Downsized engine offers decent refinement but disappointing economy

What is it?

The turbocharged 1.2 TSI petrol engine fitted under the bonnet of this Seat Leon is the smallest engine Seat will sell you in its five-door family hatchback.

Volkswagen Group is at the forefront of downsized engine technology and this engine aims to offer you both performance and economy benefits. It produces a respectable 104bhp and 129lb ft, while also offering 52.3mpg claimed combined economy and 124g/km CO2 emissions.

Throw in a glut of standard equipment in this SE Copa model - including a sat-nav and multimedia system, rear parking sensors, special Copa upholstery, dual zone climate control, automatic lights and wipers and leather trim for the steering wheel - and, on paper at least, this Leon looks to offer a very compelling overall package.

What’s it like?

Where it really scores is on refinement. The engine rewards you for driving it smoothly and there is no aural feedback to suggest you’re giving the downsized engine a good thrashing in everyday situations, even if you sometimes need to to make progress when off the motorway. A sixth forward ratio for the slick manual gearbox is welcome to further boost the refinement on longer motorway runs.

But it is an economy issue that is this Leon’s biggest failing. We rarely achieved above 35mpg on our test route, which included everything from two long motorway runs, country lanes, city centres and heavy traffic. Official economy figures aren’t usually to be trusted, but the distance from the official 52.3mpg figure is a long way off even allowing for this.

Off the line, the engine tends to feel a bit sluggish, as it does again near the top of its rev range. But there’s enough mid-range shove (peak torque arrives at 1550rpm) to prevent the car from being called gutless.

Elsewhere, the Leon rides, handles and steers with competence. It feels a good deal lighter at the front-end than some of the larger diesel-engined Leons in the range. But there’s not enough feedback from the handling or steering for any real involvement that even more ordinary versions of rivals from Ford and Alfa Romeo can muster.

Should I buy one?

We’d recommend you looked elsewhere in the Leon range for a better all-rounder. The 1.6 TDI Ecomotive is a premium of around £700 over this 1.2 TSI model in the impressive SE Copa trim, but it offers considerably better economy and will also cost you less to tax. Performance is comparable between the two cars, too.

Seat Leon 1.2 TSI SE Copa

Price: £16,940; Top speed: 115mph; 0-62mph: 11.0sec; Economy: 52.3mpg combined; CO2: 124g/km; Kerb weight: 1280kg; Engine: 4cyl, 1197cc, turbocharged petrol; Power: 104bhp at 5000rpm; Torque: 129lb ft at 1550rpm; Gearbox: 6spd manual

Mark Tisshaw

Title: Editor

Mark is a journalist with more than a decade of top-level experience in the automotive industry. He first joined Autocar in 2009, having previously worked in local newspapers. He has held several roles at Autocar, including news editor, deputy editor, digital editor and his current position of editor, one he has held since 2017.

From this position he oversees all of Autocar’s content across the print magazine, website, social media, video, and podcast channels, as well as our recent launch, Autocar Business. Mark regularly interviews the very top global executives in the automotive industry, telling their stories and holding them to account, meeting them at shows and events around the world.

Mark is a Car of the Year juror, a prestigious annual award that Autocar is one of the main sponsors of. He has made media appearances on the likes of the BBC, and contributed to titles including What Car?Move Electric and Pistonheads, and has written a column for The Sun.

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captainrick 26 July 2011

Re: Seat Leon 1.2 TSI Copa

My wife's Fabia 1.2TSI DSG Elegance is nearly a year old and the engine has loosened up nicely. Perhaps official figures are taken with a well run-in engine, where as magazines seem to test brand new cars with very low mileage? That said, her average 45 mpg is a long way short of the official 53mpg and that drops to 40 in urban areas. I have mentioned before on other threads, I think that this is a fantastic engine/gearbox combo. Torquey and refined at low revs - 1300rpm @30mph around town in 6th - same at 40mph in 7th and still as tractable as any small diesel. Refined and quiet on the motorway. Out on a B road, it transforms in to a rorty, free revving unit which is surprisingly fun (speaking as a former owner of a Mark 2 Golf GTI and various petrol 3 series.) This engine manages to cope with larger, heavier Octavias, Yetis and Tourans etc. but suspect that is at its best in superminis. B*gger the tax savings of the diesel, IMHO for private buyers this is the best option unless well above average miles/annum.

theonlydt 26 July 2011

Re: Seat Leon 1.2 TSI Copa

nettingham wrote:
, but on Ibiza the 1.2 TSI is at 119g/km, and comes with start-stop.
You're right - I'd forgotten the Ibiza, sorry.

Customers are used to paying more for diesel engines than petrol engines - as diesel requires expensive common rail injection, intercoolers, turbo chargers etc... The same as a TSI petrol engine. So I wouldn't be surprised if the margin on a VAG diesel was higher than on their TSI engines - led by the consumer's willingness to pay.

So why then take away one of the major reasons for choosing your diesel engine - a lower tax rate, by putting in a little extra effort to get your petrol model to scrape in to band B. Any of the bluemotion changes would probably do it - start/stop, low resistance tyres, the modified aerodynamics etc.

nettingham 26 July 2011

Re: Seat Leon 1.2 TSI Copa

theonlydt wrote:
You see - I think the polo, fabia and ibiza petrols deliberately don't produce less than 120g. Fitting start/stop would cost £300, made back in 5 years by a customer JUST on the road tax alone by taking it below 120g. That would take sales away from the band B diesel though, so why do that? Almost all the 1.2tsis produce anywhere between 121g and 124g - I'm slightly cynical...

You may have a point on some cars, but on Ibiza the 1.2 TSI is at 119g/km, and comes with start-stop. The DSG version of this, without start-stop, sits at 124g/km.