he Seat Leon – the best Volkswagen Golf you can buy,” quipped a colleague. He might have a point. It’s no secret that the latest Leon uses the same “MQB” platform as the Audi A3, Skoda Octavia and the Golf. To many eyes the well-proportioned Leon is the most handsome of the lot, especially in three-door SC form.
Beneath the skin, these cars have many interchangeable parts, including engines, suspension and transmission, electronics and safety systems.
The 1.4-litre petrol engine in this Leon isn’t the more sophisticated ACT or COD version (which deactivates two cylinders at speed to save fuel) that’s used in the A3 and Golf, although that will be introduced to the range next year. This less advanced unit is a fine engine nonetheless – a touch flat at low revs, but lively once the turbocharger gets into its stride.
It sounds good, too, but is pleasantly muted at speed, which makes you more aware of the disappointingly high level of road noise – something that’s also an issue in the Octavia and Golf.
The ride is firm, but the handling is good and the steering is responsive. In all, the Leon feels light, yet composed at speed; an appealing compromise between agility and comfort.
The most dramatic improvement in this Leon is in the cabin. There’s now lots of Germanic soft-touch plastic and a much more sophisticated ambience. The only let-down is the lower part of the centre console, which looks as though it hasn’t been finished yet.
Value for money is traditionally one of Seat’s key strengths, so this is where I tell you the equivalent Audi or VW costs thousands more, right? Not exactly. Yes, the Golf 1.4 ACT GT costs £22,795 but, if you’re willing to sacrifice a bit of kit and power, the Golf 1.4 TSI 122 is available for about the same price as this Leon. It’s only a small stretch to the A3 1.4 ACT 140 SE, which costs from £20,430.
Which means the A3 costs less than the Golf. And it has by far the nicest cabin of the lot. So although the Leon is a very good car, it could well be that my colleague was wrong. The best VW Golf you can buy is probably an Audi A3. LW