I quite like the concept of ‘understated’, particularly when it comes to fast cars. I have two points on my licence courtesy of a bright orange Focus ST, so I’m quite happy to see just how understated the SEAT Leon FR is. The bodykit is so subtle it has to be pointed out to the uninitiated while the 17” wheels don’t so much broadcast the FR’s performance as pin a small memo to the notice board in the hall near the back door. Overall, it’s really no more aggressive than the boggo car, although that’s not to say it’s not a handsome thing to behold, and even though it’s garbed in bright red paint, few heads turn to soak up its FR-ness. It really does redefine stealth.
Inside, the FR underplays its performance credentials to such an extent it’s annoying. The cabin is a relentless barrage of black and greys with drab detailing and bland surfacing. Oh, it’s got nice seats, a great driving position and ergonomically it can’t be faulted, but the interior ambience is so downbeat it’s enough to bring a Feng Shui consultant to his knees.
As a driver’s car, the FR is better: one part Golf GTi, two parts Audi S3, which is hardly surprising considering it shares all of its major mechanical components with both. Like the Audi, the FR’s ride is firm and there’s quite a bit of body movement in corners and under braking, while the steering is just as sharp as the Audi, too, though with a touch more feel. The Leon also has the same tendency to understeer as the Audi, although its lack of bite could be down to the rather utilitarian Pirelli tyres. By the same token, we notice the FR has also got the GTi’s better low speed ride, its considerably better brake feel and exactly the same power delivery from its identical 2.0-litre, turbo-charged engine. It’s not as well-rounded as the Golf GTi, unsurprisingly, but it’s still a fun car in its own right and more engaging than the S3.
By current performance standards, the 200hp, 280Nm Leon FR might be a little tame, but it’s still quick enough to get you into trouble (0-100 km/h takes 7.3 seconds and top speed is 229 km/h). Despite this, there were no tickets, no penalty points, no challenges from more-noise-than power Civics and no fist-waving fogies during my week with the SEAT Leon FR. All I experienced was rapid, below-the-radar, hassle-free fun.
Seat has done well to give the Leon FR its own personality, but in terms of style and dynamics VW wasn’t going to allow it to topple the mighty Golf GTi.
Seat Leon FR
Engine 2.0-litre 4-cylinder turbo,
200hp, 280Nm torque
Transmission 6-speed manual
Acceleration 0-100km/h 7.3 seconds
Top speed 229km/h
Economy 7.9 litres/100km
CO2 Emissions 190 g/km