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Seat Leon FR review: a class act that; s almost good enough to eclipse the similar VW Golf

Seat Leon FR review: a class act that’s almost good enough to eclipse the similar VW Golf

The Spanish-built family hatchback has always been a zestier version of VW’s top seller so is the fourth-generation model the top choice?

Having had a bit of Covid blip, Volkswagen’s Golf is back on top of the European sales charts. It is, by a country mile, Europe’s most popular car. But we’re not convinced the current Mk8 version is either the best Golf so far or even the best car in its sector, so the search for a better Golf continues…

Having (just) rejected the Skoda Octavia for the title recently, the next contender is this, the Seat Leon, now in its fourth generation. This former Spanish national car maker entered the UK market in 1985 and the year after VW purchased a majority shareholding in the company, rising to 100 per cent in 1990. Seat, which makes its cars at a sprawling plant in Martorell near Barcelona, is now the world’s eighth-largest car maker.

The Leon family hatchback debuted in 1998 and was an attractive rebody on the Volkswagen Golf’s A4 platform. It’s been a growing success, with overall sales of the previous, Mk3 model of about 160,000 a year since 2014. At one time, Volkswagen’s master plan was that Seat would be a “Spanish Alfa Romeo” though Seat has always kicked against such descriptions. Despite VW’s rationalising desires, Seat has always kept a degree of independence, with a strong track record in providing a zestier and cheaper alternative to VW-badged alternatives.

Trouble is, in the case of the Golf, the VW range has just got too sprawling and too good to offer much of a gap for the Leon. Luca De Meo, who recently left the top job at Seat for the top job at Renault, tried a different tack of linking Seat to a vivacious Barcelona vibe, while trying to keep the company clear of local independence movements. It’s kind of worked, but VW’s internal pricing strategies and its beancounters would always be there to tamp down bids for much expensive individuality.

Like the outgoing Leon, this new model is based on VW’s modular transverse chassis technology (Modularer Querbaukasten, or MQB), which defines a set of dimensions at the front of the car and allows a series of similar components and production systems to be used across VW’s marques and models. It’s a big deal; in 2018 the VW Group sold 5.1 million VWs, Audis, Seats and Skodas all based on the MQB platform.

So, under the skin, it’s a Golf and, if so, why are we bothering? The answer is because while VW still has a vice-like grip on the purse strings, there’s still enough wriggle room in the MQB design and in what’s picked out of the wealth of VW’s parts bin to give the Spaniards an opportunity to improve on the Golf. Or not…

Under the skin

Leons come in all manner of trims and drivetrains, with five-door hatchback and estate bodyshells and SE and FR trim packs. Engines range from VW’s 1.0-litre TSI petrol, the 2.0-litre TDI turbodiesel and 1.5-litre TSI turbo petrol, which was fitted to our test car in 128bhp trim with a six-speed manual gearbox.

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This is likely to be the UK’s favourite specification, although the suspension is technically inferior to the VW equivalent, being a front McPherson strut and a rear twist beam set-up.

Performance and emissions are unexceptional for the class, with a top speed of 130mph, 0-62mph in 9.4sec, high WLTP economy of 51.4mpg (51mpg on test) and CO2 emissions of 125g/km, which makes first-year VED tax of £175. And with prices starting at £19,855 the Leon undercuts the equivalent Golf as well as the Ford Focus.

Exterior styling

Elegance rather than exceptionalism marks out the bodywork, though the grey finish of our test car left it somewhat invisible in less-than-clement weather.

The designers have made an effort, with distinctive LED headlights, a kick up on the rear side window and a Porsche-style full-width array of rear lights, but despite these and the jaunty Leon script across the hatchback, the overall effect is unmemorable.

On the inside

The interior feels superficially rather grand, but while the driving position is comfortable, it’s as laid back as Nero preparing for a peeled grape – if you sit more upright you end up too close to the pedals.

There is plenty of head room in the rear seats, but taller passengers will have their knees pressed into the front seat backs. The rear seat backs fold 60/40 per cent on to their bases so the load bed isn’t flat and has a large step. There’s a ski hole and a space under the 380-litre rear load bed suitable for a space-saver spare wheel, though there was none in our test car.

