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Tuesday, January 31, 2023

SEAT Leon e-Hybrid: long-term test review


I wish I could charge the SEAT Leon e-Hybrid more often to reap the financial rewards, but it’s still proving cheap to run, and despite some compromises in practicality, rear passenger space for my tall teenage son is good. That the car looks great is a bonus.

  • Mileage: 4,303
  • Economy: 42.6mpg

In theory the Leon FR e-Hybrid is an ideal vehicle for my family’s urban lifestyle. Its claimed electric range of up to 40 miles should cover the majority of my ‘dad’s taxi’ and shopping journeys around town. The problem is how to charge it.

Like many city dwellers I have a 1930s semi, but it doesn’t come with the driveway that many of my country-based colleagues take for granted. Luckily the house is close enough to the street to run a cable out through the front door, but it takes an age to get a meaningful charge through the three-pin plug and it’s a non-starter having the door open for hours in cold weather.

Unfortunately, none of the nearby supermarkets that I use has chargers. The nearest one is less than five miles away, but in London traffic that equates to an extra 20 minutes each way. So I would end up using most of any extra charge added while shopping simply getting home again.

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The one Source London charge point that I tried didn’t have a socket for my 16-Amp cable, and with no fast-charge cable supplied with the Leon, it was game over.  My only option appears to be getting a wallbox and cable cover, then hoping my neighbours save me a spot outside the house (yeah, right).

Editor-in-chief Steve Fowler spent some time with our Leon and does have a plug-in point at home, so he enjoyed way more silent, all-electric running than I have. However, in spite of SEAT shouting about up to 40 miles of range, he never managed to get anywhere near that – low to mid-twenties was the norm, slightly less when it was really cold. That said, as I have, Steve enjoyed the smooth transition between EV and petrol power, although the dual-clutch gearbox has never been the slickest shifter in any of the cars we’ve encountered it.

Thanks to the claimed range from the SEAT’s 12.8kWh battery, combined  with an official CO2 output of just 27g/km, the Leon falls into the seven per cent Benefit-in-Kind company car tax bracket, so the petrol-electric hatchback will be a very cost-effective car for business users. If you pay income tax at the lower rate then you’ll have to cough up just £459 per year, or £918 if you’re a higher-rate earner.

If you had a 2.0 TSI DSG automatic Leon (which has 14bhp less), your contributions to Treasury coffers would be £1,918 and £3,835 respectively, so even though the pure-petrol car has a cheaper list price, for private buyers the fuel savings might offset a lot of that sum, while for company car drivers the choice is a no-brainer.

From my point of view, although I’m disappointed with the handful of part-charges that I’ve given our Leon, it’s still returning an impressive 42.6mpg. This is partly down to the regenerative braking that maximises energy recuperation.

It was really noticeable on a recent six-hour drive to the Peak District. I planned to get some quiet time away with the family, and the Leon assisted on the motorway, with minimal noise or fuss, and decent power when required. We found the car extremely comfortable, despite shocking traffic and weather, but had much more fun the next day following one of the recommended routes from our recent staycation special (Issue 1,673), the A537 to Buxton.

It was great to get the Leon FR zipping along the twisty switchback roads. Thrilling might be too strong a word, but the combination of scenery and stability meant I could put my foot down despite the relentless drizzle, and it was a fun drive.

We struggled with the infotainment, though. First, it wouldn’t take the postcode of our remote farmhouse, so we needed Apple CarPlay to get there. Second, the Leon’s interior is smart, but has few physical controls. Most commands are entered via the touchscreen, but the various sub-menus mean it’s not fun to use on the move.

The heater controls either don’t respond or jump up suddenly, plus there’s no lighting to show where they are. I’m not sure if it’s just my fingers, but it often just won’t work. I’m fully aware that, at 50, I’m not part of the swipe-and-go generation, but I had no such issues with the MBUX system on a previous Mercedes fleet car.

I think the problem is the touchscreen controls too much in the Leon; sometimes it’s just easier twiddling a knob. However, I am becoming more used to it, and it does have some clever features. I especially like that sat-nav routes have clear signals dead ahead in the split display. The system also tells me to ease off the accelerator if I’m approaching a roundabout, which is handy on unfamiliar roads. Plus I’m really enjoying using the brake regen that predictively slows the car when entering a village.

Model: SEAT Leon 1.4 e-Hybrid DSG FR
On fleet since: February 2021
Price new: £32,835
Engine: 1.4-litre 4cyl petrol + e-motor, 201bhp
EV Range: 40 miles (claimed)
CO2/tax: 27g/km/£145
Options: Charging cable (Mode 3) (£145)
Insurance*: Group: 26 Quote: £487
Mileage: 43,030
Economy: 42.6mpg
Any problems? None so far

*Insurance quote from AA (0800 107 0680) for a 42-year-old in Banbury, Oxon, with three points.

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