Review: SEAT Leon (1999 – 2005)


5 Stars for 20v and Cupra. Best looking, best handling car on Golf IV floorpan, with 35mpg economy potential. 130 and 150PS diesels.

Only 3 stars for 1.6 and 4 stars for 90 and 110 diesels.

Recently Added To This Review

9 May 2016

Report of 200,000 miles with very little trouble from 2001 SEAT Leon Cupra R. Read more

12 November 2012

Cure for door leaks: Leaks of this nature are a known difficulty with the Toledo and Leon. The cause in my case was not the plastic membrane inside the doors, but the seal between the door and the inner... Read more

2 July 2003

TDI PD 130 diesels available in UK from July 2003. 20VT Cupra R has full 225bhp S3 engine from October 2003, price £17,500. TDI PD 130 six-speed at £15,250 from Summer 2003. TDI PD 150 Cupra... Read more

SEAT Leon (1999 – 2005): At A Glance

The car I liked so much I bought one.

Why do I love the SEAT Leon 20VT so much? We go back a long way together. To Aviles in November 1999 and a memorable drive with George Fowler of The Star through the Cantabrian Mountains to the city of Leon itself. On that trip, on a long, straight, deserted stretch of two-lane blacktop, we hit 235kph (147mph). Not bad for a VW Golf-sized five-door, five-seater hatchback.

Now obviously not many of us are going to risk these sort of speeds in Mr Blair's slowed-down, begatsoed Britain. We just like to know the potential is there. And the long gearing of 25mph per 1,000 rpm in 6th also gives potential for remarkable 43mpg economy at motorway cruising speeds.

SEAT Leon 20VT Cupra 2001 Road Test

What does a SEAT Leon (1999 – 2005) cost?

List Price from £18,590
Buy new from £12,925
Contract hire from £133.60 per month

What's the SEAT Leon (1999 – 2005) like to drive?

But the thing about the SEAT Leon 20VT, and its little brother, the Ibiza Cupra for that matter, is that unlike most of the sanitised de-characterised sporty cars of today, it actually feels alive. You get in, start it up and it begs you to drive it instead of merely sit there, steer and change gear. The old Peugeot 205 GTi was like that. The Alfa 156 2.5 V6 six-speed is like that. The Peugeot 306 GTi-6 is too. But not many other cars are these days, particularly other VAG models with different badges.

What you really get with the Leon 20VT is a five-door, five-seater, two-wheel-drive, six-speed Audi TT that looks like an Alfasud. The RHD example I had for an all-too-brief five days worked out £10,000 cheaper than a 170bhp Golf V5. Yet it out-performed the Golf on every score apart from Golf Club snobbery and the lack of chrome plated luggage ties in the boot. Its real potential is revealed on fast open roads where the six-speed box offers a gear for every eventuality and the handling knocks spots of any other VAG product on the same floorpan, except the Audi TT.

It's quick, comfortable, economical, grips and handles well, has all the kit you need, and at £14,995 it's the closest you will get to a bargain in this country. It's everything you need and a full five-seater with decent luggage space, so you don't have to make any compromises. My wife loved it. And the only bit that had loosened up in the 20,000-miler we tried was the engine. The gearchange remained impressively precise, and there wasn't a single rattle from anywhere.

The 20VT is the obvious leader of the Leon pack. But the others also boast the same Alfasud styling and the same Latin character without any Latin temperament (early examples were actually built in Belgium). At the asking prices, every one of them is a bargain.

If you're not bothered about Golf snobbery, they're all better cars for less money.

In October 2002 I put my money where my mouth is and bought a two year old 20VT Sport at auction for £7,775. I ran it for 10 months, nothing has gone wrong apart from a misplaced cover over the pollen filter, and it was always been a pleasure to drive returning up to 34mpg if I took it easy. I sold it in August 2003 for £7,500.

What have we been asked about the SEAT Leon (1999 – 2005)?

Every day we're asked hundreds of questions from car buyers and owners through Ask Honest John. Our team of experts, including the nation's favourite motoring agony uncle - Honest John himself - answer queries and conudrums ranging from what car to buy to how to care for it as an owner. If you could do with a spot of friendly advice before buying you're next car, get in touch and we'll do what we can to help.

Ask HJ

Central locking and electric window issues

I have a few issues regarding the electrics in my SEAT Leon Cupra 2003. I have had it for a year now. When I purchased it the rear passenger central locking failed to lock. A few months after the electric window failed to work. During this time I noticed the battery was running out if I left the car for 3 days without turning it over and still continues to do so if I don't. I noticed water ingress in the drivers foot well a few months after that but resolved this. Could these issues be down to a broken wire in door jam or am I looking potentially at something bigger. Any help would be amazing.
The ECU for these functions is inside the driver's door (as it is on most VWG cars) where is it vulnerable to eventual moisture ingress. Two ways the footwell water could be coming in. One is via the pollen filter because the cover over it has been cracked or it has not been properly fitted (I had this on a Leon 20VT Sport back in 2002). The other is a failed plastic membrane between the driver's door structure and door card. Also make sure that the drain holes in the bottoms of the doors are clear (using a wooden stick so you don't damage the paint and allow rusting).
Answered by Honest John
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