Škoda Wins Once Again

There can be little doubt that SUV’s are becoming increasingly popular on European roads with a host of new models coming on to the market.

Last year, Škoda launched the first of a new generation of SUV called the Kodiaq. This has been admired by motoring journalists for its space, practicality, value and no-nonsense approach to motoring. It is the second SUV in the Škoda model line-up, as the manufacturer has been producing the Yeti for over eight years. The Yeti has stood out from competitors for its rather quirky, rugged, Tonka-toy looks, but offering more space and perceived value than rivals. However, after a facelift four years ago, the model is being replaced in late 2017 and will no longer bear the Yeti name. Queue the Karoq …

This new model aligns itself with its larger sibling, the Kodiaq, and signals the latest design approach by Škoda. The SUV will be both longer and wider than the vehicle it replaces, and also have a more conventional appearance that may disappoint some diehard Yeti fans. Its length is increased by 160mm to 4382mm and its width by 48mm. To give the vehicle a rugged look, lower bumpers and side panels are clad in black plastic. This will, of course, help protect body panels should one decide to take the vehicle off-road! Mechanically, the vehicle will feature current TSi petrol and TDi diesel engines from the current VW Group stable and some models will offer the option of 4-wheel drive. According to the motoring press, the Karoq appears to suffer from less body roll than the Yeti and is surefooted with responsive steering, and benefits from a 58mm longer wheelbase.

Interior accommodation is first class as has come to be expected from the latest range of Škoda models. There will be the usual ‘Simply Clever’ features including practical door bins and other useful storage places. Rear head and legroom are not compromised despite the sloping roof line, and as an option, buyers can specify a VarioFlex rear seating arrangement whereby all three rear seats are separate. These can be configured individually and the middle seat removed completely to enable the outer seats to slide inwards by 150mm to increase shoulder room. Boot capacity with a standard rear seat configuration is an impressive 521 litres, increasing to 1630 litres with the 60:40 seats folded. With the VarioFlex system, basic space ranges from 479 to 588 litres, with a total 1810 litres with all the rear seats removed.

A 9.2 inch high resolution touchscreen infotainment system dominates the dashboard and comes with gesture control meaning that one can navigate menus with a wave of the hand. A 12.3 inch full digital instrument display will be offered which is similar to those available on some VW and Audi models, but will be customised for the Škoda brand. Of course, this display won’t be a standard offering, but one of many fairly costly options. Besides the current 1.6 and 2.0 TDi diesel engines in different power outputs, the Karoq will be offered with the relatively new 113PS 1.0-litre three-cylinder or a completely new 148PS 1.5-litre turbocharged four-cylinder, which has just launched in the facelifted VW Golf. This 1.5-litre petrol engine is equipped with Active Cylinder Technology that shuts down two of the four cylinders at low speed and aids overall fuel consumption.

The Karoq will offer excellent passenger and luggage space with a simple, clean interior layout that will appeal to many buyers. Whilst it has to exceed the expectations of the Yeti within a more mainstream package, it has the pedigree to do so given advances in technology, design and practicality. Prices are still to be confirmed but it’s unlikely that Škoda will want to deviate far from the Yeti’s current starting price of £17700 (€20200). This model has every chance of becoming a best-seller at the expense of competitors’ offerings.

Finally, some readers may be asking the question: where have I seen the Karoq before? Technically, you haven’t although it does share the same platform and many body panels with its sister car, the highly-acclaimed SEAT Ateca, as shown above. In a time of rising development costs and the necessity to adopt economies of scale, it was to be expected that certain models would bear close resemblance to each other. However, each model has sufficient design and styling tweaks to differentiate them as well as completely different interiors meaning there is still real choice for the consumer. Just as Škoda is sharing the SEAT Ateca body, the same will apply when SEAT introduces a larger SUV akin to the Kodiaq!

Top Of The Pops

This isn’t a reference to the latest trends in popular music but a look at the top-selling cars in Europe and UK colour trends in 2016 …

According to Autocar® a leading UK motoring magazine, only fourteen different models of car dominated the number one selling position in twenty-eight European countries. Furthermore, fourteen of those top positions were occupied by VW Group cars which comes as little surprise given their overall reliability and relatively conservative styling that doesn’t date as quickly as some manufacturer offerings.

