Current leaders of the British and World Touring Car Championships, SEAT has rolled out a new FR (Formula Racing) Series of models to add impetus to their sales which are already up by 12 per cent for the first six months of this year, even though the overall market is 4.5 per cent down on last year.
As SEAT’s new UK Managing Director Peter Wyhinny said at the British Motor Show last week, “Doing Touring Cars is not cheap but our sales have proved it’s worth it for us and helped put us where we are today so it’s money well spent."
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SEAT’s new factory built FR Series comprises of the second-generation Leon FR, the Altea FR and a greater value Ibiza FR. Distinctive sporty design, fast and fun driving performance and notable value for money are the principal selling points say SEAT.
Realising that today’s performance orientated customers no longer have a petrol only mentality SEAT has introduced the new FR models with petrol and diesel engine options for all three ranges. However the new Leon Cupra, due to arrive in the UK early next year, will be petrol only with a 240PS engine.
Mike Orford, Head of Press and Public Relations for SEAT UK said this week, “As a brand we have the youngest customer profile in Europe with an average age of 38 years.
The majority of our customers are retail buyers with fleet sales accounting for 35 per cent of our overall business. There is a trend for company car users to move away from high volume brands of vehicles preferring to drive more sporting and exclusive models. They have certainly been attracted by our motorsport activities. The FR models, together with our newly strengthened fleet sales team, will grow our fleet and company car user-chooser sales to around 40 per cent and we expect to sell in the region of 30,000 vehicles in the UK this year.
He added, “The new Leon range, even without the FR variants, had seen sales grow by 69 per cent so far this year."
He added, “We expect to sell over 11,000 Leon models this year with FR versions accounting for 40 per cent of sales and 60 per cent FR variants are expected to be diesel."
“With the Ibiza we again expect to sell over 11,000 units in total with FR variants accounting for 10 per cent of sales and diesel variants taking 55 per cent of the FR total."
“As for the Altea range we think up to 4,000 sales are achievable with 10 per cent being FR variants and 80 per cent of those being diesel models."
For the Ibiza FR the petrol and diesel engine options are 1.8-litre 150PS turbocharged petrol and 1.9 TDI 130PS units priced at £11,975 and £13,120 respectively.
The Leon and Altea FR models use new 2.0-litre T FSI, 200PS turbocharged direct injection petrol or 2.0-litre TDI 170PS direct injection diesel units. The Leon FR T FSI model is priced at £16,995, the TDI at £17,495, the Altea FR T FSI at £17,295 and the TDI at £17,795.
Performance figures for the FR models are as follows.
Ibiza 1.8 T FR, 134mph, 0-62mph in 8.4 seconds combined fuel consumption 35.8mpg. The TDI variant, 129mph 0-62 in 9.3 seconds and 53.3mpg.
The Leon T FSI FR, 142mph, 0-62mph 7.3 seconds and 35.8mpg. The Leon TDI FR, 135mph. 0-62mph in 8.2 seconds and 47.1mpg.
The Altea T FSI FR, 136mph, 0-62mph in 7.7 seconds, and 34.4mpg. The Altea TDI FR, 130mph, 0-62mph in 8.6seconds and 45.6mpg
SEAT said this week, at the UK media’s test drive event held at the Prodrive proving ground in Warwickshire that all three FR ranges are quite distinct from other models in the range but they share design touches that are exclusive to the FR Series. All feature 17-inch alloy wheels, silver painted door mirrors, twin exhaust pipes, motorsport style front and rear bumpers, FR sports seats, white instrumentation, FR exclusive design steering wheel and gear lever knob and a generous application of FR badging inside and out.
In the limited space available I will give my driving impressions about the Leon FR models as it is the Leon that is the ‘halo’ model for the FR range. This is due to SEAT’s impressive touring car motorsport activities with the Leon and, depending upon family requirements, the model most likely to attract buyers who do not want to drive a Ford or Vauxhall ‘hot hatch’. As the Leon is predicted to be the best selling FR model, particularly the diesel version, this is the one I will concentrate on.
For the record, the Ibiza is the small hatchback in the SEAT range and the Altea a cross between a five-door hatchback and a tall MPV so the FR go-faster versions will appeal to certain customers in those segments.
The Leon is a five-door hatchback with funky styling as standard so the added FR sporty design details give it significant road presence that will appeal. The Leon in standard form is a sharp handling vehicle with a spacious and classy interior. The FR treatment is the icing on the cake. The downside to all Leon models are the wide windscreen pillars which reduce visibility and the high rear sill to the boot, coupled to the narrow lower section of the rear tailgate opening, which makes loading the vehicle difficult.
Which of the two high performance engines customers choose will be totally down to the sort of mileage they cover. The high mileage company car or user-chooser customer can go for the 2.0-litre TDI 170PS turbocharged diesel model without fear of being outperformed. The top speed of 135mph and the 0-62mph dash covered in a little more than eight seconds says it all but the potential for 47mpg will be a big draw. The engine is strong; it is quiet and remains flexible to drive in congested traffic.
Both the high performance diesel and petrol Leon models impressed me with their ability to get the power down on to the road with the front wheel drive layout. Normally ‘hot hatches’ are renowned for huge amounts of torque steer and spinning wheels looking for grip during early stages of acceleration. Not so the Leon FR. Virtually no torque steer and the wheels grip eagerly on wet or drive surfaces. It is a very clever and impressive transmission.
The 2.0-litre T FSI 200PS turbocharged direction injection petrol engine should not be overlooked and it will attract lower mileage users. This engine is regarded as one of the best two-litre petrol engines available today from any manufacturer. Like the diesel it is responsive, refined and when needed flexible at low speeds.
Asked to choose which one I’d go for between petrol and diesel, would be a very difficult decision. I like both very much but the petrol unit just felt that bit more eager to respond to the demands of my right foot. However over the same test conditions, driving pretty hard, the petrol model returned 26.4mpg against the 32.9mpg of the TDI diesel variant so my pocket might just have the final say on which model to go for in the end. But then the decision is further complicated because the petrol T FSI version is £500 cheaper to buy than the diesel Leon TDI. However the petrol model is more expensive to insure and costs more in road tax. There is no final answer, depends really on what your annual mileage is. Both of them are impressive.
As for handling and road manners there are no issues. The Leon offers first rate front end grip with predictable understeer during really hard cornering. The suspension is stiff of course and it generally absorbs the bumps and portholes pretty well but undulating and rippled road surfaces, driven over at high speed, will get the Leon FR hopping around.
It is really good to see a manufacturer involved in motorsport at the highest levels making their costly racing involvement work for them with increased sales and brand awareness. That is not the case the majority of the time with other manufacturers.
SEAT LEON 2.0 TDI FR.
Engine: 2.0-litre, turbocharged direct injection diesel, 170PS, 350Nm (206lbs ft) of torque from 1,800rpm.
Transmission: 6-speed manual.
Performance: 135mph, 0-62mph 8.2 seconds, 47.1mpg (32.9mpg actual).
VED: Band D £135.
Insurance group: 12.
For: Fun to drive, Leon good looks, FR added motorsport styling touches, undoubted competitive performance.
Against: Limited visibility for the driver, restricted boot space and access, nervous ride over bumpy roads driven at speed.