First drive: SEAT Leon FR and FR+
Fancy a fast SEAT Leon, well until now your choices were the Sport, FR, Cupra or the fire-breathing Cupra R.
Well, not anymore as from this month, the Sport and Cupra are no more and SEAT are extending the appeal of the FR trim level that accounted for one in four Leon sales.
Highlights include new engines for the FR and an all-new FR+ trim level.
The FR or Formula Racing trim is now available with the two lower powered engines, a 123bhp, 1.4 TSI petrol (manual only) and the 2.0 TDI CR 138bhp (manual and DSG).
The Leon FR certainly looks the part, with unique FR front and rear bumpers, twin chrome exhaust pipes, trademark silver-painted door mirrors, FR sports seats and steering wheel, rear parking sensors, rain-sensing wipers, automatic headlights and an auto-dimming rear-view mirror.
Move up to the new FR+ trim level, which bridges the gap between the warm FR and the scorching hot Cupra R and there's the choice of the more powerful 2.0 TSI with 208bhp and a 2.0 TDI CR diesel with 168bhp engine.
You''ll be able to spot the hotter FR+ models by the 18-inch 'Ibera' alloy wheels that fill the arches better; the standard SEAT Media System 2.2, which includes satellite-navigation with a five-inch colour touchscreen, a DAB radio, Bluetooth audio streaming and an SD card slot; Bluetooth phone connection; Bi-xenon headlights with AFS (Adaptive Front-lighting System) and front parking sensors.
Both FR and FR+ models are fitted with new LED rear lights that are exclusive to the FR and range-topping Cupra R.
So what are the new FR models like to drive? Well, I started with the petrol and diesel FR models. I've tried the turbocharged 1.4 TSI engine in various different Volkswagen Group cars, but this is the first time in a SEAT and the results are impressive. It feels far gutsier than its 1.4-litres would suggest, happy to rev and well-matched to the six-speed manual transmission.
I then moved on to the diesel FR, which proved to be smooth, torquey and again a slick six-speed manual (although DSG automatic transmission is available as an option).
Then it was time to take the faster FR+ models for spin; it's easy to see why SEAT have discontinued the Cupra trim as with 208bhp and 168bhp for the petrol and diesel versions, they both feel properly hot hatch quick.
All the FR versions that I tried rode well with responsive steering, plenty of grip and sharp, adjustable handling. The ride is harder and slightly more bumpy on the FR+'s 18-inch alloy wheels but it's not uncomfortable.
But the best news is that the SEAT's Leon FR line-up now starts at only £18,205 for the Leon FR 1.4 TSI 125 PS, rising to £22,615 RRP for the lavishly equipped Leon FR+ 2.0 TDI CR DSG-auto 170 PS.
So, surely with these affordable list prices, the SEAT Leon FR range has to be the best value warm and hot hatches on sale. It's no wonder then, that despite a failing UK car market, SEAT saw record market share growth in July 2011.