Pricing starts at £17,455 for the five-door hatchback, £18,450 for the ST estate and £19,340 for the SC three-door

Pricing starts at £17,455 for the five-door hatchback, £18,450 for the ST estate and £19,340 for the SC three-door

April was a great month for SEAT, with double digit percentage rises in the brand's top three markets of Spain, Germany and Britain. The Ibiza and Ateca were part of the reason for a surge to 41,400 SEAT registrations. So too was an updated Leon, deliveries of which are now gathering pace in all European countries. 

April worldwide deliveries up 16 per cent

Between 1 January and 30 April, 158,700 vehicles were delivered worldwide. That's a gain of 14.5% when compared to the same period in 2016 (138,600). Despite a calendar effect in Germany where there were fewer selling days, plus a big fall off for the UK in general after a record-setting March, the company's April deliveries rose by 16.0% compared to the same month in 2016, reaching a total of 41,400 vehicles (2016: 35,700).

The recent boom in deliveries also builds on good financial progress. SEAT S.A., which is limited mainly to Europe and a few markets in the Americas (North Africa production and sales won't commence until later in 2017), turned a profit for the first time in more than a decade last year. And that was additionally impressive given that it had only one high-margin model, the Ateca. This Golf-sized SUV has also only been in production since July 2016.

SEAT's mainstream model continues to be the C segment Leon, although the Ibiza has in the past challenged it for the number one status in the model range. That order should return in a few months' time, as the new Ibiza, which is also the first model for the Volkswagen Group's MQB A0 architecture, hits the market. Then comes the Arona, a B-SUV, followed by next year's D-SUV. It too should take its badge from a Spanish city or region: possibilities include Almería, Alicante, Ávila and Álava.

Lifecycle: from 2012 until...2019?

The latest Leon is the model series' first proper update since the start of production at Martorell in October 2012. It will be built there until late 2019, at which time a rebodied model will likely enter production. The MQB A/B architecture will have some updates but nothing major is expected. 

The current Leon five-door had its global debut at the Paris motor show in September 2012. A three-door body (Leon SC) was launched at the Geneva motor show in March 2013. This has a shorter wheelbase. A wagon (Leon ST) premiered at the Frankfurt motor show in September 2013. SEAT then revealed 4Drive (all-wheel drive) versions of the ST at January 2014's Vienna motor show.

Two replacements for the turbocharged Cupra R had their debuts at the 2014 Geneva motor show. These were the 265PS 2.0-litre turbo Cupra and 280PS 2.0-litre turbo Cupra 280. Each was at first available with the choice of three- or five-doors. A Cupra estate was then announced in January 2015.

A further variant is the X-Perience, a  crossover version based on the ST. This had its debut at the Paris motor show in October 2014 and went on sale across Europe during the following months (January 2015 for the UK).

SEAT announced a plug-in hybrid prototype variant, the Leon Cenit Verde (Green Zenith) in June 2013. The firm stated at the time that it had no plans to put such a model into production, however. The Cenit Verde was powered by the combination of a 122PS 1.4 TSI petrol engine and a 102PS electric motor.

New powertrains and other changes

The facelifted Leon range which is now in UK showrooms was announced to the media in October 2016. There are also several new engines. The updated cars went on sale in LHD countries from January, with the Cupra SC, Cupra and Cupra ST following one month later. The Cupras are powered by a 300hp version of the Volkswagen Group's 2.0 TSI petrol engine. This is 10hp more than the pre-facelift SC, five-door and estate, while torque is up by 30Nm to 380Nm. The ST is the only one of the three Cupras to come with 4Drive. It also has a DSG gearbox.

In Britain, the engine changes include a 115PS version of the Volkswagen Group's 1.6 diesel, while a 1.0-litre three-cylinder petrol engine, which has an identical power output, is also new for the UK market. 

There are five petrol and three diesel choices:

  • 1.0 TSI 115PS
  • 1.2 110
  • 1.4 125
  • 1.4 EcoTSI 150
  • 1.8 180
  • 1.6 TDI 115
  • 2.0 TDI 150
  • 2.0 TDI 184

The only car to have a five-speed manual gearbox is the 115PS diesel; all others come with a six-speed shift or optional seven-speed DSG twin clutch transmission. 

