Driven to distraction by nagging gear-change arrows, Motoring Journalist KEITH WARD says the SEAT Leon Ecomotive is one of several cars which may drive you to less economical habits.
WE are all as drivers, regardless of gender, subject to it in this modern, green-conscious automotive world. But surely there is only so much eco-nagging a motorist can take, or at least take notice of.
It could apply to any number of cars, but this outburst happens to be prompted after a week at the wheel of an Ecomotive version of the respected SEAT Leon.
The peak torque or pulling power of its 1.6 turbo diesel engine, modified for improved fuel consumption and exhaust emissions, is given at 1,500 rpm. That, presumably, is when it is working at its most efficient.
It coincides, the instruments show, with 30 mph in third gear and 40 mph in fourth, all very neat and easy to remember. Yet in each case the “nagger” — a little arrow illuminating on the dash — can be urging you to switch to a higher gear.
Do so, and of course the revs slump. And from feeling smooth and comfortable and fairly alert, the engine rumbles and shudders and jerks like a bucking bronco in protest at what is clearly the wrong gear.
The shame is, the arrow-nagger has the potential to spoil what is otherwise an enjoyable drive in the Leon. It handles well, rides comfortably over short and long distances and steers with aplomb. Given its head, the tuned-down engine responded adequately through an easy, five-speed manual box.
All this you might expect from the DNA in an albeit much-tamed, showroom version of the Leon 2.0 TDI which clinched back-to-back driver and manufacturer titles in the FIA World Touring Car Championship in 2008-2009.
Even ignoring the nagger from time to time, but retaining the standard stop-start engine facility when halted, the 1.6 Ecomotive averaged overall easily over 50 mpg. Although well short of the official combined test figure of 74.3, it would please the pocket of many an owner. At one stage in our hands it was heading towards a range of 700 miles between fill-ups.
Behind the scenes, features of the Ecomotive such as the innate high gearing, an energy recovery system harnessed to braking and a drag-reducing underbody panel all contribute.
And, regardless of driving style, the car’s officially recorded CO2 figure of a meagre 99 g/km means you pay no annual road tax, ever.
The Focus or Golf-sized hatchback body is pleasantly styled, with cunningly concealed handles for its rear passenger doors, which leave you with the impression of a coupe.
Below the rear hatch, the boot is wide and extends in length from 830 to 1,440 mm with the split rear seatbacks dropped forward, but the fixed rear seat squab means they slope up rather than form a flat through-floor.
The plain but functional cabin, seating four comfortably and five at a push, with limited rear headroom below the sloping roofline, was relieved in the test car by an upgraded dash display, part of a £795 optional media pack. This included a smart touch-screen sat-nav and DAB radio tuner. The wipers, unusually, sweep up to either side of the windscreen where, when parked, they are out of sight – an established SEAT feature.
Standard across the 23-strong Leon range, priced from £14,060 to £25,205, are air-con, electric front windows and door mirrors, six airbags, two-way steering wheel adjustment, driver’s seat height adjustment, six airbags, MP3 connectivity and ABS with traction control. The mid-table SE trim in the Ecomotive we drove, in a vehicle costing £18,140, comes also with dual zone climate control, superior six-speaker audio, cruise control, height and lumbar adjusters for both front seats, folding door mirrors and electric, tinted rear windows.
And, of course, that arrow-nagger.
THE VITAL STATISTICS
Model: SEAT Leon Ecomotive SE 1.6 TDi CR, five-door
Engine: Diesel; common rail; turbo; 1,598 cc; stop-start; 5-speed manual
Power: 105 PS @ 4,400 rpm; max torque 184 lb ft @ 1500 rpm
Pace: 118 mph; 0-62 in 11.5 secs
MPG: On test 52.1 mpg; official combined 74.3 ; tank 55 litres
CO2: 99 g/km; Annual tax disc Nil; BIK 13%
Warranty: 36 months/60,000 miles; 12 yrs anti-corrosion; 36 months paintwork; 24 mths breakdown Europe-wide
Insurance: Group 15E
Price: £18,140 plus, as tested, an optional £795 media pack with sat-nav