SEAT's Leon looks tempting in sporty FR Black Edition trim. Jonathan Crouch takes a look.
Ten Second Review
If you'd like your family hatchback with a dash more attitude than the normal bland box, look to SEAT and its striking Leon. Or perhaps more specifically to this FR Black Edition model. For not too much more than a standard FR variant, it features a package of exterior and interior embellishments to make your Leon really stand out.
More recent arrivals in the family hatchback sector have tended to rather overshadow the charms of SEAT's contender, the really rather complete Leon. A bit of extra showroom pizazz was therefore required and it's arrived in the form of this eye-catching FR Black Edition model.
We don't normally pay too much attention to limited run special editions, but this one really did catch our eye - and might also catch yours if you find yourself in the vicinity of a SEAT showroom and you're shopping in this segment. Let's take a closer look.
Buyers of this FR Black Edition derivative get a choice of three engines. There's the brand's 1.5 TSI EVO petrol unit, available in either 130PS or 150PS guises. Or the company's familiar 150PS 2.0 TDI diesel. Both the 150PS powerplants can be ordered with optional DSG auto transmission. Like all Leon FR models, this one features an interesting function called 'SEAT Drive Profile'. This allows the driver to vary the characteristics of the power steering, throttle control and even the engine sound via a sound actuator using three modes: eco, comfort and sport. There is also a facility to tailor the settings according to the driver's preference. The interior ambient LED lighting changes according to the selected setting: white in eco and comfort modes, and red in sport. No red mist please.
FR models get firmer suspension and wider tyres than standard variants, but even here, the ride balance is one you'll be happy to live with in the traffic jams, urban jungles and motorway mileages of real life. There's an extra dash of spirit in this car which for some reason, we just don't feel in an apparently identical Volkswagen Golf. Perhaps the sportier styling and more dynamic brand image that this SEAT has lead you to push it that little bit harder, revealing unexpected handling talent that a Golf or an Octavia could also offer if only given the chance.
Design and Build
The FR Black Edition certainly looks the part, which you choose it in hatch or ST estate form. It's marked out from a normal Leon FR model by black roof rails and 18-inch 'Performance' Matte Black alloy wheels, plus there's more Matte Black for the unique trimming of the door mirrors and the front grille frame. Certain design cues are common to all Leon models, such as the 'Linea Dinamica' crease that runs rearwards over the wheel arches and the trapezoidal C-pillars.
The interior of this special variant is marked out by a black cabin roof and sports seats trimmed in microsuede. With this special edition, you also get SEAT's 'Digital cockpit' digital instrument display, storage areas under the front seats and a 'Winter Pack' which gives you heated front seats, headlamp washers and heated washer nozzles. Otherwise, it's the usual Leon recipe. Which means that you get decent rear passenger space and a reasonably-sized 380-litre boot. At the front, a smart 8-inch central infotainment screen eliminates the need for numerous fascia buttons and dials. From this monitor, the LED ambient lighting of the cabin can be dimmed or intensified, giving the interior a classy feel.
Market and Model
The FR Black Edition comes in either hatch or ST estate forms. There's a premium of just over £1,000 if you want the estate. Prices start at just over £23,000 for the hatch model with the 1.5-litre TSI EVO 130PS petrol engine; you'll pay around £1,600 more if you want the 150PS version of this engine, which sounds like a big increment for what amounts to a software tweak. You have to have the 150PS unit if you want the option of paying £1,350 more for DSG auto transmission. For a diesel FR Black Edition model, you'll need a budget starting from around £26,500. Again, you can have a DSG auto 'box for £1,350 more if you want it.
Overall FR Black Edition pricing represents a price premium of around £1,200 over what you'd pay for an ordinary Leon FR with the same powerplant. Which seems reasonable bearing in mind all the extra equipment you get (detailed in our 'Design' section). That's on top of the kit already fitted to normal-spec FR models, which runs to things like full-LED headlights, an ambient lighting system, front sports seats, a flat-bottomed leather-stitched steering wheel and a 'Drive Profile' driving modes system.
Cost of Ownership
Obviously, the best returns come with the diesel variants. A 2.0 TDI 150PS manual Leon FR Black Edition hatch manages up to 54.3mpg on the WLTP-rated combined cycle and up to117g/km of CO2. The figures won't vary much if you choose auto transmission, the St estate body style - or both. For the base 1.5 TSI EVO 130PS petrol unit, you're looking at up to 45.6mpg on the WLTP combined cycle and up to 115g/km of CO2; for the 1.5 TSI EVO 150PS variant it's up to 47.1mpg and 114g/km (or up to 43.5mpg and 117g/km for the auto).
The competitiveness of these readings has a lot to do with the standard installation of a Start/Stop system that cuts the engine when you don't need it, stuck in traffic or waiting at the lights. Plus an Energy Recovery system that stores brake energy usually lost as heat and uses it to help power the car's electrical systems, ultimately preserving fuel. All part of what SEAT calls 'Ecomotive technology'. There's also a 'Drive Profile' system incorporating an 'Eco' mode. This helps you maximise your running cost returns by trimming the air conditioning back, indicating the best gear change points and prompting a coasting mode on the motorway when a DSG gearbox is fitted.
A sporty special edition like this SEAT Leon FR Black Edition model only makes sense if it's based on a fundamentally good donor model; and this one is. The third generation Leon is still one of the stronger packages in the family hatch segment and the engines on offer here allow you to make good use of its sharp handling characteristics.
The extra 'Black Edition' equipment gives the car a meaner, more purposeful look and the price remains reasonably affordable. So you can be tempted by what's on offer here without feeling that in buying this car, you've been excessively extravagant in your choice of sporty family hatch. As sales propositions go, that's a pretty reasonable one.