Wheels Asia - - First drive - TEXT AND PHO­TOS BEN CHIA

SEAT hopes to make a suc­cess­ful re­turn to Sin­ga­pore with a range of com­pet­i­tive mod­els, spear­headed by the Volk­swa­gen Golf-based Leon

ost test drives in­volve a bit of plan­ning, and are usu­ally ar­ranged a cou­ple of days, or weeks, in ad­vanced. This par­tic­u­lar one though was ex­tremely im­promptu. A brief meet­ing with the brand’s mar­ket­ing man­ager quickly be­came, “Do you want to take our cars out for a test drive, like to­day?” But this is SEAT, a brand with a dif­fer­ence. Un­like your usual Ger­mans, SEAT (pro­nounced “sa­yart” and of­fi­cially stylised in all caps, like MINI), hails from Spain, so you can ex­pect a bit of Mediter­ranean flair in the way they do things. I’ve al­ways liked SEATS, even though they’re es­sen­tially Volk­swa­gens un­der the skin. But man, did they look pretty. As a kid I’d se­cretly cov­eted a SEAT Cor­doba (don’t judge, they looked great), and later on the first gen­er­a­tion Leon Cupra R. But clearly, Sin­ga­pore­ans were not quite as en­am­oured with the brand as I was, and so in the early years of the mil­len­nium, SEAT beat a quiet re­treat from our shores. They are back now how­ever af­ter an ab­sence of over a decade, hop­ing to cap­i­talise on a more vi­brant car mar­ket that has un­der­gone plenty of changes dur­ing that time. Con­sumers, most no­tably the younger folks, are now more open to­wards try­ing out unique brands and prod­ucts as com­pared to a cou­ple of decades ago when SEAT was last around. With that said, it’s hard not to note that the present day range of SEAT ve­hi­cles carry a much more stronger link than be­fore to their Volk­swa­gen coun­ter­parts on which they are based. The Al­ham­bra MPV for in­stance is clearly a re­badged Sha­ran, the Ibiza su­per­mini is ef­fec­tively a slightly more stylish Volk­swa­gen Polo, and etc. And so we have the Leon, which is based on the, yep, you guessed it, the ever-pop­u­lar and ubiq­ui­tous Volk­swa­gen Golf Mk7. For the unini­ti­ated though, you’d prob­a­bly be hard-pressed to tell at first glance. To their credit, SEAT has done well to bless their cars with

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