The term ‘diesel hot hatch’ is surely one of the biggest oxymorons in motoring. Up there with ‘sports SUV’. The two things just aren’t compatible.
Hot hatches are fun and playful; diesels aren’t that. But in our fuel economy and emissions obsessed world, the diesel hot hatch is definitely A Thing. Indeed, they often out-sell their petrol-powered counterparts.
The SEAT Leon SC TDi 184 FR wades into battle sporting VW Group’s MQB platform and a 181bhp, 2.0-litre engine. Exactly the same package as the Volkswagen Golf GTD and Skoda Octavia vRS.
In SEAT’s hands, the ingredients produce a dish that’s sporty-ish. That isn’t necessarily a criticism. FR is the lower of SEAT’s two-tier performance range; full-fat Cupra models are the full-on Tarmac terrors, claiming several Nurburgring lap records.
It’s unlikely a typical diesel FR buyer is particularly concerned about on-the-limit track lappery. But it’s still quite satisfying to hammer across a back road. The electric power steering is well weighted, the chassis communicative. Not all that involving, but it’s an easy car to make swift progress in. Helps that the ride is just on the supple side of firm.
Sport mode firms everything up, adds weight to the steering and holds onto gears longer, adding not a lot to the experience. You can configure the various settings separately in Individual mode, but I thought it was best left as is in Normal.
However capable it is across country, though, this kind of car will ultimately spend most of its life on motorways. And it’s there that the Leon SC TDi FR starts to make most sense. The engine produces a chunky 280lb/ft of torque which peaks at 1,750rpm, i.e. at motorway speeds in top gear. I never found it lacking punch. 0-62mph is dealt with in 7.4 seconds, top speed is 142mph.
The otherwise excellent six-speed DSG gearbox fitted to our car did have a very annoying habbit, though. Floor the throttle in top gear and the ‘box always dropped a couple of cogs, spiking the revs right to the top of the power band, producing a lot of noise but not much go. Even switching to manual mode didn’t stop it. Still, at least the changes are completely seamless.
It’s quiet and refined at speed and the seats are very comfortable even for my dodgy back. There’s plenty of space front and back and a decent boot. The rear seats don’t lose any legroom over the five-door Leon, but headroom is pinched slightly by the more steeply raked roofline.
The interior isn’t the most interesting of places to spend time and perceived quality lags behind both the Octavia and Golf. But everything is within easy reach and it won’t fall apart.
Our car came with an excellent upgraded stereo (£355) and a no-cost technology pack that included LED headlights, DAB radio and a 5.8-inch touchscreen infotainment system with 3D satnav, all of which was easy and intuitive to use.
It’s an easy car get on with, the Leon SC TDi 184 FR. It’s stylish, frugal (we achieved high 40s to the gallon), sporty when you want it to be and composed when you don’t. Personally, I’d save £1,350 and do without the DSG ‘box, but even with it’s good value at £24,395.
SEAT Leon SC 2.0 TDi 184 FR DSG
Engine: 2.0-litre 4-cylinder turbo diesel
Transmission: 6-speed dual-clutch; front-wheel-drive
Power/Torque: 181bhp; 280lb/ft
Economy/Emissions: 60.1mpg; 119g/km
0-62mph: 7.4 seconds
Top speed: 142mph
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By Only Motors