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Seat's new Leon promises to inject some flair to the lower-medium hatchback sector, but is it enough?
Alloy wheels, electrically adjustable and heated door mirrors, LED front fog lamps with cornering function, automatic headlights, 8.25in media system with smartphone integration, driver's adjustable lumbar support, air conditioning, cruise control with speed limiter, electronic parking brake, rear parking sensors, electronic differential lock (XDS) & dynamic traction support, keyless start, driver fatigue warning, lane-keeping assistance, autonomous emergency braking
110hp 1.0, 130hp 1.5, 150hp 1.5
SE, SE Dynamic, FR
Six-speed manual, seven-speed DSG auto
Some of you will know that all of the lower-medium hatchbacks among Volkswagen brands underwent updates this year.
The latest iteration of Volkswagen Group's MQB platform began with the Golf earlier this year, with the new Audi A3, Skoda Octavia and Seat Leon arriving in the UK now - if you've been lucky enough to receive a delivery for an early order.
Later in 2020 we'll see the Cupra Formentor, but for now our focus is on the more accessible Seat Leon.
We were meant to drive this car in Barcelona, late in March, but lockdown restrictions put a stop to overseas travel, and with the knock-on effects on vehicle supply we have only been able to try pre-production right-hand drive versions of the Leon. More on that later.
The new Leon has a striking design. Clearly related to the Tarraco large SUV with the headlight and grille signature, it has a more distinct, flatter front end than its predecessor, and a full-width rear light cluster. The Leon, it seems, wants to stand out a little.
Some showboating additions on our test car was a scrolling light signature at the rear when unlocking - perhaps inspired by sister brand Audi - as well as a puddle light that exclaims 'Hola!' on the ground.
Inside, the Seat Leon has a much cleaner dashboard than before, with the central screen standing at the top, rather than integrated as it was previously. Air conditioning controls are touch-sensitive, below the screen and offer haptic feedback. But something chunkier and analogue would be more intuitive and easier to operate while driving.
The instruments are part of the virtual cockpit configurable instrument display, and this latest version includes some new graphics and screen view choices.
The cabin can easily accommodate four or five adults in reasonable comfort, and boot space is good for this size of car.
Our pre-production car was a little glitchy: the climate control would insist on blowing warm air through the vents on one side of the vehicle, choosing to vary which side on a whim. The only way to guarantee it wouldn't happen was to set the climate control to its coldest setting on both sides. There were one or two other minor irritants - the satnav lost its signal for the whole of one 20-minute journey, and a few times after unlocking and before starting the Leon made a deep grinding noise, like when a vacuum cleaner sucks up something that gets stuck.
We can only hope (and expect) that when we try a proper customer-spec vehicle in the UK these issues will have been resolved.
We were given the 130hp 1.5 TSI, which offers slightly lower CO2 emissions than the 150hp version, and falls into a lower benefit-in-kind tax band. It was in high-end (for now) FR grade, and had the standard six-speed manual transmission.
A wireless smartphone charger plus LED headlights with scrolling indicator lighting are among the list of equipment fitted as standard over the SE grade (available from autumn 2020).
Driving the Leon does feel different from the other newly introduced related hatchbacks from its sister Volkswagen Group brands. Steering response is keen and direct, while the vehicle offers reassuring body control when changing direction.
Its firm-ish ride (the FR has 17in alloys over the standard car's 16in wheels, plus sports suspension) came a little unstuck on some of the uneven and rippled road surfaces in my neck of the woods, so it was necessary to back off the accelerator a little in a 60mph limit for the sake of passenger comfort.
Its lane-departure warning system did seem rather panic stricken and interventionist too, as I necessarily needed to approach the centre of the road to give parked vehicles a wide berth and was given an order to take over the steering.
But overall it's a polished effort from Seat, which manages to feel distinctive and good value. We'd be sure to give it a higher rating if we tried a trouble-free production car.