Top of the popularity list is the Volkswagen Golf. This model was the preferred choice of new car buyers in Austria, Belgium, Germany, Luxembourg, The Netherlands, Norway and Sweden. Of these countries, only Germany and Sweden boast mainstream car manufacturers but, interestingly, Germans support their home industry whilst the Swedes relegate their native Volvo into second, third and fourth places. Even then, the combined Volvo sales still fell short of Golf purchases by nearly 5000 vehicles.

Unsurprisingly, given its space, practicality and value, the Škoda Octavia triumphed in its home market of the Czech Republic, Estonia, Finland, Poland and Switzerland. In the Czech Republic, buyers are very supportive of their own product as the Škoda Fabia took second place in the sales chart and half of all the country’s top-sellers are Škoda models. The Fabia also claimed second place in Poland making that country a lucrative market for the Czech manufacturer.

The Nissan Qashqai sealed first place in the tiny car market of Croatia and narrowly beat the Octavia to second place in the equally small market of Latvia. Renault claimed top spot in their home market of France with the Clio, which also was the favoured purchase in Portugal, a country that has an affinity towards small French cars. Other European markets share a variety of different models, none of which have dominance. Denmark car buyers favoured the Peugeot 208 whilst the uninspiring Toyota Yaris was top of the pops in Greece. Buyers in Hungary opted for the Suzuki Vitara which may be because it’s manufactured there but the Octavia was in a respectable second place. A strange choice of buyers in Ireland was the Hyundai Tucson, pushing the Golf into second place.

Fiat dominated sales in their home market of Italy with the Panda. With their twisty and often congested roads, it’s not surprising that an economical small car was first choice. The Fiat 500 was most popular in Lithuania where the Nissan Qashqai reached second place. The Fiat 500L took first place in the small car market of Serbia with the Octavia again coming second. Another country supporting their home market was Romania with the Dacia Logan and Duster in first and second places respectively. The Dacia is very much a budget product and is the Romanian arm of Renault. Prices are kept low by using discarded platforms and engines from earlier Renault models and benefiting from low manufacturing costs. The downside to these models is driving vehicles which are some ten years behind the times!

The final three best sellers are the Škoda Fabia which triumphed in Slovakia although the Octavia wasn’t far behind. Sales in Spain were dominated by the home-built SEAT Leon with their Ibiza in a close second place. Bringing up the rear is the United Kingdom where the Ford Fiesta was the number one choice. I’m sure there are people who think that the Fiesta is a British product but no Ford model is built in the country. It is most likely that Fiestas sold in the UK are manufactured in Portugal. The car is a strange choice given its odd styling and the fact that it depreciates at a higher rate than some comparable models from competitors.

Staying in the UK, an analysis was taken of the most popular colour choices for new cars. Monochrome colours are the most popular as white, black and grey take the top three spots. Of these colours, white dominates the charts with 20.51% of 2016 registrations. Blue remains the most popular primary colour and stood at fourth place with 15.38% of the market. Brown has fallen out of favour with demand down by 40.1% on 2015 sales. Somewhat strangely, beige has also dropped by 27.6%, possibly because buyers see it as an unexciting colour. Silver, which once dominated new car sales, found itself in sixth place in 2016, a drop of 7.5% on the previous year.

Of the top-selling ten cars in the UK in 2016, six were finished in black, two in white, and one each in grey and blue. Given the percentages shown above, it must be assumed that more of the less popular vehicles sold were finished in white!

Mid-Life Crisis?

In order to breathe new life into existing models, many manufacturers give mid-life facelifts to some of their cars.

As loyal readers of my blog will be aware, I have a penchant towards cars from the VW Group. I am not saying for one minute that other manufacturers don’t produce fine products, but personally I like the understated styling of VW Group models which don’t date at the alarming rate of some design offerings available today. Take the styling of the current Ford Fiesta as an example. This model compares directly with the Volkswagen Polo and Škoda Fabia yet depreciates some 7% more in value over a three year period. Most Japanese manufacturers appear to have lost the plot where styling is concerned, having adopted aggressive front ends and protruding tail-light clusters. This is simply the trend of the moment and avant-garde designs fast lose their appeal with the buying public. Whilst some would say that many VW Group products are rather staid, they continue to hold their value over the years and rarely look out of place amidst more futuristic offerings.

The question that one must ask is why models are given a facelift. Surely there would be no need for change had the designers got the product right in the first place. In reality, car makers want to keep their products in the forefront of the market place, and it is a constant battle to keep up with new and improved products from competitors. Facelifts therefore inject new life into existing models, extending their life for 18 months up to three years. In recent months, facelifts have been announced for the Audi A3, SEAT Leon, Škoda Octavia and VW Golf. The modified A3 is already available but buyers will have to wait until early 2017 for the updated models from the other marques.

