WHAT a long way the Spanish carmaker Seat has come since it was founded on May
WHAT a long way the Spanish carmaker Seat has come since it was founded on May 9, 1950, before producing its first vehicle, the 1400, three years later.
The 600, launched in 1957, is the car credited with “putting Spain on wheels”, so successful was it that sales hit one million in 1968.
To underline what great strides Seat has taken in the intervening years, 2014 saw a bevy of awards. And recently there was a new one for a very green Seat Leon Ecomotive named “the most fuel-efficient car tested by the What Car? True MPG team in the last 12 months”.
For those that are not up on the continuing row over manufacturers’ claimed MPG figures compared to the figures motorists actually achieve, be assured this is not faint praise. What Car? sensibly decided to carry out their own realistic MPG tests and this award is certainly a feather in Seat’s cap.
In Ecomotive form, Seat’s 1.6 TDI engine returns a very impressive 85.6mpg and emits just 87g/km CO2.
Seat now employs more than 14,000 people worldwide, with production concentrated at the Martorell plant, near Barcelona, which in February 2013 celebrated its 20th anniversary.
So it’s a modern carmaking success story. But before we go on, a word of apology to Seat purists – and you can be sure they exist. Newspapers are often overloaded with acronyms (and indeed my first chief sub-editor waged a vengeful war on using them as little as possible). So it is not surprising that the acronym SEAT, which stands for the original company name, Sociedad EspaÃ±ola de AutomÃ³viles de Turismo, shall in this column will remain determinedly Seat.
Having got that off my chest, it has to be said that among all the new cars on the market, the Seat range is one of those that has improved almost beyond recognition to models of old.
This has a lot to do with the fact that Seat is a member of the mighty Volkswagen Group. Volkswagen bought 51 per cent of the company’s shares in 1986, taking a 99.9 per cent share in 1990.
That might explain the fact that during the time I experienced this week’s drive, the Seat Leon ST FR 2.0 TDI 150 PS, which was equipped with the Tech, winter, convenience, drive assist and safety packs, I also drove a pristine Volkswagen. Though the latter was a larger and more luxurious model, the Seat Leon ST held its own in comfort and sheer driveability, comparing favourably with its more illustrious “brother”.
Of course there is a quality demarcation line between cars in the same group that bear different brand badges – otherwise how would carmakers make a living?
But I can quite see after driving the Seat Leon ST that it is a viable option for those whose car-buying budgets might not stretch to the more expensive models in the Volkswagen Group’s stable.
By the end of 2013, the third-generation Leon became a three-strong model family for the first time, comprising a five-door hatchback, a three-door SC, and ST estate.
The Seat Leon ST (Sports Tourer) I have been driving is an all-new five-door estate, the third member of the new Leon family, launched at the 2013 Frankfurt Motor Show.
Its design lines are as pleasing as the ride, the car having been styled by Martorell by a team led by Seat head of design Alejandro Mesonero-Romanos.
A bit of detail might help on the design front because Seats are now looking the business and this is important for potential buyers.
So the exterior has been redesigned from the A-pillars back, compared to the Leon SC and five-door: a new tailgate design incorporates a horizontal crease below the tail lights; the rear overhang is 264mm longer than that of the five-door Leon; the wheelbase the same as the five-door’s, and 35mm longer than the SC’s.
The Leon ST is powered by a range of efficient engines. The base petrol and diesel engines – the 1.2 TSI and 1.6 TDI, with 105 PS and 110 PS respectively – are both turbocharged, so they serve up plenty of low-end torque and therefore feel flexible, at the same time as offering very good economy.
The most fuel-sipping engines in the Leon line-up – and the ones that get my vote – are the TDI diesels, which, like the petrol engines, feature Ecomotive Technology, and all are common rail and direct injection.
• Price from £16,675 to £23,380
• Three UK trim levels (excluding X-PERIENCE sub brand): S, SE and FR
• 587-litre boot, rising to 1,410 litres with seats folded using Easy Rear Seat-back Release Mechanism, plus chrome loading sill and double boot floor design
• Standard equipment includes: air conditioning, remote central locking, Seat Easy Connect 5in touchscreen media system, including Bluetooth phone preparation and media streaming, SD card slot, AUX-in and USB ports; steering wheel controls
• Seat Drive Profile, introduced with five-door Leon and standard on FR cars, allows adjustment of steering and accelerator pedal feel three ways between Normal, Sport and Eco, plus an Individual option
• Safety technology includes Multi-Collision Brake, Lane Assist and Tiredness Recognition
• Range-topping 2.0 TDI FR 184 PS goes from 0 to 62mph in 7.8 seconds, yet returns 67.3mpg and 112g/km COÂ².