Edward Stephens is blown away by Seat's latest hot hatch
Hot hatch diesels don’t come much more enjoyable than the new 170bhp SEAT Leon FR+.
The Spanish company prides itself on producing sporting cars and has excelled with this diesel flagship.
It may not be the fastest model in the new Leon line up – that honour goes to the 265bhp Leon Cupra R – but it’s still a thrill-a-minute powerhouse which has the sort of fuel economy that allows you to be able to have a performance car and be able to justify buying it.
This is such a beefy diesel that it really does need the traction control to keep it in check.
My test car was equipped with a six-speed DSG automatic gearbox which is the perfect mate for this engine, offering seamless gearchanges and the flexibility of driving the car manually with the paddles behind the steering wheel when you want hands-on motoring.
Put your right foot down with the DSG box in “drive” and you learn very quickly how quick this diesel is. Slip the gearshift into “sport” and do the same thing and this Leon flies off the starting line.
But an impressive chassis and sporting suspension set-up allows you to keep the whole thing under control and enjoy the power that this Leon puts down.
The ride is distinctly on the firm side and you do notice it when you hit a pothole but nevertheless it’s a very comfortable car with the sort of handling that allows you to enjoy your motoring rather than just having a vehicle to get you from A to B.
Visually the car is dramatically sporting so you know you will get exactly what it says on the tin.
The Leon has the sleek appeal of a coupe but is actually a practical five-door hatchback, the rear doors are not obvious thanks to the concealed door handles.
The shape of the newest version varies little from that of its predecessor as SEAT has adopted a “if it’s not broke don’t fix it” approach.
But there are subtle changes, making it an even more impressive package.
The wider rear window, for example, now stretches entirely across the newly designed hatch to improve rear vision and there’s also a newly designed LED rear light cluster.
At the front there are new headlights making the face of the Leon look sharper and wider and the bumper has undergone a design change too.
Inside there have been major changes with modifications to everything from the steering wheel to the centre console, the end result of which is to make the cockpit far sportier.
The new instrument cluster is now backlit with white LEDs, the intensity of which varies according to the brightness of the cabin so there is no struggling to read what speed you are doing whatever the light outside.
But despite all the changes this sporting hatch still has the benefit of being a sensible family car with plenty of interior space for both passengers and luggage. In fact, it can accommodate 341 litres of luggage with the rear seatbacks up and a hefty 1,166 with them down.
What more could you ask of a sportscar?
Mechanical: Maximum 170bhp. 1968 cc, 4cyl diesel engine driving the front wheels via six speed DSG auto gearbox
Max speed: 133mph 0-62 mph: 8.0 sec
Combined mpg: 55.4
C02 emissions: 134 g/km
Warranty: Three years/ 60,000 miles