Cheaper than a Golf. As well equipped as a Golf. Drives as well as a Golf
It's not a Golf. Hybrid powertrains are a little expensive
What is it?
A Volkswagen Golf in matador fancy dress. Otherwise known as the fourth-generation Seat Leon. And, unsurprisingly, Spain’s family hatch is closer than it’s ever been to Golf-ishness thanks to shared engines, interiors and tech… just for less money and with arguably more style.
So has the Golf’s little Spanish cousin had a little growth spurt and overtaken its German relative? Well, depending on what you’re looking for when buying a car, quite possibly.
It certainly looks sharper.
It’s properly handsome now – more distinctive than the hyper-conservative Golf, with sharp swage lines, deep creases and pointy door mirrors. There’s still the love of tessellation and triangles, though. Just enhanced, especially up front with a grille pinched from the Tarraco and a frown like you’ve told it that Bastian Schweinsteiger is a better midfielder than Andres Iniesta.
Round the back there’s 2022’s must-have design feature: a full-width lightbar complete with funky light dances when you lock and unlock it. Finally, there's a new more flowing, handwritten script font on the rump. Not sure if that works, as it looks a bit like someone has been using Mum's car to practice their new joined-up writing with a fountain pen.
Can I have it as a three-door?
Nope. For cost reasons, the more resolved three-door option has been dropped. So the five-door hatch and estate are your only options. The hatch, launched in 2020, is 86mm longer than the previous generation, 50mm of which have been implanted between the front and rear wheels to improve interior cabin space and enhance rear legroom. Boot space remains the same at 380 litres.
The cabin itself is all very Golf-y, too, with a 10.25-inch instrument cluster and and either 8- or 10-inch infotainment display. As is the way these days you’ll have to make do with minimal buttons, with irritating swipe, slide and touch surfaces and displays for even the simplest tasks, such as increasing the cabin temperature or turning up the radio. More on that on the interior tab.
Does it go as well as it looks?
You’ve the choice of petrol, diesel, and mild- or plug-in hybrid flavours. We’ve tried the mid-range petrol and mild hybrids so far, and were left suitably impressed: nippy enough around town, comfortable at a cruise, and above all – and perhaps most importantly in the current climate – impressively efficient. It won’t break any speed records, but if you want to go fast, there’s the Cupra hot hatch for that. Full details on the driving tab.
Prices start from £22,225 for the entry-level petrol, rising to £29,195 for the mild-hybrid and £34,305 for the plug-in, with a total of six individual trims to choose from. Head over to the buying tab for the full breakdown.
Our choice from the range
What's the verdict?
The Leon is Spain’s strongest attempt to out-Golf the Golf yet. And it’s really not far off it. Largely because it’s based on the same spangly MQB platform as the MkVIII Golf and Audi A3 – so might finally be the car to lure budget-conscious hatch buyers from the German end of the new car market and into something a bit sharper, smarter-looking and with keener handling.
In fact, VW may have accidentally taken its eye off the ball and made the Leon closer in comparison than it might like. See, the VW Golf now has an enemy within: an electric competitor, the ID.3. A mass-market electric car that’s very much like a Golf, but electric. Distracted by this new family member, it feels as if VW may have inadvertently given the Leon a leg up. Because if you want a Golf that’s not a Golf, for a bit less money, this is the car to have.