Thursday 22 February 2018

On-loan 'players' help push this Leon up the league table

Seat Leon - price range starts from €18,995.
Seat Leon - price range starts from €18,995.
Interior of the Seat Leon.
Eddie Cunningham

Eddie Cunningham

Imagine you could take some of the players from Manchester United, Real Madrid, Barcelona and partially use their skills in your team. Of course they'd have to be disguised a bit and you couldn't be too choosy about who you would get. Fingers crossed it's Van Persie and not Rooney. But you'd fairly whup Woodfield United in the Green Field leagues wouldn't you?

Unless of course Woodfield United had the pick of Chelsea, Arsenal and Bayern Munich.

In essence that's what some of the mega car companies do with marques they own or share stuff with. Volkswagen does it better than most. The group owns so many brands it can let its associates use a mix of their best 'players' – technology, innovation, design, engines, chassis, platforms.

I've lost count of the number of cars built and to be built on what VW calls the MQB platform.

I suppose at this stage we know of the close technological ties between VW and Skoda, for example. Spanish carmaker SEAT benefits too as it attempts to get higher up the Green Field league of car sales.

The impact and implications of it came to me as I was driving the new Leon. This five-door family hatch has been able to pick from a reasonable Volkswagen Golf squad. I suppose you could say it has the spine of the Golf team – engine, chassis, running gear etc – but has managed to embellish it with its own style of play.

Most importantly, it is not as expensive as the A-team Golf. Mind you the reasons for that are obvious too. In its lower-spec levels the quality of plastic and some materials is not Top Four finish. Good, fine really, but . . . in the FR, top-spec version (€27,000 ouch) I had on test, that was less evident. In truth it was quite fetching

On paper it's a decent looking combination but I feel it is let down at the back, where so many teams with flair going forward are often exposed. In the Leon's case, the front and even the side-on profile is one of bright interplay between curve, edge and dashes of bold design. But the rear is as ordinary as Woodfield United without its imported stars.

That is a minus for it because the Leon needs to sparkle all the way through. Otherwise you run the risk of people reckoning they are better off paying more for a car that will grind out results week in, week out. Yes, the Golf.

Having said that, the Leon FR put on an excellent show for us. The cabin was comfortable, nicely modern, good seats, sporty drive, plenty of visibility, rear room and clean, clear instrumentation.

In a car like this you need a bit of bite in suspension, handling and engine. Otherwise we're back to the same old argument about sticking with something more conventionally tried and trusted.

There was great thrust from the 2-litre diesel. And the handling to go with it. I love to get a car like this out on the open road and do little bursts of acceleration, then slow, then up again – all perfectly legal of course.

And then I lashed it along the up-and-down Woodfield Bog road where many a chassis, and stomach, has been found out. In football parlance this 'kept its shape', and refused to be rattled by the two-footed tackles from dips, crevices and sways. The sort of car you'd get more confident in the more you drove it.

Really nice package, it is well priced from entry level. It may lag the Golf on reputation, overall feeling of solidity and sheer conventional mindset, but it poses a few questions nonetheless.

If they were allowed a bit more leeway on cabin materials and could manage a bit more flair at the back, this would be a stormer.

Even allowing for my criticisms, the price gap to the Golf makes an obvious case. So do the drive, cabin and smart enough looks (misgivings about the rear still noted).

For Irish buyers the Leon is a really decent alternative – no doubt about that – even if it is not playing on a level pitch.

Seat Leon

* SEAT Leon 2-litre TDi FR (1,968cc, 150bhp, 106g/km, €180 road tax).

* Standard equipment includes Climatronic air con, 17-inch alloys, 5.8-inch colour touchscreen, MP3/ WMA, USB/SD card, Bluetooth, eight speakers, electric/heated/foldable door mirrors, front fogs, cruise control, front sports seats, FR suspension, rear park distance control, LED daytime running lights and six airbags.

Prices for the range start from €18,995; 2.0 TDI 150bhp FR is €27,325. Remember: delivery and related charges are extra.

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