To look at the aforementioned facelifted models, it is quite difficult to spot what is different. External changes include new or tweaked grilles, restyled bumpers, improved lights and new wheel designs. Most improvements are not visible from the outside as they centre around upgraded infotainment systems and enhancements to the power output of engines on offer. None of these are a bad thing and if they generate new life into a three or four year old product, it’s good news for the manufacturer. Limited changes to the exterior are also good news for the owners of pre-facelift models as only the diehard discerning buyer will be able to spot the differences.

Let’s start with the SEAT Leon. A reshaped front bumper now features a grille that has been stretched by 40mm, and the car is offered in three additional exterior colours. Interior trim has been upgraded and an electric handbrake and ambient lighting have been added. The new 115bhp 1.0 three-cylinder turbo petrol engine, already available in the Audi A3, Škoda Octavia and VW Golf; is now offered and the 1.6 diesel engine has had a power boost to 115PS. Add-on options include wireless phone charging, Traffic Sign Recognition and Traffic Jam Assist.

Next the Škoda Octavia. This boasts a new front end which has already divided opinion. It features split headlights with LED daylight running lamps and a wider grille that more closely resembles the new Kodiaq SUV. The lower bumper section has been tidied up with crisp horizontal lines designed to emphasise the car’s width. The rear bumper has also been restyled and the tail-lights tweaked. Inside, it is the infotainment systems that boast the biggest change. All systems now come with capacitive touchscreens which are larger in size. Optional features include a customised key that can store multiple driver preferences, a heated steering wheel, folding tables in the backs of the front seats and new cup holders that are moulded to the shape of bottles allowing them to be opened with one hand.

Now for the VW Golf which has a re-profiled bumper, slightly modified grille and air duct styling, minor restyling to the front wings and revised headlights with LED daytime running lights and a new full LED main beam function. The rear receives full LED tail-lights and a newly designed bumper and the model benefits from new wheel designs and exterior colours. Inside, there are revised trims for the doors, dashboard and centre console and some models can be specified with an Active Info Display with 12.3in high-definition monitor in place of standard analogue instruments. Infotainment systems are enhanced with larger displays across all models together with new or updated driver assistant systems including  Traffic Jam Assist, Emergency Assist, Lane Assist and an updated City Emergency Braking system. Needless to say, most of these options come at a price!

Finally the Audi A3. Key updates include styling tweaks with Xenon or LED headlights as standard. The front grille has had a minor restyle along with the headlights meaning the car now more closely resembles the larger A4. As with the other marques, the Audi also boasts new exterior colours and wheel designs. The main technological enhancement is the option of a virtual cockpit display in lieu of conventional analogue instruments.

Prices for the revised models are unlikely to deflect far from existing prices although uncertainties over exchange rates may ultimately have an impact. It’s fair to say that the improvements and enhancements across all these models are good for the consumer as they reflect the latest developments in technology. They should also reap rewards for the manufacturers as they either retain or attract new customers to their product range whilst remaining competitive in a fierce marketplace so it’s hardly a mid-life crisis!

For comparison pre-facelift photos of these models, please refer to earlier blog posts.

When Less Is More

A few vital statistics …

Regular readers will already be familiar with my blog reviews and comparisons of cars from the Volkswagen Group. One aspect that I generally omit is the overall size of each vehicle, so to make amends, I am detailing the vital statistics of four comparable vehicles. These are the SEAT Leon, Škoda Octavia, VW Golf and the Audi A3. Each car compared is a 5-door hatchback, and for price comparison purposes, uses SE trim specification. Obviously, despite the same name, levels of trim in each car do vary considerably with the Skoda offering some of the highest and the Audi the least.

Leon

Firstly, the SEAT Leon. This is currently priced from £18245 (approx €23720) for a 1.4 TSI 125PS Manual in SE trim.

Wheelbase 2636mm Front Track 1549mm Rear Track 1520mm Length 4263mm Width 1816mm 1975mm with mirrors. Boot space ranges from 380 litres with rear seats up to 1270 litres with seats folded.

Octavia

Now, the Škoda Octavia. This is also currently priced from £18245 (approx €23720) for a 1.4 TSI 150PS Manual in SE trim.

