IT is not so long ago that anything other than premium brand cars were pretty basic, poorly equipped and frankly a bit dull. These cars were driven out of necessity rather than by someone who had a real desire to drive one. Indeed to put it bluntly, these cars themselves were not enticing, you never felt the desire to buy one, but all that has changed.
By Hugh Maguire
The current crop of new cars on the market today are a far cry from those described above. Look at the dashing Ford Fiesta, or the Alfa Romeo Guiletta as just two examples of compact cars with style.
This week I am road testing another example of such cars - the stylish Seat Leon. The Leon in its present guise is not new but it has a 1.6 TDI diesel from the VW stable and that further boosts its appeal.
Seat as most will know is part of the Volkswagen Group. Seat, however, while benefiting from VW’s undoubted engineering expertise produce a very different car to the mainstay offerings from VW. Seat offer cars with a great flair in their style and a more sporting theme, and so it is with the Leon. The model on test is the second trim level available (one above the base model) called Special Edition. There are five different trim specs available. Prices for the range start at just €17,180 for the 1.4 MPi petrol REFERENCE model.
Undoubtedly the Seat Leon is one of the smartest looking small cars on the road today. It has that real touch of Mediterranean flair making it stand out from the crowd. Nice touches include the Alfa Romeo or Honda Civic style hidden rear door handles giving the car almost the look of a 3 door model.
It may be based on the Golf platform and have Golf running gear but it looks way better!
Behind The Wheel
Initially I was less impressed by the cabin. I feel the large swathe of black dashboard plastic looks a bit bland particularly on the passenger’s side. That said the instruments are laid out in a style more akin to a sports coupe than a 5-door hatch with the centrally placed rev counter and the effect is to give a distinctive sporty feel to the cabin. It all feels very well put together with a feel of quality evident throughout.
Standard equipment in the 1.6 Tdi is pretty good too with front airbags, head, side, curtain airbags, ABS, ESP, EBA, ISOFIX, Alarm, front power windows, stereo CD and MP3, audio controls on steering column, integrated Bluetooth, tyre preassure monitoring, cornering lights, front fog lights, alloy wheels, remote locking, cruise control, and on board computer. This diesel also features Start/Stop technology further reducing emissions and fuel consumption.
Accommodation both front and rear is good for a car in this class and the boot is a decent size too.
The 4 cylinder 1.6 litre diesel produces 105 bhp and is mated to a five-speed manual gearbox. Overall performance is pretty good. In practice it goes just fine and proves lively enough. On the economy front it scores highly burning on average just 6.3 litres per 100km on my test. This 1.6 TDI also falls into the lowest category A for road tax.
On the road it proves lively and nimble with agile handling. The steering is light and precise, in general it proves to be an enjoyable car to drive. Noise levels are well suppressed giving the Leon a refined and quiet cabin even at motorway speeds.
The Seat Leon is competing in a very competitive segment dominated by the likes of the stunning new Ford Focus, Opel Astra and indeed their own VW Group car the excellent Golf to name but a few, nevertheless it can hold its own, and while it is never going to outsell either of the above it will continue to carve a niche for itself in the Irish market with those who seek an excellent and versatile all-rounder with good levels of specification and a sense of real design flair in the style. The Seat Leon SE 1.6 Tdi costs €20,230.