Stylish Leon takes on Golf
IN THE VW family, the various brands find slots to create identity and loyalty. Audi rightfully claims the premium quality badge, VW the solidly engineered reliable buy, Skoda likes the tag line "the best built VWs" and Seat will boast that its models are the best looking with more style and flair in their body panels. There is a certain edgy flair to Seat models, the Ibiza testifies to this and the new Leon adds weight to the claim.
A direct rival to the Golf and heavy hitters such as the Ford Focus and Opel Astra, it breaks ground here with a body that is indeed more stylish than the mighty first cousin. That is good for a start but the Seat story gets even better. It now has the same multi-billion euro MQB platform as the Golf and Audi A3, all the running gear of the Golf – engines, gearbox, suspensions and brakes – and across the range of engines and trim levels, the Leon comes to market at an average of 12 per cent cheaper. For example, the five-door entry level Leon at €18.995 is €450 cheaper than the three-door Golf and at the boy racer hot-hatch end, the Leon 2-litre 184 bhp TDI FR is €7,000 cheaper than the Golf GTD.
Not bad going for the start of a difficult year for the motor trade, but the newly appointed director of Seat Ireland Cian O'Brien (a former Audi man) is confident of growing sales. January saw a 127 per cent increase while last year total sales for the brand stood at 2,008 compared to 1,417 for 2012. The graph is going in the right direction and plans are to increase dealerships from 21 to 26 this year.
For the first time, there will be a three-door version of the Leon, which will be revealed at the Geneva Motor Show. This is an SC version (Sports Coupe) and will have the option of most of the petrol and high-performance diesel engines available. Prices are expected to start at €18,500 when it arrives in June. A hot-hatch Cupra version is also on the cards and an estate, the Leon ST, will be available next year.
O'Brien is forecasting 70,000 new car sales this year, a more optimistic view than many other industry bosses, and points to the strong secondhand market that will allow new car buyers trade up more easily, and the increase in popularity of the new buzzword in the motor trade, PCP deals (personal contract plan), a type of rental deal with an option of purchasing.
Apart from not depending on old-hat Audi technology, the Leon gets top marks for interior quality materials, almost up to Golf standards, and comes with a five-star Euro NCAP safety rating.
What impresses most is the high level of equipment at entry, six airbags, air conditioning, multifunction steering wheel, on board computer, colour touch screen, Bluetooth and six speakers. Other manufacturers take note. Diesel prices start at €20,995 with the best seller expected to be the 1.6 TDI 105bhp reference model at €21,675. The Leon Fr range starts with a price of €26,825.