Let me open by saying that I have never owned a car less than a decade old, with an engine larger than a 1.2L, or with more than 3 doors. A while back I purchased an ex-demo 14-plate Seat Leon SC, with a 1.4L engine and in the top-spec FR trim. Now, only the last point of those three remains true.
You can’t get away from how the thing looks. Seat is supposed to be the stylish, ‘young’ brand of the VW group, and the designers have stuck firmly to that brief. It is sleek and speedy-looking (not to mention eye-catching in an electric shade of blue). The front/rear running lights are light-guided and suitably futuristic; the LED headlamps both look amazing and work wonderfully. There is no shortage of style, although I have some slight concerns that I look like a boy racer. While unfortunate, the drive is so good that I am happy to leave that particular worry by the roadside.
Speaking of the drive – well. I have limited experience of cars – a ten year-old Clio 1.2L, a few newer-but-underpowered rental cars, and a lot of ‘quality’ time with Partner in Climb’s 12 year-old, 120,000-mile Nissan Almera. A 14-plate car of almost any description was clearly going to blow all of those out of the water and unsurprisingly, does just that. The Seat sticks to the road like glue round corners, pulls effortlessly and quietly on the motorway, and never feels like it struggles uphill or at speed. The uncanny silence of stop/start at junctions is almost indistinguishable from the engine running until you push into the high revs. The first time I started the car, I turned the ignition again because I wasn’t sure if I’d actually started it or not. Driving the Leon is so far detached from the Almera experience as to feel almost unreal, and as a result I love driving it. From the Tesco shopping run to the trek to North Wales, everything is enjoyable. Efficiency isn’t bad either – I am not the most conservative of drivers but on a round trip to North Wales I got 50mpg without really trying. Range on the tanks so far seems to be about 480 miles, but I’m sure it could be coaxed to 500 with slightly gentler driving.
There are gadgets aplenty, too. First on my list of luxuries is probably less exciting to you jaded lot – air conditioning. Oh heaven, thou hast come to earth in cooling airy form! So long have I waited for this! I cannot tell you what an amazing thing it is to have a car that, in summer, is not an oven on wheels. Other gadgety things include built in hands-free for the phone, a trip computer with all the spangly consumption statistics, tyre pressure monitoring and driving modes. I scoffed a little at driving modes as a concept but actually find that there is a noticeable difference between my two preferred options – sport and eco. The SC gives markedly more oomph with ‘Sport’ engaged, making it even more fun to drive than it was previously. On the motorway cruise (ooh! cruise control!) or deep in urban one-way systems, ‘Eco’ gives a calmer face to the car making it more relaxing to drive.
All of the above is not to say that the Seat Leon doesn’t have its quirks: the absence of any way to tell if the lights are on without looking under the dashboard is one of the more mystifying of these. Sure, the running lights are always on and when it’s dark you should be able to tell anyway, but it feels unnatural. The 18″ wheels the ex-demo car came with can be noisy over some road surfaces (although smooth as butter on others) and I had to turn to the internet to find out how to input a postcode into the sat nav. That there is no aux input for phones/iPods etc seems odd considering there is bluetooth, SD card, iPhone and USB inputs as well as a hidden CD player in the glovebox.
Buying an almost-new car is expensive compared to getting one a few years down the line. Even with that in mind, the pleasure I get from driving a modern car is enormous and considering the sheer amount of time I will be spending in that drivers seat once the commuting starts I think it was worth it. Would I buy the Seat Leon again?
Ta-rah for now, red. Blue is my new colour!