The steering wheel has a pleasingly thin rim and there’s a Seventies space-age thing going on in the facia design, with tessellations of irregular hexagons for the vents and panels, jet-fighter door trims and jaunty italic fonts on the main instruments; it’s also pleasingly simple, easy to use and live with. There’s wit there, too, with the puddle lamps in the doors spelling out Hola! on the ground.

The central touchscreen takes over a lot of button functions and in this form it seems like a battle that De Meo lost when dealing with VW. Even the touch tiles are indistinct and far from intuitive as to what they actually do. The heating and volume controls have separate touch controls underneath, but they aren’t very touch sensitive.

And while Apple CarPlay and Android Auto are standard, the software architecture swallows up all the functions but then spits them out like a baby’s dummy if you dare try to get the system to allow you to listen to the radio and use the phone’s satnav, for example.

Yes, you learn to use some of it, but it’s the epitome of poor design and you end up spending too much time with your eyes away from the road. And while the Leon comes with Seat’s Car2X connectivity, a cloud-based technology that warns of traffic ahead, Waze is better – and free. I had this car for 10 days and drove it many miles in all sorts of conditions and never got fully used to that touchscreen.

On the road

Which is a shame as the driving experience is terrific, surpassing even the Golf and certainly the Skoda Octavia. Not that I didn’t expect this, as Seat’s chassis set-up team are simply smouldering at the moment.

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The Leon combines a lovely oiled-bearing feel of the MQB platform with a lovely on-centre steering feel and such precision in corners you’ll wonder what’s left to do when they come up with the speedier Cupra versions.

Shame Seat didn’t allow a single-button cancellation for the lane-centring system, which resets itself on each trip. The system isn’t good, scaring at road furniture and undulations, constantly ‘helping’ when it isn’t required and overcoming the feedback with its well-intentioned but misleading torque.

The ride is supple and comfortable, with good body control through corners and a grown-up, big-car feel which makes it great for long journeys.

Motive power

The engine isn’t bad, either, although there are issues when you combine it with the semi-automatic DSG transmission, especially when the start/stop system cuts the engine and it struggles to start, engage first and get going without an embarrassing delay.

With just 128bhp on tap, you have to hoard your momentum, but while the top end is all noise and no go, there’s an adequate surge of torque in the low revs. It’s very long-geared so overtaking requires at least two downshifts but, as long as you aren’t pushing too hard, this is a relaxing and economical drive.

Manoeuvring is simple with good three-quarter views and useful rear parking sensors, though no rear camera on the FR version, which I’d willingly swap for the automatic dipping headlamps and automatic windscreen wipers, which are standard.

Conclusion

There’s so much to like about this car, but that’s all about the dynamics. Keener drivers might prefer the same engine in 148bhp guise, but all drivers would prefer a better and more intuitive Human Machine Interface and touchscreen.

It’s been the same with the VW Golf and the Skoda Octavia; Audi’s interpretation of the same in the new A3 Sportback, with a series of lovely buttons and dials to augment the screen functions, is partly what makes that car so great.

Despite these issues, the Leon is a class act. Not better than a Golf, but pleasingly different.

THE FACTS

2020 Seat Leon FR

TESTED 1,498cc four-cylinder turbocharged petrol, six-speed manual gearbox, front-wheel drive

PRICE/ON SALE range from £19,855, FR as tested £23,515/now

POWER/TORQUE 129bhp @ 5,500rpm, 147lb ft @ 1,400rpm

TOP SPEED 130mph

ACCELERATION 0-62mph in 9.4sec

FUEL ECONOMY 51.4mpg (WLTP Combined), 51mpg on test

CO2 EMISSIONS 125g/km

VED £175 first year, then £150

VERDICT A fine blend of ride and handling, combined with a pleasingly understated interior. The bodywork isn’t the most distinctive, but it’s handsome enough. What mars this car, like so many of its contemporaries in the VW Group stable, is its confusing and distracting touchscreen.

