The SEAT leon's quick, attractive, handles well and won’t break the bank

The Leon FR is a good car in nearly every way. It’s quick, attractive, handles well and won’t break the bank. But with the hotter, better-looking Leon Cupra version in the pipeline – which promises to be the fastest contemporary VW Group hot hatch – we’d wait a little longer and spend the extra for that.

It's no secret that SEAT sees itself as the sporty member of the VW empire, but its image is under threat from its sister firms like never before. Both the new Skoda Octavia and VW Golf offer high performance, plus big personalities – so where does this leave SEAT?

The answer is... not as far behind as you might imagine. Take a look at the new Leon FR, for example. Its sleek, aggressive appearance is testament to the brand’s commitment to hot hatches, as demonstrated by an ever-growing line of fast Cupra and FR-badged cars.

The Leon’s trademark almond-shaped headlights, slab sides and swept back windscreen give it the air of an Italian coupé, rather than Golf-derived hatchback. And the sharp styling is now further enhanced thanks to the FR’s purposeful bumpers with their large, mesh-filled airdams, titanium-coloured wing mirrors and twin chromed exhausts.

However, the inside is bland, with a lot of grey and black plastic from the VW parts bin. It’s too similar to the MPV-like Toledo, and although it’s prac- tical, it’s simply not sporty enough.

On the road, the FR’s turbocharged FSI unit shows its class. Capable of delivering 0-62mph in 7.3 seconds and a 142mph top speed, the FR is easily quick enough to keep in touch with its Skoda and VW rivals. Acceler-ation is brisk in all six ratios and the engine provides a pleasant sound-track. A 2.0-litre TDI diesel FR costing £17,495 is also available, and although it lacks much of the petrol car’s pace off the mark, its in-gear performance and 47mpg fuel economy impress.

Handling is capable, with the Leon only losing its composure when you attack corners with a little too much enthusiasm, while a notchy gearshift and light steering at lower speeds are other drawbacks. Whichever version you choose, though, the FR is excellent value, coming in at around £2,000 less than the equivalent Vauxhall Astra SRi. However, there is a problem on the horizon. With next month’s British Motor Show seeing the launch of the 240bhp flagship Cupra, drivers after the ultimate hot hatch should hold on to their money. You will pay around £2,500 more, but won’t feel as though you’ve walked away with the silver medal.

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