with 17″ Audi rims that the previous owner had fitted. And although they looked decent enough, the 45-profile meant they rode quite rough. Today I went over to the local ATS Euromaster and got some new tyres for the original 16″ rims, which carry a 55-profile.

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The original wheels make the car look a bit more plain, but the ride is significantly better, and so totally worth it, in my opinion. And being so low-key now, I guess it’s kind of like a sleeper.

Adding to the fleet: Our ‘02 SEAT Leon Cupra

We’re a one-car family. At least we were, and the plan was to continue as such until next year, when a job change would necessitate a second car. It just happened that when I was scrolling through eBay this week, we found a car that would suit my wife perfectly.

She’s always wanted a Golf or a Leon. She likes hatchbacks, and the Mark IV Golf and Mark I Leon have been some of her favourites. On Sunday morning, I was on eBay and spotted this Leon Cupra. The advert fit all the requirements, so I sent a message to the seller, who responded to my questions almost instantly. Everything looked good – service history, low mileage, and a brand new MOT with no advisories. The rest is history, and yesterday we brought it home.

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SEAT Leon FR 2.0 TDI

The first car I reviewed on this blog was the SEAT Leon SE, and I thought it was a brilliant car. But it turns out a brilliant car can be made even better. Enter the Leon FR.

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Let’s begin where the majority of improvements are concentrated on the FR: the suspension. SEAT’s FR package is designed to improve the Leon’s handling, stiffening everything up so that the car handles more sharply, basically ensuring it is more fun to drive on twisty roads. On the previous generation Leon, the FR trim was deemed too stiff by many, generating a rough and unpleasant ride. That is not at all the case on the new FR – the handling is dialed in just right. Drivers will notice an ever-so-slightly choppier ride on the motorway in comparison to the SE, but it is nowhere near uncomfortable. Quite the opposite, in fact. It feels poised and balanced, and a few hours on the motorway are pleasant and relaxing.

But even though it could happily do it all day, you don’t buy a Leon FR for motorway cruising, of course. It’s when you throw it into a corner on a winding rural road that the Leon FR absolutely comes alive. To begin with, the weight of the steering and the feedback that comes through the wheel are excellent, such that you feel entirely in control of the car. It is so responsive and easy to point the car exactly where you want it to go. It takes corners beautifully, with little discernible body roll, and feels thoroughly planted from entry to exit. Even on rough surfaces, the car handles so precisely that you don’t question its ability to go where it’s supposed to. I have rarely driven a car that so noticeably enjoys being driven through corners quickly, and that inspires complete driver confidence. SEAT has clearly designed the Leon FR to be a driver’s car, and they’ve simply nailed it.

This particular Leon came with Volkswagen’s 2.0L TDI, making 148bhp and 236lb.-ft (which will now undoubtedly be scrutinized following #dieselgate). This is the first opportunity I’ve had to drive the 2.0L, even though I’ve generally recommended it over the 1.6L TDI for its power gains. In many ways, it doesn’t disappoint. It retains the smooth and efficient character of the TDI engines, and the increase in power is certainly welcome. Whilst not a fast car, it feels pretty quick, and the power band is well-situated for the kind of spirited driving you want to do in this car. Perhaps because it is quicker, however, you will notice more turbo lag with the 2.0L, particularly when it comes to rolling starts in second gear. Typical of diesels, it also runs out of steam over 3500rpm, which puts a slight damper on the fun. I would like to try the Leon FR with one of the bigger TSI engines, perhaps the 1.8L.

The engine sends power to the wheels through a 6-speed gearbox, which has nice throws and good ratios that work well with the engine’s power band. I had a slight problem with this particular gear lever, though: Like all Volkswagen products, you have to push the lever down to shift into reverse, but the spring controlling that function on this lever felt quite loose. As a result, a few times when I grabbed the lever to shift particularly from first to second, the pressure from my hand would inadvertently push it down and end up sort of directing it into fourth gear. It’s a bit hard to explain, but basically, you need quite a light touch to shift into the gear you wanted. Again, this may have just been an issue with this particular car, but it happened frequently enough to be a little annoying.

I maintain what I said previously about the Leon’s interior. It is comfortable and quiet, and the driving position is excellent. There is a good amount of room everywhere. It is clearly not of the same quality as the Golf – materials feel a bit cheaper all around – but it certainly looks better. Everything about the Leon tells you this is a sporty car, from the red stitching to the leather-wrapped and well-designed steering wheel to the fantastically-readable and well-positioned gauges. In many ways, the Leon’s interior is a lesson in ergonomics too; with the exception of a relatively small and laggy infotainment screen, the controls are simple and straightforward, and laid out logically, again emphasising the fact that this is first and foremost a driver’s car.

Finally, I maintain that the Leon is just a great looking car. The sharp angles and hunkered down stance give it an aggressive and somewhat intimidating persona, particularly from the front. I always like cars that look like they have a bit of attitude, especially when they’ve got the character to back it up, as the Leon does.

Last time I concluded that the Leon was a brilliant car, and that I would probably prefer it over the Golf. In FR trim, the Leon turns brilliant up to 11, and I do not hesitate to say it is better than the Golf. In fact, as far as reasonably priced cars go, the Leon FR is, very simply, the best car I have ever driven.

Engine: 2.0L TDI I4, 148bhp, 236lb.-ft.
Gearbox: 6-speed manual
MSRP: £20,525
Mileage at pickup: 2874
Distance driven: 360 miles
Photo location: 54°45’11.6″N 1°35’19.4″W

Official SEAT Leon website