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SEAT Leon Ecomotive 1.6 TDI SE 5-door

Click to view picture gallery“By 2012, car manufacturers must
  have 130g/km exhaust emissions as
  an average for their entire model
  ranges in Europe. As cleaner petrol
  and diesel engines continue to
  appear, SEAT’s low 99g/km Leon
  Ecomotive could clean up big time

THE VOLKSWAGEN GROUP RECENTLY INTRODUCED a 1.6-litre TDI turbodiesel engine which emits just 99g/km. Not only is it a new generation 'clean' engine, its low CO2 figure currently means no road tax costs, Congestion Charge exemption and company cars users get away with paying just 13% in Benefit-in-Kind tax.

As the Chancellor looks for ways to balance Britain's Budget, only the Government's bean-counters know how long it will be before the nil or low taxation level goalposts move. Obviously it cannot really be sensible for any car, however clean it is, not to incur a nominal fee for road tax. I am no supporter of increased motoring taxes but a bit of logical strategy on charges would help. To charge nothing for VED doesn't even cover the cost of the printed tax disc or the administration fee.

Another nonsense is the zero cost for the London Congestion charge scheme so long as CO2 emissions are below 100g/km. Why? It's a Congestion Charge; the car is taking space on the road. By all means levy the rate according to how clean a vehicle is but why not charge for the road space it takes up — clean or dirty, it still causes congestion?

The Combined Cycle
fuel economy of the Leon
Ecomotive is officially
74.3mpg — driven
sensibly, my test car only
returned a dismal
Rant over; back to business. A few weeks ago I was applauding Audi for their A3 1.6 TDI three-door hatchback because of its 'headline' low 99g/km emissions and 13% BIK company car tax. However, having just three doors in a family-sized hatchback does have its own drawbacks and although the five-door A3 Sportback does offer the same engine option, CO2 levels stray to 109g/km although even then it's still VED-free in the first year of registration (thereafter 20 per annum) and BIK tax is still 13%.

Now VW family member SEAT has introduced the same 1.6 TDI engine into their Leon Ecomotive five-door family hatchback and its CO2 emissions are also that all-important 99g/km. British Gas have just ordered 500 Leon Ecomotives with this engine as fleet managers from major companies and the utilities sector are targeted to reduce the tax burden incurred by company vehicles.

Volkswagen has also just introduced three- and five-door versions of their Golf with this same 99g/km 1.6 TDI engine, and fellow family member Skoda is sure to follow soon.

The latest SEAT Leon range of family five-door hatchbacks is 4,315mm in length with seating for five. Luggage space ranges from 341 litres with the rear seats in use and a capacious 1,166 litres with them folded. In addition to the Ecomotive models, this new line-up comes with the choice of 1.2, 1.4 and 2.0-litre petrol and 1.6, 1.9 and 2.0-litre TDI engines. These are complemented by a wide range of specification levels with prices from 14,060 up to 25,205 for the 'hot' 261bhp petrol-engined 2.0-litre TSI 265 Cupra R.

There are two 1.6 TDI Ecomotive 99g/km versions: S, priced at 16,745, and SE which costs 18,045. Both feature Start/Stop technology, Brake Energy Recovery and an aero pack which smoothes out airflow resistance. These models cost 315 more than non-Ecomotive 1.6 TDI S and SE versions that use the same engines but with higher emissions of 109g/km even though they too have Start/Stop and Brake Energy Recovery.

The Combined Cycle fuel economy of the Leon 1.6 TDI Ecomotive with its four-cylinder 104bhp turbodiesel engine and 5-speed manual transmission is officially 74.3mpg but my test car only returned a dismal 53.2mpg — and that was driving in a normal and reasonable manner, observing the speed limits and with a responsible right foot.

Ecomotive versions
feature Start/Stop
technology, Brake Energy
Recovery and an aero
pack which smoothes out
airflow resistance
Just the same way, in fact, as I drove the A3 1.6 TDI which returned 64.7mpg.

The added weight of having two extra doors must make the difference as far as real-life motoring goes but as long as the official Homologation and Type Approval certification (which determines the CO2 rating and published fuel economy figures) says 99g/km and 74.3mpg, then those are the taxable figures.

The performance figures for the Leon Ecomotive are a top speed of 118mph with 0-62mph taking 11.5 seconds. The Audi A3 was more or less the same at 121mph and 11.4 seconds. By the way, the A3, in its three-door form with the same engine, costs 18,315 against the five-door Leon's 16,840 (or 18,140 for the SE).

Another interesting difference between the Audi A3 and Leon 'eco' models is that the Audi coped better with its high fifth gear ratio. Again, I suspect, due to the extra weight and possible even higher final drive ratio, the Leon Ecomotive needed to be driven in fourth gear for much of the time on country roads. In fifth gear it just couldn't cope with speeds under 50mph and for a turbodiesel engine with 184lb ft of torque from 1,500rpm, it's not really good enough for real-life driving conditions.

Being a SEAT — the 'sporty' brand where Touring Car racing successes have dominated the public's perception of the product — the Leon Ecomotive has a very firm ride and it is even firmer because of the low rolling resistance tyres which generally operate with a higher air pressure than normal tyres. Despite the lower grip tyres, the Leon's road holding was as sharp as ever and the steering offered good feedback.

The Leon is a very roomy five-door hatchback which will please as family or business transport although it is not a comfortable car to travel in because of the very firm suspension. However, for creature-comforts the Ecomotive versions are pretty well equipped. The cheapest S version spec includes alloy wheels, traction and electronic handling controls, air conditioning, electrically-operated front windows, electric door mirrors, Start/Stop and energy capture, a good sound system with six speakers, a trip computer and gear shift indicator.

Despite the lower grip
tyres, the Ecomotive’s
road holding was as
sharp as ever and
the steering offered good
SE model additions include dual-zone A/C, electric rear windows, eight speakers, cruise control, folding door mirrors and enhanced interior trim.

SEAT is now changing its message to future customers: it seems less about being sporty and more about greenness as other models, from the Ibiza up, get Ecomotive versions.

The business and fleet customers look likely to become prime target sectors for all manufacturers as retail buyers are predicted to withdraw from the volume sectors of the new car market once the increased VAT comes into force. So, quite rightly, SEAT is ready to chase the 'green pound'.

Sound reasons to consider the low-emitting Leon Ecomotive include its practical size, good looks and sharp handling. It's also well equipped and potentially the right car at the right time so far as tax reductions or exemptions are concerned. But there are downsides: real-life driving couldn't achieve the published mpg figure, the very high gearing spoiled the driving experience, there's a very firm ride, wide windscreen pillars limit visibility and the boot is awkwardly shaped. — David Mile

SEAT Leon Ecomotive 1.6 TDI SE 5-door
| 18,140
Maximum speed: 118mph | 0-62mph: 11.5 seconds | Overall test MPG: 53.2mpg
Power: 104bhp | Torque: 184lb ft | CO2 99g/km