You get to know a car extremely well after spending hours and hours at the wheel on a 1,000km stop-start two-day trip. The duration and intermittent nature of the drive was exactly what was required for this week's review car.
After the highways and byways had been traversed in my new Seat Leon hatchback, just one question had to be asked: how did it compare, overall, with the Volkswagen Golf? As you may know, the Leon shares much - under the skin, a lot - with the latest generation Golf. It differs in many ways too, but would that difference be a negative or positive?
The new car's prices start at €23,910; the Golf's from €27,750 but spec levels and so on make direct comparisons more complicated. But the main reason the Golf costs more is because it is a Volkswagen, has been doing its stuff for generations of drivers and holds its value better than most.
Meanwhile, previous generations of Leons, while still good cars, were being held back by the likes of Golfs getting primary access to technological advances within the VW group. Critically, this time around it seems Seat has been able to sample as an equal from the à la carte menu. The playing field has been largely levelled. That lack of previous access partly explains why the Leon would not have been the first name to spring to mind when buying a nwe car. Although it has a good reputation on the secondhand market, the Toyota Corolla, Ford Focus, Golf and similar models are better-known new buys. Can this latest Leon change that? Let's see.
It is certainly one hell of a good-looking car. Even my test vehicle's dull colour failed to dim the lines of design so adroitly adorning its low-slung frame. The key visuals, front grille/lights and rear overhang were eye-catching.
I can't vouch for lower-trims' effect but the FR spec set a tasty standard for any interior, including the Golf's, in this family-hatch segment.
Even though the car gives the impression of hugging the ground, the big windscreen provided wonderful visibility and a sense of sitting much higher. It was badly needed on our rain-soaked outward leg to West Cork as narrow, poorly surfaced roads proffered unique mixes of demands on driving, handling and ride.
The Leon outshone the Golf on good-to-middling roads thanks to an excellent shared VW chassis. But it trailed it by a hair's breadth over some of the truly rough back roads (I took a wrong turn, of course) where rock-solid Golf's build and dampening tuning would have nudged the VW ahead. It was a close call.
As with the Golf, I would have liked a bit more feedback on the steering, especially on those narrower roads where placing the car is vital in the face of lorries coming in the opposite direction.
The infotainment system was definitely better than the VW's in use and looks, though that could be construed as damning with faint praise because I have been disappointed with the Golf on that front. These central interactive displays are now integral to how a dashboard, indeed a whole cabin, looks these days.
Despite the excellent, clear-style and svelte nature of the information ensemble setting, we craved a couple of proper buttons for the everyday functions - especially ventilation. Trying to guide plastic slides to alter volume, or temperature to avert full-on gale-force air con was frustrating and remains the biggest blot on my driving experience.
The rear seats were mostly unoccupied except for a complaint-free brief town-to-suburb run and the boot was decently roomy.
Above all, though, I have to tell you about the 2-litre diesel. There are 1-litre and 1.5-litre petrols with a plug-in on the way. But this high-powered 150bhp diesel excelled (there's a manual 115bhp too). It was quiet at low/high revs, barely noticeable at motorway speed and consumed just four litres every 100km. That's 70.6mpg. It might have been even better had I not left the DSG dual clutch automatic transmission in a lower sporty gear for a while. The slick gear lever looks the part but I had to be careful to ensure I drove in D and not a lower 'manual' mode. It's a small criticism to accompany the few others, but that is as far as they go. This Leon impressed me greatly.
Would I buy it? Yes. It appeals on so many fronts. It looks better, drives better in the main and costs less than the Golf. If I'm honest I'd still struggle to pass up a new Golf, but this Leon makes a massive case. So I'll just say yes.
Seat Leon family hatch:
2-litre diesel (150bhp), tax from €180, FR trim: €32,090, options: €3,645. Range from €23,910. DSG auto, 18in alloys, three-zone air con, digital cockpit, front fogs, rear camera/park distance control, drive profile selection; Adaptive Cruise Control, 8.25in infotainment touchscreen.
Optional equipment includes 10in navigation system, wireless phone charger.