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SEAT Leon 20VT Cupra 2001 Road Test

Sat, 08 Mar 2003

Why do I love the SEAT Leon 20VT so much? We go back a long way together. To Aviles in November 1999 and a memorable drive with George Fowler of The Star through the Cantabrian Mountains to the city of Leon itself. On that trip, on a long, straight, deserted stretch of two-lane blacktop, we hit 235kph (147mph). Not bad for a VW Golf-sized five-door, five-seater hatchback.

Now obviously not many of us are going to risk these sort of speeds in Mr Blair's slowed-down, begatsoed Britain. We just like to know the potential is there. And the long gearing of 25mph per 1,000 rpm in 6th also gives potential for remarkable 43mpg economy at motorway cruising speeds.

But the thing about the SEAT Leon 20VT, and its little brother, the Ibiza Cupra for that matter, is that unlike most of the sanitised de-characterised sporty cars of today, it actually feels alive. You get in, start it up and it begs you to drive it instead of merely sit there, steer and change gear. The old Peugeot 205 GTi was like that. The Alfa 156 2.5 V6 six-speed is like that. The Peugeot 306 GTi-6 is too. But not many other cars are these days, particularly other VAG models with different badges.

What you really get with the Leon 20VT is a five-door, five-seater, two-wheel-drive, six-speed Audi TT that looks like an Alfasud. The RHD example I had for an all-too-brief five days worked out £10,000 cheaper than a 170bhp Golf V5. Yet it out-performed the Golf on every score apart from Golf Club snobbery and the lack of chrome plated luggage ties in the boot. Its real potential is revealed on fast open roads where the six-speed box offers a gear for every eventuality and the handling knocks spots of any other VAG product on the same floorpan, except the Audi TT.

It's quick, comfortable, economical, grips and handles well, has all the kit you need, and at £14,995 it's the closest you will get to a bargain in this country. It's everything you need and a full five-seater with decent luggage space, so you don't have to make any compromises. My wife loved it. And the only bit that had loosened up in the 20,000-miler we tried was the engine. The gearchange remained impressively precise, and there wasn't a single rattle from anywhere.

The 20VT is the obvious leader of the Leon pack. But the others also boast the same Alfasud styling and the same Latin character without any Latin temperament (early examples were actually built in Belgium). At the asking prices, every one of them is a bargain.

If you're not bothered about Golf snobbery, they're all better cars for less money.

(In October 2002 I put my money where my mouth is and bought a two year old 20VT Sport at auction for £7,775 (the X reg lipstick pink metallic one in the photo). I ran it for 10 months, nothing has gone wrong apart from a misplaced cover over the pollen filter, and it was always been a pleasure to drive returning up to 34mpg if I took it easy. I sold it in August 2003 for £7,500.)

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