Our Cars: SEAT Leon SC FR 1.4 TSI

27 January 2014: Maximising fuel economy

The Details

Current mileage 2912
Claimed economy 54.3mpg
Actual economy 47.6mpg

I took my brother out in the Leon the other day for the first time, without telling him what engine is under the bonnet. After a blast up the motorway slip road I asked him what kind of engine he thought it had. Bearing in mind he drives a 2.5-litre V6 Mondeo, he reckoned it was a 2.0-litre petrol.

So he was quite surprised when I told him it was a mere 1.4-litre. His guess was pretty well educated, after all – ten years ago a car with 140PS would almost certainly be a 2.0-litre – or maybe a 1.8-litre at a push. Nowadays things are different – there’s a drive to downsize with smaller, turbocharged engines.

The supposed advantage is an improvement in fuel economy, but with no performance losses. In fact, the turbocharger in our Leon gives better performance than a normally aspirated 2.0-litre thanks to its easily accessible torque, low down the rev range. It’s also pretty frugal compared to an older 2.0-litre engine - that's progress.

However it isn’t as frugal as the official figures would suggest. The combined cycle test produced an official 54.3mpg but in reality I’m getting nearer 43mpg. A quick check in the Real MPG section shows that other owners are doing better though, managing 46.1mpg on average – 15% short of the official figure. That’s pretty typical across all makes and models.

Interestingly SEAT has installed a system in the Leon to help improve fuel economy as much as is possible – not by altering any aspect of the car directly, but by coaching the driver into a more economical driving style. Little ‘Eco-tip’ messages appear in the dashboard to tell you to change up a gear, or to avoid depressing the clutch when the revs are above 1300rpm.


There's a lot of these messages...

Until recently I gesticulated at these and asked them to politely go away, but they don’t listen. I’m sure that there is a way to turn them off hidden deep within the manual, but I’ve not bothered to look. In fact, I’ve decided to pay them heed and actually do as they ask. The result has been an improvement in my economy. Turns out I didn’t know best after all.

Okay, so the improvement isn’t as incredible as you’d hope – I’ve averaged 47.6mpg in the past week or so – but that’s still an improvement. And I didn’t really do much to achieve that – I still cruised at a decent pace on the motorway, I still used the air conditioning as I wished and I still spent lots of time stopping and starting in town.

Before I followed the car’s driving instruction I was managing 43.2mpg, which equates to an approximate annual fuel bill (based on 10,000 miles and today’s average petrol price) of £1380.66. The fairly minor changes to my driving would reduce that bill to £1253.04, a saving of £127.62. I’m convinced I can do better, too.

It just goes to show that driving sensibly can really improve you economy. Not only will it save you money on fuel but it should reduce wear on the brakes and tyres, which yields further savings. So if you buy a Leon and find yourself cursing the Eco Tips over and over again, give them a break. They’re only trying to help. 

« Earlier: Christmas miles     Later: All aboard »

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