BY BRIAN BYRNE
THERE’S a quirk in the Volkswagen Group set-up that quite often means the compact hatch from its SEAT subsidiary, the Leon, is a more stylish competitor to VW’s modern icon, the Golf. I think they have done it again this time.
It might be that the company has always been very careful not to interfere greatly with basic style cues that have rolled through all the generations of the Golf and which make all of them recognisably related to each other.
The latest version of the SEAT Leon landed in Ireland in the middle of the year, and it is not just the most stylish yet, it begs consideration as the best-looking car in its class this year.
You can see that for yourself in the picture. A front end with a lot of character and shape. Edgy and with very sporty elements but in a very coherent way. The ‘S’ motif in the centre of the grille is just the right size (it’s amazing how much difference a detail like that can make).
The creasing of the character line across the upper profile both adds details and links the front and rear lights clusters very well, adding perceived length to the car. And, from that rear, the view is once again of a stylist who really deserves to be proud of their skills. There’s a lighted edge-to-edge element that connects the rear lamps when on, a much neater version of a previous Leon style theme.
The 18” alloys on the review FR grade car were the final touch, setting off the rest of the vehicle in a splendid fashion.
Sense of quality
Inside there are nice crisp executions of dashboard and trim that also exude a sense of quality. The large digital main instruments cluster is a very nice thing to have in front of a driver, and the centre touchscreen is bright, colourful, and generally OK to navigate. I say OK because I think it could be more intuitive, but if I owned the car I’d have learned it all and it wouldn’t matter.
The system is the same as in the Golf, so certain controls, including the climate management, are adjusted by a finger swipe along a ledge at the bottom of the screen. Takes getting used to, too, but it works once you have.
Full connectivity includes the capability to have internet access with the appropriate service in place via the SEAT Connect system.
It’s a roomy car, though low to the ground, so there’s an element of dropping in or climbing out for those in the back. But they’re not short of space once ensconced, thanks in some measure to a longer wheelbase than before.
The Leon is built on the same underpinnings as the Golf, which means among other things that the driving characteristics are going to be top class, whatever engine or power output is the owner’s preference. My version had, as one of a suite of extras, a dynamic chassis control system which added a fun factor on a few of my safe back road excursions.
The engine in my car was the 150hp 1.5 eTSI, the ‘e’ standing for a mild hybrid set-up that’s the first in the brand and uses recovered energy to provide boosted acceleration when needed.
It did seem beautifully balanced to the car, and the automatic was a treat. The neat drive selector switch between the seats must be mentioned.
This Leon turned out to be one of the real joys of my review cars in 2020 and is high on my list of vehicles driven this year. Albeit a shortened one because of Covid, but I’ve been trying to catch up since the first lockdown ended. If I can find a slot to try another version in the coming months, I’ll be jumping at it.
Oh, and the press car came with a SEAT electric scooter in the back. No, it doesn’t come for ordinary buyers. But it WAS fun, even addictive. That’s a different review story.
What I like: The brand’s superb style touch.
Price: The new Leon starts at €23,910; FR is €30,890;
review car €35,674.