Those in the know will spot the Leon for what it is, essentially a SEAT Toledo in a sharper suit. Launched here in March 2000, the Leon is based on a platform which also spawned the Volkswagen Golf, Bora, Audi A3, Skoda Octavia. With a similar range of engines to those found scattered across these existing ranges, did the Leon have anything to offer that hadn't already been seen before? One look at the price list showed that this was a car that made the Skoda look pricey, the Golf look exorbitant and the Audi pricing laughable. Comparing the range-topping 180bhp Leon Cupra 20VT with the mechanically similar Audi A3 1.8T Sport, and you'd arrive at list prices of £14,995 for the SEAT and £19,200 for its self-conscious German relative.
The only significant changes to the model range came in October 2000, when the 100bhp 1.6-litre engine was upgraded to a 105bhp unit. Trim levels were also altered, the 'original' 20VT Cupra being discontinued, with a less expensive Cupra model based on the Sport specification introduced. Although around £3,000 less, this version didn't have the early car's leather interior, rain sensing wipers, auto-dimming rear view mirror and ESP stability control program. Although leather could be specified as an option on the new version, ESP couldn't, making the earliest 20VT Cupras the definitive Leon model, for the time being at least.
Otherwise the engine choices comprised the 75bhp 1.4, the 125bhp 20v 1.8-litre unit, the 180bhp 21.8 20v turbo, and two 1.9-litre diesels; a 90bhp engine fitted to the TDi S and a 110bhp version fitted to the TDi SE. Mid 2002 saw the introduction of the 210bhp Cupra R version, later updated to 225bhp specification in Autumn 2003. A 130bhp TDi unit was followed in late 2003 by a 150bhp TDi Cupra.
The motoring press warmed instantly to the Leon, and, truth be told, there really isn't a weak link in the range, although the more you spend, the better value you appear to get. The loud exterior colour schemes have become something of a SEAT trademark, reflecting the car's passionate Iberian provenance. Which all makes you feel a bit of a fraud when you discover it's built in Belgium. The all new Leon went on sale in September 2005 spelling the end for this model.