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SEAT Leon becomes Latin America's first five-star safety car

SEAT Leon becomes Latin America’s first five-star safety car
Tristan Honeywill
For Latin American families who want to travel in safety, the car to buy is the SEAT Leon. Latin NCAP’s latest round of crash tests included six cars with the SEAT Leon Nuevo becoming the first ever to achieve a five-star safety rating in the region. The man to thank is Mario Hurtado.

In Europe and the US most family cars offer a five-star safety rating as standard; in Mexico, such safety is exceptional. The 34 cars crash tested by Latin NCAP have so far confirmed what most people in the region suspected. The protection most cars offer is poor.

The SEAT Leon changes that. It may be the only five-star car on sale in Latin America and it may only be available in Mexico, but buyers can now make a positive choice about safety. Many will choose the SEAT.

I spoke to Mario Hurtado, SEAT’s chief safety engineer just after the announcement. Hurtado joined the company 24 years ago to set up their safety department. He’s proud of the Latin NCAP rating and frank about his work.

“Mexico’s Leon is 90% the same as the car that got five stars from Euro NCAP last year,” he said. “The only difference is that we don’t fit knee airbags as standard in the Latin American version. We do it to save cost but this is the only airbag we can remove without really affecting safety.”

SEAT is part of Volkswagen Group, so although it has quite a small safety department of just 36 engineers, they share problems and solutions with colleagues at Skoda, VW and Audi. “We don’t compete against each other on safety and there’s no difference in the safety any of the brands provide,” said Hurtado.

“The whole of SEAT from the president down to my junior engineers all care about safety. I get all the money and support I need to develop the safest possible car”

Mario Hurtado, SEAT’s chief safety engineer

I asked if he thought safety was as important to SEAT customers as it was to people who bought Volvos. He said: “I can’t speak for customers. But the whole of SEAT from the president down to my junior engineers all care about safety. I get all the money and support I need to develop the safest possible car. What the customers think about all this I don’t know.”

The SEAT Leon is a relatively expensive car in Mexico. I asked Hurtado if he sees opportunities to make safe cars more affordable. “We already have more affordable, safe cars,” he said. “The Toledo and the Ibiza are cheaper than the Leon and both got five stars from Euro NCAP. We sell them in Latin America and they are 100% the same as the cars we sell in Europe.”

I like SEAT’s simplicity. Other famous mid-market brands aren’t so consistent on safety. Models like the Renault Clio Mio and Suzuki Alto were also crash-tested by Latin NCAP. They aren’t the same as their European namesakes and scored zero.

Now that SEAT has the first five-star car in Latin America, car companies can stop competing just on price and start offering better safety. The only question is how quickly change will come.

Buyer’s guide
  • If you live in Latin America or the Caribbean, check Latin NCAP’s crash test results before you buy
  • Ask your dealer for the car’s NCAP safety rating. The more people demand safety and information, the quicker change will come
  • The SEAT Leon starts at $259,900 Mexican Peso (USD 20,500 / EUR 15,385). It has a five-star Latin NCAP safety rating
  • The SEAT Toledo starts at 189,900 Mexican Peso (USD 14,850 / EUR 11,200). Not tested yet
  • The SEAT Ibiza costs from 169,000 Mexican Peso (USD 13,275 / EUR 10,000). Not tested yet

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