Wheelbase 2686mm Front Track 1549mm Rear Track 1520mm Length 4659mm Width 1814mm 2017mm with mirrors. Boot space ranges from 590 litres with rear seats up to a whopping 1580 litres with seats folded.

Golf

Next, the VW Golf. This is currently priced from £19710 (approx €25600) for a 1.4 TSI 122PS Manual in SE trim.

Wheelbase 2636mm Front Track 1549mm Rear Track 1520mm Length 4255mm Width 1799mm 2027mm with mirrors. Boot space ranges from 380 litres with rear seats up to 1270 litres with seats folded.

Audi

Finally, the Audi A3. This is currently priced from £20700 (approx €27000) for a 1.4 TFSI 150PS Manual in SE trim.

Wheelbase 2636mm Front Track 1535mm Rear Track 1506mm Length 4310mm Width 1785mm 1966mm with mirrors. Boot space ranges from 380 litres with rear seats up to 1220 litres with seats folded.

It doesn’t take a genius to see how similar these vehicles are. The Leon, Golf and A3 all share the same MQB platform whilst the Octavia benefits from a stretched version of the same platform. The Leon and Golf are virtually identical in size, right down to the luggage capacity. Despite the A3 giving the impression of being a large car, it is actually shorter than the Octavia. As is to be expected from Škoda, the Octavia delivers considerably more for your money and offers boot space to rival cars in the segment above, proving once again that less is more! Ultimately, the final choice is down to styling as all the models are extremely well built and share the same mechanical parts.

Spanish Roads

As in any country, motoring in Spain brings both challenges and pleasure … 

I think it’s fair to say that some of their motoring laws are overly complex and the roadsides are awash with signage which only leads to confusion for the non savvy motorist. Basically, there are speed restriction signs at the approach to most junctions outside urban areas, then once passed the junction, further signs reminding you of the maximum permitted speed. This also applies on motorways, so the countryside appears full of lollipops wherever you travel! On the plus side, many of the main routes and motorways across Spain are maintained to a far higher standard than in the UK but still fall short of the quality of road surfaces across much of France. On the downside, some of the minor roads are actually devoid of tarmac in places, simply resembling dust tracks! However, that simply adds to the charm of motoring in Spain, coupled with the complete lack of traffic on many secondary roads. Only recently, I drove in excess of 45 kms over mountain roads and only encountered four other vehicles in that distance, so saying many roads are quiet is something of an understatement.

One thing that won’t escape an astute motorist, however, is the average age of motor vehicles on the roads. According to a recent survey, the average age of a car on Spanish roads is now 11.5 years, compared with 8.89 years in 2008. This equates to some 11 million vehicles, and if the trend continues or simply stabilises, this figure could rise to 16 million by 2017. The average age is far higher than in the other four major European markets of Germany, UK, France and Italy. Statistically, 29% of cars on the roads of Spain are between 11 and 15 years old whilst a staggering 24% are over 15 years old!

The recession that took hold in 2008 is probably the main reason for this situation. Many families have struggled to make ends meet, especially in Spain where average earnings are considerably lower than in much of Europe, so updating a motor vehicle has either been unaffordable or lacked priority. A lesser factor is that cars actually last longer in Mediterranean climates as bodywork does not corrode as a result of adverse weather conditions. In an effort to try and encourage people to purchase a new vehicle, the Spanish government has run an incentive discount scheme, similar to that promoted by the UK government several years ago. Unfortunately, unlike the success of the UK scheme, buyers in Spain have not been quick on the uptake, so the scheme has been relaunched on several occasions, the latest version having started in March 2015. This will run for 12 months or until allocated funds have been exhausted, and will entitle buyers of qualifying new cars to a discount of up to €3000 (£2300).

People may well question the need to update an old car if it still serves their purpose. However, there are several major factors to consider when driving a vehicle considered to be past its sell-by date. The number one factor is safety. In tests carried out by the Royal Automobile Club of Spain (RACE), an impact between two vehicles with an age gap of 20 years saw the occupants of the new vehicle suffer serious but not fatal injuries, whilst those in the old car were killed outright. RACE stated that the chances of an accident increase proportionately to the age of the vehicle, as does potential fatality. Studies show that in a motorway accident in a car less than 4 years old, the fatality rate is 1:74 (one fatality for every 74 incidents) whereas in a car over 15 years old, this increases to 1:36. On ordinary roads, the comparable figures are 1:41 and 1:19! A second factor is the cost of running an older vehicle. On average, a newer vehicle consumes 30% less fuel and its emissions are 95% less, so it’s also kinder to the environment. It is acknowledged that perceived savings in fuel will depend greatly on the annual distance driven. Newer cars are also much safer with multiple airbags affording driver and passengers more protection, superior crush-proof zones, and often come with facilities that aid the overall driving experience. If Spain’s target figure of old vehicles were replaced with new models, in excess of 300 million litres of fuel will be saved each year, thereby preventing the import of over 1.96 million barrels of oil per annum.