TELEGRAPH RATING Four stars out of five

THE RIVALS

Volkswagen Golf GT 130PS TSI 6spd, from £24,000

After the stunning Mk7 Golf, there weren’t many options for the current Mk8, and it shows. The first ‘digital Golf’ looks and feels much like the outgoing model, which is no bad thing, but the touchscreen interfaces aren’t very good and are very frustrating.

Ford Focus ST-Line 1.5L 120PS, from £23,095

Still the champion of ride and handling, but the Focus feels a bit low-rent compared with the German alternatives. The 1.5-litre engine is gutsy, and the ST-Line trim is popular, but you need to examine lots of small print to choose between the rivals.

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Hyundai i30 1.4 T-GDi 140PS N-Line, from £21,255

Nicely thought out trim level for this likeable family hatchback. The 1.4-litre engine is working hard to deliver this horsepower and the interior isn’t particularly inspiring, but the five-year warranty goes some way to assuaging these niggles.

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Инновации в обучении и работа в авто-гиганте: чем привлекательно обучение в университете «Шкода Авто»?

Официальное название: ŠKODA AUTO Vysoká škola
Сайт: www.savs.cz
Тип вуза: частный, аккредитованный
Стоимость обучения: от 50 000 до 55 000 крон/год
Начало обучения: Бакалаврская программа — сентябрь. Магистерская программа — сентябрь, февраль

Редко какое предприятие инвестирует в обучение молодых кадров и тем более готово предложить студентам после получения диплома высокооплачиваемую должность. Škoda Auto Vysoká škola – исключение из правил, чешский концерн специально открыл собственный вуз, чтобы быть уверенным в квалификации специалистов.

Преимущества обучения в университете «Шкода Авто»

Сегодня количество чешских и иностранных студентов в ŠAVŠ составляет 1400 человек. Вуз приглашает к сотрудничеству преподавателей из европейских профильных заведений и специалистов в менеджменте, машиностроении, инженерии и проектировании, поэтому уровень полученных студентами знаний – высокий. В штате 35 профессоров, еще 80 сотрудников (в том числе из автоконцерна) работают внештатно.

Языки преподавания – чешский и английский.

По мнению основателей и по отзывам студентов в Чехии – университет «Шкода Авто» дает не только уверенность в быстром трудоустройстве, но и отличную платформу для учебы и всестороннего развития:

  • Для студентов разработаны и постоянно модернизируются учебные программы, большинство из которых не имеют аналогов в образовательной практике.
  • Выпускникам с отличными и хорошими дипломами открыты двери для трудоустройства, причем не только в «родном» автоконцерне, но и в европейских компаниях каким-либо образом связанных с автомобилестроением: Volkswagen, Audi, Lamborghini, Bugatti, Bentley, Seat, Porsche.
  • В ходе обучения студенты овладевают несколькими иностранными языками: кроме английского преподаются немецкий и китайский, как языки стран-лидеров автомобилестроения.
  • Практические занятия ведут специалисты, имеющие не один год опыта работы в профильной деятельности, то есть преподавание максимально полезное и актуальное.
  • Современные условия быта.
  • За хорошую учебу и стремление добиться успеха начисляется стипендия, часто покрывающая все издержки проживания и питания.
  • Возможность поучаствовать в научно-технических исследованиях на базе собственных лабораторий университета и концерна «Шкода Авто».
  • Спортивные и развлекательные мероприятия в специально оборудованных залах и площадках.
  • Психологическая помощь и поддержка.
  • Возможность пройти семестровое обучение или практику в вузах-партнерах Škoda Auto Vysoká škola. Причем, выбор европейских институтов и университетов достаточно широк.

После третьего курса студенты университета проходят стажировку в ŠKODA AUTO, или у поставщиков компани и в партнерских фирмах.

Еще одно неоспоримое достоинство – студенты будут проживать в одном из красивейших чешских городов – Млада-Болеслав. Город был основан в X веке и до сегодняшних дней сохранил средневековый колорит, с «вкраплениями» современности – музеем раритетных автомобилей, который находится в личном замке нынешнего владельца «Шкода Авто», Новой Ратушей и величественными католическими соборами. Столица Чехии находится всего в 50 км от Млада-Болеслава, поэтому в выходные можно погулять по Праге и насладиться ее достопримечательностями.

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