Day one This is a good start. Thanks to some logistical cock-knockery on my part the car has been delivered to my office when I’m at home all day. So this is a week with a car that starts without the actual car. Erm… I can tell you a bit about it. It’s based on that new VW box of bits that’s also used to make the new Golf and the latest Skoda Octavia. The version I’m getting is the top-of-the-range FR model. Polo Mints are made in York. That last bit isn’t strictly about the car but I thought you might like to know.
Day two Get a lift across London, do a bit of work and then fetch the SEAT from the car park. First thing to note is, it’s very bright red. This is good. It’s a jaunty colour. The actual styling I’m not so sure about. For example, there’s a line that runs down the side which is slightly on the piss and then fizzles out altogether. It’s annoying. The inside is quite plain and the middle bit of the dash looks bleak and strangely SAAB-ish. Perhaps this is the interior you end up with if your car company name is meant to be written in capitals. Pedants will note that this is bad news for FIAT. On first acquaintance, the Leon feels fine to drive. This particular car is a 1.4 petrol turbo. It’s very flexible in that ECU manipulated way but there’s a nice bit of old school turbosurge if you want it.
Day three Sneaking up on the Leon from a different angle I notice some of the detailing is actually pretty good. Yet overall it doesn’t entirely gel. From the back it looks too soft and chubby. Unlike the ride, which is quite firm. Not unbearable so. There’s nothing unbearable about the Leon. But nor is there anything exceptional about it.
Day four I feel a bit sorry for SEAT. Poking around the Leon, looking at the interesting triangular shapes made by the daytime running lights, noticing the way the instrument needles hang vertically at rest, feeling the unusually solid-feeling stops on the front doors, you realise that all they really want to be is Audi. But they can’t be Audi because Audi are Audi and instead they must be Audi’s Spanish bastard son. I imagine that every so often they ring VAG head office in Germany and ask if they can do a sporty coupe just like Audi and then a frightening man comes on and shouts at them and later, as punishment, deletes the flock lining from the glovebox of all Leons. I assume that’s why it doesn’t have one. Audis have one. The Golf has one. From memory, even the latest Octavia has one. SEAT is not allowed one. Ouch.
Day five The Leon is growing on me. Not in a warty way either. It’s a perfectly pleasant car. It goes, it stops, it has a bit of vim and vigour, especially if you stick it in sport mode which makes it slightly noisier and a bit zingier. I’m not sure who would lust after one though. Does anyone really lust after a SEAT?
Day six I have discovered the Leon’s party piece. Pulling off a dual carriageway today I came onto the slip road a bit fast. And by ‘a bit fast’ I mean, ‘idiotically and oh SHIT, I’M GOING TO DIE’. Yet the Leon just hung on. It has, I discover, an electronic diff. Which isn’t really a diff at all, it’s some trickery that uses the brakes to help out a wheel that’s losing grip. It seems to work. The new Golf GTI has something similar but charges you £980 for it.* In the three model Leon range, only the basic version doesn’t have it as standard. Maybe it was that or a posher glovebox liner. In which case, SEAT chose well.
Day seven The Leon is going away. It’s a perfectly good, modern car, I just can’t work out what it’s for. If you want a hatchback that feels broadly like this, a Skoda Octavia is slightly cheaper and has more interior space. Or you could spend a bit more on a Golf which has a better image and nicer design. However, if you’re not interested in these things because you hate lined gloveboxes and your main priority is piling headlong into corners at foolish speeds, it’s good to know VW makes a car just for you.
The car talked about here is a SEAT Leon FR 1.4 TSI. It has a 1.4-litre turbocharged engine which makes 138 horsepower, allowing it to do 0-62 in 8.2 seconds and on to 131mph. It costs £19,385.
* EDIT: A man called Alex has been in touch on Twitter and pointed out that the £980 option in the new Golf GTI gets you a proper electronically controlled LSD. Without it, the GTI has the same electro trickery as this Leon. Which probably means it’s jolly good, even as standard.