Despite the recession, sales of new vehicles have continued to be quite buoyant in the UK market, with a particularly good performance in the first six months of 2015. However, unlike much of mainland Europe, the UK has a very large fleet of company cars, with many businesses updating their fleet every 2-3 years. The sale of these vehicles obviously impacts heavily upon monthly statistics which do not accurately reflect the number of private purchases. With more and more British families being squeezed nearer or below the poverty line, there is every chance that a higher percentage of older cars will ultimately be gracing the roads of the UK in the coming years.

Wherever in the world you may live, drive carefully and happy motoring!

Battle Of The Giants

It’s not often that I review large or executive class vehicles as I’m very much in favour of economy and being environmentally friendly. Fortunately, nowadays, it is becoming easier to blend both these qualities as engineering and design advance in leaps and bounds …

Following my penchant for cars from the Volkswagen Group, mainly because of their more classic designs and overall reliability, this review is comparing two relative giants from both Škoda and VW in the guise of the Superb and Passat. The original modern-day Superb utilised a 10cm stretched version of the Passat model at the time, and was launched in 2001. Whilst never being a huge seller, it gradually commanded a larger slice of the market owing to its passenger and luggage capacity, not to mention overall reliability. It has therefore been popular with taxi drivers who opted for a larger car than the ever-popular Škoda Octavia.

This model was replaced in 2008 with the second generation Superb, which boasted a unique ‘twindoor’ arrangement with an innovative rear opening that could double as a regular separate saloon boot and full hatchback. The car was larger than its sister Passat derivatives and continued to attract new customers to the marque. Now, after over seven years in production, this model has now been replaced with the mark III Superb, a car that effectively takes Škoda into new territory.

It would be fair to say that the styling of the outgoing Superb was somewhat dowdy despite the car offering exceptional value for money with its passenger and luggage space. The Passat has always upstaged it in the design stakes, and whilst only coming in conventional saloon or estate form, has been the VW Group’s market leader in the segment. However, this could be all about to change with the new Skoda incarnation. The Superb is now an exceptionally classic-looking car and gives the equally attractive Passat a run for its money. The ‘twindoor’ rear opening has been ditched in favour of a traditional hatchback opening, but the car gives the impression of being a traditional saloon. Once again, the Superb is built on a stretched platform some 80mm longer than the outgoing model, weighs about 75kg less, and is 47mm wider thereby providing more elbow room. Passengers also benefit from increased headroom, especially in the rear. A major factor of all Škoda cars is their luggage capacity compared with comparable models from other manufacturers, and the new Superb boasts 625 litres with the rear seats in place, increasing to a massive 1760 litres when the seats are folded. It is therefore likely to swallow almost anything one cares to put in it!

The car will offer a choice of seven fully turbocharged petrol and diesel engines depending upon the model derivative. The excellent DSG automatic gearbox will be available with selected engines so it should be possible to tailor-make the ideal package. Living up to the Simply Clever features offered by Škoda, the car comes with a built-in umbrella in each of the front doors and a rechargeable torch that also serves as a boot light. Even the basic model is well-equipped, boasting alloy wheels, DAB radio, Bluetooth connectivity and an infotainment touch screen. Better specification models have larger wheels, climate-controlled air conditioning, cruise control and rear parking sensors. For the ultimate in motoring, opt for the expensive Laurin & Klement spec with heated front and rear seats, adaptive dampers, powered tailgate, a TV tuner and more luxuries besides. These specifications apply to the UK market where models are generally better equipped as standard than in some other European markets. The interior layout is clearly designed for ease of use and driver comfort and avoids the gimmickry found in many competitor cars. Overall, the car is very well assembled and offers a comfortable and quiet driving experience, and with the entry level Superb S 1.4 TSI 123bhp engine currently costing £18640 (€25500), it will take a lot of beating in the value-for-money stakes!

