Seat Leon 1M, the winner of the VW group hatchback battle of the early 2000s, comes to prove that it still got it in 2023. Here’s why, in today’s article.
Launched in 1998, 2 years after the Audi A3 8L and 1 year after the VW Golf IV, the Seat Leon 1M was initially a hatchback launched by the spanish, a hatchback variance of the Seat Toledo. Surprisingly, no one cared about Seat Toledo and they bought Seat Leon 1M like hot Paella.
Why was the Seat Leon 1M sold like Sangria on hot summer days?
- The Seat Leon 1M was assembled using parts found in the VW dumpster, to reduce R&D costs. Thus, the platform is identical to that of the Golf IV and the interior is identical to that of the Audi A3. You have a car with an interior identical to the A3 and an exterior that looks fresh even in 2023, all this at a price far below that of an A3 or even a Golf IV.
- Need I mention the looks again? Seat Leon 1M had a strong sporty look and engines to match. Besides, there were also many special and sports editions, such as Cupra, Cura R, FR or Top Sport. If the Golf IV is for those who don’t care about cars and the A3 is for those who don’t care about cars but care about the image and status, Seat Leon 1M was strongly inclined towards the sports community. Moreover, the top models also received semi-independent suspension, being a worthy rival for the agile Ford Focus, another compact sports car of the time.
Seat Leon 1M Engines
- 1.4 MPI of 75 horsepower – Too small for the Seat Leon 1M, this engine is probably good around town but that’s about it. It does not have the power to overtake anything, so it is not only slow, but also dangerous.
- 1.6 MPI of 100, 102 and 105 horsepower – An excellent engine for day to day use, but do you really want a Seat Leon 1M without sportiness? It’s like ordering a Sangria without wine. It’s like ordering non-spicy Paella. It’s like drinking Desperados. In any case, the 1.6 MPI suffers from modest oil consumption, frail coil packs and a shivering idle that has no cure.
- 1.8 MPI of 125 horsepower – Now we’re already talking about something else, we’re already approaching the cool stuff. Instead, pay attention to the timing belt, which must be replaced every 60,000 miles / 100,000 kms
- 1.8T of 180, 210 and 225 horsepower – We are right where we need to be, with the best performing engine on the Seat Leon 1M. Eating coilpacks and with occasional turbo failures, this engine is so good that in every cylinder there is a member of Black Eyed Peas humming “Let’s get it started”.
- 2.8 V6 of 204 horsepower – Not as powerful as the 1.8T and the weight doesn’t help either, making the Leon understeer like a pig. Or like a Vectra C.
- 1.9 SDI of insufficient horsepower – With 68 horses available, the naturally aspirated diesel is like a dam: Almost impossible to crack, almost impossible to move. Seriously, the acceleration of the 1.9 SDI is measured by the calendar, and its reliability is borderline ridiculous. It works perfectly with diesel, rapeseed oil, KFC oil, the tears of those from the Ministry of the Environment and possibly sludge from the local dump.
- 1.9 TDI of 90, 100, 110, 130 and 150 horsepower – The well-known 1.9 TDI comes in 5 flavors, like Sangria. Recommended are the 90 horsepower ALH and the 130 horsepower ASZ version. The 90 horsepower version is very economical, very reliable and decent to buy. The 130 horsepower is sufficiently sporty and more reliable than the 150 horse ARL, and the difference in performance is minimal. The other engines have ECU and turbo issues.
Seat Leon 1M Reliability Issues
- Starting with the Cupra models and especially the 1.8T 20V, there are issues with the 6-speed manual gearbox. If it’s a mechanical issues or if it has to do with the spirited driving expected of such a car, we will never know as I don’t want to go down that rabbithole.
- In pure and traditional VW style, there are concerns related to the window seals. They break down, crack, gather water and suddenly it rains in the car. At least they are not expensive. At least if it had rained with Sangria.
- The battery gets excited and from time to time sends more power than it should. This fries your headlight bulbs and in rare cases the instrument cluster.
- The horn gets wet and runs out of air, like a high school freshman who sees UrFavxBoyfriend live. The solution is worthy of British Leyland: Take out the horn, dry it and put it back, only the other way around. You will essentially honk yourself, but pedestrians will also hear.
- The ABS pump works and works only when it wants to. Like a friend who got mad at you but still helps you from time to time. If with the 1.4 MPI engine it doesn’t matter if you have ABS or not because anyway you won’t go fast enough to crash, with the 1.8T you need all the necessary braking force.
- Special mention for the Cupra versions: The versions with 16″ rims do not have enough braking power for high speed or on race track driving. If you want sturdy brakes up to the job, such as Brembo, you will have to go for 18″ rims to be able to fit the calipers.
Seat Leon 1M Verdict
Seat Leon 1M will remain in history as a true classic. A sports car for driving enthusiasts. A car that looks fresh even today. The Seat Leon 1M will remain in the same league as the BMW E46 of memorable cars loved by enthusiasts.
However, if you buy a Seat Leon 1M with a mainstream engine like 1.9 TDI ALH or 1.6 MPI, I think you are making a big mistake. Get a Golf IV, get a normal car. But when it comes to Leon, take an engine that matches the looks. It’s not too expensive.
Which engines do I recommend? For petrol, clearly 1.8T in any power flavor. For diesel, the 130 horsepower 1.9 TDI grunt.