Our Cars: SEAT Leon SC FR 1.4 TSI

28 October 2013: The history of the SEAT Leon

The Details

Current mileage 1133
Claimed economy 54.3mpg
Actual economy 44.3mpg

Sociedad Española de Automóviles de Turismo (SEAT), or the Spanish Touring Car Company was founded in 1950 in alliance with Fiat. It took a few years for SEAT to produce its first car, the 1400, which was really a Fiat 1400 produced under licence, wearing SEAT badges. SEAT continued to produce licence-built Fiats until the early 1980s when a dispute over funding erupted between the two brands.

Eventually the dispute meant that SEAT needed salvation and that came from Volkswagen in the mid-1980s. Gradually Volkswagen Group bought further interests in the brand until it became a wholly owned subsidiary – effectively the SEAT we know today. That patchy history means the current generation Leon has lots of ancestors - in this update I’m counting down through some of the most important.

SEAT 1400


The 1400 was where it all began for SEAT - it was the maker's very first car. Produced from 1953-1963 it was a licence built Fiat 1400, so while it might be an important car in SEAT's history it's hardly particularly noteworthy. Power came from a 1400cc engine, hence the name, and claimed power was around 44PS. Not exactly electrifying!

SEAT 1430


The 1430 is arguably the originator of the Leon. Back in 1969 when it was introduced the average family car was a saloon, rather than a hatchback, but the lineage can be traced back to the 124, another Fiat design built under licence. SEAT's modern, sporty image can be traced back to the 'Especial' variant of this car, too.

SEAT 131


The 131 was not radically different from the 1430 it succeeded, with the same three-box styling. It was based on the Fiat 131, but with adaptions for the Spanish market. Later in its life the 131 was sold with a diesel engine with a rather large 2.5-litre capacity. 

SEAT Ronda


The Ronda was SEAT's first self-developed car, although Fiat argued that it was a replica of the Ritmo. Indeed the two brands fell out sufficiently for the case to go to court where the judge decided the Ronda was different from the Ritmo and that it wasn't a copy after all. 

SEAT Malaga


Being a family saloon car, the Malaga was a successor to the 131 but it's really a mishmash. Chop the boot off and its a saloon version of the Ibiza, which itself is based on the Ronda. It's the last car in this list that is related to Fiat - Volkswagen Group took the reigns before the Toledo was produced. 

SEAT Toledo


The first generation Toledo is built on the Golf Mk2 platform, much like the current Leon is based on the same platform as the Golf Mk7. It wasn't a massive seller and perhaps its biggest claim to fame is the fact it was the star prize on Family Fortunes quite regularly through the 1990s. 

Leon I

 Leon I

With the first generation Leon, SEAT broadened its range. Built on the Golf Mk4 platform it managed to deliver excitement, with bright colours and sporty engines on offer. The Toledo continued in production as a saloon variant of this generation Leon, too. 

Leon II

Leon II

The second generation Leon continued with the youthful image of its predecessor. Most exciting of the lot was the Cupra R, a 265PS hot hatch that really gave the SEAT brand an image boost. For this generation the separation between the Toledo and Leon grew further, with the former becoming a sort of mini-MPV.

Leon III

Leon 3

The success of the Leon meant a pre-existing customer base for the latest generation Leon. It's not quite as radically styled as its predecessor, but it is packed with technology and offers good value for money. That ought to make it popular with owners upgrading from the old car. But does it have the same sporty character and will it be as easy to live with? We'll find out in the coming months.

« Earlier: Hi, technology     Later: Platform Partners »

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