The best of the lot is the most powerful diesel, this engine being shared with my personal favourite from the Golf range, the GTD. Torque output is 380Nm and that helps with 0-62mph being achieved in 7.5 seconds. This figure applies to both manual and DSG, with top speeds of 142 and 140mph respectively. CO2 for the manual is 118g/km and 120 for the DSG, with Combined MPG quoted as 62.8 (manual) and 61.4mpg (DSG). 

The styling changes do make the latest model stand out from the outgoing original third generation car, especially at the front end. After almost five years on the market, the Leon is remarkably undated, though personally, I prefer the looks of the previous shape cars. And yet really, that just proves how irrelevant our own preferences can be, with the Mark 3 being the best seller in the cars' 19 years of production.

Generation one, which was the rounded model, to my eyes remains the best looking SEAT, though its 2006 replacement looked terrific from some angles and had the unusual feature of wipers which parked on top of the A pillars. The Altea, which was anything but a looker, went one better, the designers having been allowed to style the screen-cleaning arms to give the appearance of being part of those pillars. 

Generation three is the poorer for having conventional wipers - perhaps the designer-label ones will re-emerge in evolved form with the arrival of the Mark 4 car in late 2019? 

Spain: Opel loses number one status to SEAT

Design details aside, the freshened Leon is clearly a highly attractive proposition to judge by how well it has been selling. April registrations for the new model in Spain rose by 16 per cent, taking the car's year to date total to 12,747 units. The Ibiza remains the company's number one model in its home market and last month those cars restored SEAT to the position of market leader ahead of Opel. Brand sales shot up by 43 per cent to 34,882 for the year to the end of April. GM Europe's brand managed 32,628 registrations thanks mainly to the low margin Corsa and is only 1,500 vehicles ahead of number three brand Volkswagen.

Germany: Leon outselling Focus

Germany is an increasingly important market for SEAT, where, like Skoda, the Volkswagen connection helps a great deal. April was an especially good month for the Leon in Germany: it outsold the Ford Focus. The numbers were 4,187 versus 4,161. Some also think of the Octavia as a car in the C-segment and for these people, there is another upset with the SEAT also outselling the Skoda (4,105).

May numbers for Germany will be worth a look, with the Leon fewer than 150 cars behind the Corsa last month. The little Opel was Germany's 12th best selling vehicle last month. What's more, with the aged Fiesta falling down the sales charts (Apr: 3,292 registrations), the Leon (14,346 YtD) is now only 542 cars behind the Ford (14,888). Of course, that won't last once the new Fiesta hits the market but the current situation is worth noting for the successes being racked up by the SEAT brand. Year to date, Fiat (31,185) has been pushed off its 10th position by the Spanish marque (31,684) too. Soon, Hyundai could be unseated: its April sales fell by 12 per cent and now stand at 32,524 vehicles.

Britain: could Honda/Mini/Citroen be toppled in May?

In Britain, SEAT is having an outstanding 2017. The market might have plunged but the brand from Martorell's sales were up 12 per cent to 3,926 (Apr '16: 3,500). That gave SEAT market share of 3.55 per cent. As at the end of the first four months, brand share stands at 2.13 per cent and a year ago it was just 1.76 per cent. The 20,708 vehicles delivered compares to 19,558 for Fiat, 20,787 for Honda, 21,001 for Mini and 21,136 for Citroen.

SEAT will probably manage to pull clear of Honda and Citroen soon enough, and perhaps Mini too. From there, though, it's a big gap to the next brand, which is Skoda (28,333) which is itself close to Renault (29,200). But who knows what could be possible in 2018 and beyond? The revised Leon certainly arrives at the perfect time for Britain's SEAT dealers.

What are the next new models from SEAT?

The next new models will be the Ibiza (July for the UK), Arona (Nov/Dec), facelifted Alhambra (2018), Ford Edge rival (late 2018), Mii (first half of 2019), and then as mentioned earlier, a new Leon from late 2019. A facelifted Ateca should be the main news in 2020. Did I forget the Toledo? No. It might sell OK in Turkey, Mexico and some European countries but numbers are nothing special. So expect production, which takes place at Skoda's Mlada Boleslav factory, to be quietly wound down in perhaps mid-2018. 

Next target: annual sales of half a million

Looking at what SEAT has in its new model pipeline, as well as the desirability of the cars it already produces, 2017 should be another good year for the company, following a strong 2016. Could this company even become self-funding? As long as transaction prices on the three SUVs - Arona, Ateca and the Wolfsburg-built D segment model to come - are far higher than their similarly sized hatchbacks equivalents, far brighter days could be ahead for this formerly loss making firm.