A thousand years ago, when I was learning to drive in a Vauxhall Nova, my instructor impressed upon me the importance of keeping the engine within its power band. No need to over-rev it, but don’t let the engine labour or the revs drop, because you never know when you’ll need that burst of power to get yourself out of a tight spot.
All of that went out of the window a while ago, when maximum fuel economy and minimum emissions became the holy grail. In came gear change indicators which are invariably optimistic, and with fuel injection, knock sensors, ECUs galore and modern fuels, it’s now possible to drive along on a whiff of throttle without the engine getting bogged down. I signed off the last issue with a note about how highly geared our SEAT test car is. It’s hardly something unique to the Leon, of course; the trend in recent years has been to raise gearing in a bid to keep engine revs low when cruising, to cut fuel consumption. It’s a laudable aim and if you spend your life racking up motorway miles, it’s where the diesel car is still king.
But if your driving is on A- and B-roads along with urban streets, you’re more likely to have to just sit in a lower gear, despite what the change-up indicator is telling you. I recently had to undertake a 70-mile drive across the Cotswolds, mainly (but not exclusively) on free-flowing A-roads. As I sat at 50 to 60mph on the A424 and A44 between Stow-on-the-Wold and Evesham, the Leon was happy ticking over in sixth gear sipping fuel at the impressive indicated rate of 68mpg. But as soon as I got to a sharp bend or needed to overtake, I found myself having to change down an extra cog or two, to avoid the revs dropping away to almost nothing, leading to a lack of power.
It’s something that you quickly get used to, and on balance, SEAT has probably made the right decision, but when our Leon first arrived, my first impression with the driving experience was how it lacked the sparkle of its predecessor. It felt more like a 1.6-litre model than a 2.0-litre, although the high gearing has a major upside (apart from the fuel economy), and that’s the added refinement that’s usually a characteristic of a bigger engine. At speed it’s all very hushed, with little in the way of engine, wind or tyre noise, and even under acceleration you can hardly hear the engine doing its thing. Indeed, it’s all a world away from that petrol-engined Vauxhall Nova that I drove in 1988. I wonder what my driving instructor would make of it all now.
Date arrived 17th November 2020
Economy (WLTP combined) 60.1-64.2mpg
Economy (On test) 55.7mpg