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Seat Leon 1.6

Date: 26 January 2006

Category: Lower medium
Price: £11,295-17,295
Key rival: Ford Focus

Is diesel starting to lose its appeal? The return of the 3% BIK surcharge and little sympathy from the Chancellor regarding fuel costs, mean it's now much harder to justify the big premium diesels command over cheaper equivalent petrols.

The 1.6 FSI Volkswagen Golf has been our favourite model in the petrol versus diesel debate, offering a low 20% BIK and the best cost per mile in the business - until now.

Kicking off Seat's stylish assault on the lower medium market, the 101PS 1.6-litre petrol model attracts a class beating CPM of 24.1p, while averaging 37.2mpg on the combined cycle. Even more remarkable is the fact this has been achieved without the Golf's direct-injection technology.

Leon1.6SPEC.gif

The lively 1.6-litre engine suits the Seat's character with a cheeky exhaust note and superior refinement when compared to a similarly sized diesel.

Opting for the petrol 1.6 attracts a BIK of 23%, which means it loses out to the 1.9 diesel version for tax (£49 against £42 @22% month).

The lighter petrol engine also helps handling, and gives the car reactions that put it towards the same league as the much-loved Ford Focus. Thanks to accurate steering and fine body control, the Seat is a good choice for enthusiastic drivers.

Where it fails to top the Focus is in the ride department. The Leon's stiff springs feel ill-suited to British roads and cause constant intrusions as the front end crashes over bumps and uneven surfaces. Road noise is also below par. Thankfully the standard CD player does a good job of drowning out unwanted noise.

But it isn't all bad news. The Leon claws points back on the equipment front, the base-spec Essence, costs £11,295 and comes with six airbags and traction control as standard, with ESP and brake assist as an option.

There's further good news for the Seat on the depreciation front. It matches the rock-solid Golf for RVs, holding on to an impressive 42.4% of its value after three years. All this, and the Leon undercuts the Volkswagen it shares most of its underpinnings with by more than £2000. Proof Seat means business.



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