First drive: the new SEAT Leon
The first Leon you might actually choose over a Golf? Sam Philip reports...
Posted: 09 Nov 2012
It's red, it's Spanish and it looks a bit angry. Is it Fernando Alonso at the AGM of the Sebastian Vettel Appreciation Society?
Amazingly, no. It's the all-new Leon, based on the VW Group's all-new and entirely clever MQB architecture.
I seem to be reading the letters ‘MQB' a lot this year...
You do. Modularer Querbaukasten is, of course, the same sort-of-platform that underpins the new Audi A3 and the MkVII Golf, alongside about quarter of a billion other VW Group cars over the next few years.
So why shouldn't I just buy a new Golf instead of this Leon?
Perhaps the Leon's looks, for one, which are far more distinctive than the hyper-conservative VW. Seat is especially proud of the sharpness of the swage lines, and razor-edged they are: the wing mirrors, too, are pointy enough to disembowel pedestrians.
Yes, but it can't be quite so good to drive as the new Golf, can it?
Don't be so sure. We haven't tested a Leon and Golf back to back yet, but first impressions are that it'll be very, very close. We tried a 1.4 TSI with a manual six-speed box and Seat's optional Drive Select system - which alters throttle and steering response - and the overall impression was of a car as pointy to drive as it is to look at. The engine is a fizzy treat, the gearshift is precise and handling is wieldy. Up 100kg lighter than the previous generation, the Leon manages to be neat-riding and delicate on its feet without ever feeling brittle.
Surely it feels a bit... cheaper than the Golf, though?
OK, it's not quite so austerely classy inside as the VW, but the new Leon's cabin represents a giant leap over the previous generation. Ignore the bemusing swathe of empty dash at the base of the centre console and you'll find masses of soft-touch plastics alongside some neat (albeit optional) tech, including a motion-sensing sat nav screen that spots when your finger is hovering near.
Like the Golf?
Yes, but unlike the Golf, the Leon is available with all-LED headlights, a first in this sector and a £995 option. OK, they're probably not enough to swing the deal in their own right, but hey, it's something on which to splash all that cash you'll have saved over the equivalent Golf...
So it's cheaper?
Around 10 per cent cheaper, spec-for-spec, according to Seat. A couple of grand isn't to be sniffed at in this market, and the Leon is no longer a compromise solution, instead a very fine car in its own right. What do you think, TopGear.com? Might this be the first Leon you might actually choose over a Golf? Or does your badge snobbery run just too deep?
Words: Sam Philip