Extrovert Spaniard aims to hurt Golf with value-for-money appeal

The SEAT is a young upstart next to the established Golf, but the old maxim about survival of the fittest bodes well for the youthful Leon. Although equipped with the same diesel engine as the VW, it’s tuned to deliver its power more explosively, while its lower kerbweight and stiffer suspension set-up should aid agility.

Ross reckons his Golf’s pseudo GTI styling gives it the edge for kerb appeal, but to some the  GTD’s image is more in keeping with a tweed suit than the latest sports gear worn by top athletes.

In contrast, the SEAT looks lithe and muscular, while the Lumina Orange paintwork (£550) and gloss black wheels (£275) give our FR the kind of in-your-face looks you expect from a proper hot hatch. It certainly gets more attention than the VW, which will appeal to anyone who likes to stand out from the crowd.

While the exterior is more distinctive, the interior struggles to match its German rival in many respects. Although quality isn’t quite in the featherweight class, it can’t beat the heavyweight materials found in the VW, and it lacks the clever detailing that’s everywhere you look in the Golf.

Still, the high window line and low driver’s seat give the illusion of a better driving position – it’s much more in keeping with a low-slung sports car.

The swooping dashboard and central rev counter reinforce this feeling, while the Spanish car’s sports seats provide more shoulder support than those fitted to the Golf. Standard equipment is more generous
and the FR features cruise control as standard – a £225 option on the GTD. However, the display for the sat-nav and media system is mounted too low down, and you really have to divert your gaze to look at it when driving.

Against the clock, there’s little difference between the two cars, but the Leon feels quicker off the mark thanks to its more abrupt power delivery and noisier cabin. The latter is a bit of a bugbear, as the extra decibels from the tyres and engine are intrusive at higher cruising speeds.

Without the optional adaptive damping available on the Golf, the Leon isn’t so multi-talented on the road – especially on the motorway. Here, the stiff suspension can become tiresome over expansion joints. On smooth backroads, though, they’re much more evenly matched, and the Leon’s sharp body control, responsive steering and electronic differential ensure the SEAT is very agile across country.

Like all the best prizefighters, conserving energy and stamina are key to the Leon’s fight. Its official economy figures match the Golf’s, but since arriving on the Auto Express fleet, the FR has proven to be the more frugal –by nearly 3mpg. It also has the bigger fuel tank, so you can drive further between fill-ups.

Where the Spanish car delivers its real knock-out blow is in the cost department, though, as it’s nearly £4,700 cheaper than the VW. It trails the Golf GTD inside and on the road, but that figure could be enough to leave the German car eyeballing the canvas.


Chart position: 1
WHY: Leon features same knock-out underpinnings and engine as the Golf, but it floors its VW Group stablemate with a heavy-hitting price advantage!

Key specs

* Price: £19,490
* Engine: 2.0-litre 4cyl, 168bhp
* 0-60mph: 7.7 seconds  
* AE economy: 40.9mpg  
* Claimed CO2: 139g/km