Seat Leon: car review | Technology | The Observer

20 Aug 2014 | Author: | Comments Off on Seat Leon: car review | Technology | The Observer

Seat Leon

: car review

Red arrow: the striking new Leon with its distinctively creased panels and ‘arrowhead’ face. Photograph: Observer

Price from £13,370

MPG up to 74.3

Top speed 119mph

Am I having a nightmare? Standing on stage in front of me at the Auto Express car awards in the lavish surroundings of London’s Connaught hotel is Rick Astley. His trademark 80s quiff is still intact, and a sharp suit ensures he looks as boyish as he did back in 1987.

Bouncing around, the Lancashire lad is desperately trying to pump some oxygen into the proceedings. But the massed ranks of suited journalists and motor-industry apparatchiks sit unmoved. Stunned, even. Hadn’t he died? He was certainly dying now.

Rick abandons the first song and moves on to the next. Don’t worry, he yells, my songs all sound the same. Then, at last, it is time for his one big hit.

Gratefully he launches into Never Gonna Give You Up.

Later, as the awards are announced, it becomes clear that this is to be Seat ‘s night. The Alhambra wins best MPV award; the Leon wins best compact family award. And then Leon’s name is pulled from the winner’s envelope again: it is the Auto Express Car of the Year.

The magazine’s editor, Steve Fowler, hands the award to Seat’s chairman, Jürgen Stackmann. He only started in the job eight weeks ago. We love Leon’s style, says Steve. The way it drives, the quality, the kit. And best of all, you get all this at a bargain price with ultra-low running costs.

Jürgen grins and states the obvious: This new Leon is the best vehicle in Seat’s history. And he’s right: it really is the best they’ve made.

It’s remarkable, as not so long ago the sickly Spanish manufacturer was languishing in the doldrums. But VW, Seat’s owner, hates a failure, so the mighty Volkswagen family has hosted an intervention and given Seat the Skoda treatment. Just as the Czech brand was transformed from joke to class-topping jock, so Seat finds itself in VW’s turnaround lounge. In 2012 the marque had its most successful year ever.

And as Rick sang: Never gonna make you cry, never gonna say goodbye… I couldn’t help thinking it sounded like a mission statement from VW to Seat – a sharp riposte to the doubters who believed VW might let one of its limbs wither.

The new Leon is based on VW’s jack-of-all-trades MQB platform (Modularer Querbaukasten, since you ask), which will eventually go on to underpin more than 30 different models from VW’s corporate empire. It’s a sort of glorified parts-bin from which the various VW siblings will draw their major components. This means the Leon is, to all intents and purposes, a Hispanic version of the Golf, the Audi A3 and the Skoda Octavia.

Sharing engineering, construction, parts and expertise with those three big hitters is only ever going to improve your game.

The Seat Leon‘s no-nonsense cockpit. Photograph: Observer

Look at all four and you’ll see a family resemblance. But the new Leon has won the looks lottery. The profile is dominated by three horizontal creases set off by the sharp edges of the grille and head lamps.

The company calls this its arrow-head design language. These creases, corners and edges give the car a real presence. It won’t appeal to everyone, but character is a good thing in car.

The interior is well thought out, roomy and just the right side of no-nonsense. One detail that caught my eye was the sharp-cornered wing mirrors. They’re statement wing mirrors – a visual reminder every time you look into them that you’re not in some bland also-ran, but a proper contender.

The Leon also has all-LED front lights, a first in this class – and another signal of intent. It’s powered by a choice of five petrol engines or four diesels – the best option is the 1.6 TDI CR, which creeps beneath the tax-beating 100g barrier. Fast and frugal – in engine terms that’s cake you can eat.

New, improved and visibly VW-ified, this Seat is an impressive package. Rick struggled to get the party started, but Leon closed the show on a high.

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