More than ever before, the Superb is a real challenger for its cousin, the VW Passat. This model recently underwent a major facelift to become even bigger yet lighter than its predecessor, but at the same time becoming far more fuel efficient. Some top spec models command a premium price meaning that VW are targeting customers of smaller BMWs and Mercedes, but it has to be said that the car is of premium quality. Whilst the Passat is not the largest saloon car in the VW stable, it is the largest in terms of sales as the Phaeton is a super luxury saloon competing with the likes of the Audi A8 and Lexus LS. At first glance, the new Passat looks very similar to its predecessor, but actually boasts a 79mm extended wheelbase in a car that is slightly shorter due to reduced front and rear overhangs.

Specification across the model range has been improved and the car offers a sleeker look than before. As with the Škoda, the interior layout is conventional, with all controls readily to hand. Astute readers will note common switchgear used across many models in the VW Group. All models come with a 6.5 inch touchscreen, Bluetooth, DAB radio, curtain airbags and a driver’s knee airbag. Higher spec models feature sat nav, adaptive cruise control and other optional extras including the much-publicised Driver Assistance featuring, amongst other things, automatic full beam dipping, lane assist and side scan radar. Like the Sperb, the Passat is based on the MQB platform that has been discussed in previous model reviews. This platform underpins popular cars like the VW Golf, Škoda Octavia, SEAT Leon and Audi A3, so reliability should be taken as read. Luggage capacity is 586 litres with the rear seats in place but these can be folded top increase space. Remember, however,. that access is restricted as the Passat is a conventional saloon with a boot rather than the hatchback versatility of the Škoda Superb.

The Passat is a very well-engineered vehicle and now offers the complete package … a refined, comfortable, sporty saloon in a classic design that will retain its value better than many of its competitors. As with many things, the final choice between these two cars will be the price. As mentioned, the Superb actually offers more room than the Passat, and whilst it may not be right at the top in terms of overall refinement, it isn’t far off and offers exceptional value for money. The entry level Passat S 1.6TDI costs £22215 (€31000) which is over £3500 (€5000) more than the Superb … a lot of dosh! Both cars will offer estate derivatives at greater cost but offering even more carrying capacity making it a true battle of the giants!

Brand versus Style

Regular readers of my motoring blogs will undoubtedly know that I’m a devotee of Škoda cars but here is a review of two alternative marques from the VW Group …

In a world whereby most average family cars look very similar, making an informed choice on which car to buy can be a daunting task. Some people demand every conceivable gadget and gismo available, no matter what these may cost, whilst others are content in having a vehicle that delivers a solid driving experience without too many trimmings. Nowadays, most manufacturers offer products that are light years away from their models of fifteen years ago so ultimately it comes down to individual preference or even bias! Yes I am somewhat biased as I’m a firm believer in value for money rather than paying simply for an upmarket badge.

If you exclude premium names such as Bentley and Bugatti for example, then Audi is at the upper end of VW Group marques with Škoda and SEAT holding more lowly positions. Of course, that in no way derides these makes and they more than compete with both their cousins and other manufacturers. The VW Golf made its first appearance in 1974 and has been a world best seller for most of its life, now being in its seventh generation. A Mark 8 version is scheduled for the 2018 model year. As with most models, the car has grown from its original size back in 1974, with the current VW Polo about the size of the Mark 1 Golf. Sharing the same MQB platform as the current Golf is the latest SEAT Leon and this blog will compare the two models which are virtually identical in size.

There can be little doubt that the VW Golf offers a solidly built, quality-engineered car, coming in three-door, five-door and estate guises. Virtually every new incarnation of the model improves upon its predecessor, but in so doing, the price has reached what some might describe as epidemic proportions. As with nearly all manufacturers, the model offers far more standard equipment and safety features than at the start of this century, so these will contribute to higher prices. However, the danger is that the car falls outside the affordability parameters of the family market at which it is aimed. Performance comes from a range of proven petrol and diesel power units, all of which are turbocharged, and one even has a fuel-saving device that shuts off two cylinders when they’re not needed. The Golf excels in its riding and handling capabilities and few cars within the category can equal it. This is achieved through sophisticated suspension settings although smaller engined models have to rely upon a more traditional set up. Over the years, VW have refined their engines to the point that most offer an exceptionally smooth travelling experience.

The dashboard is well put together with all controls readily to hand and plenty of soft touch material. Switchgear is well damped and the overall ambience is one of functional comfort rather than an array of gimmicky buttons found in some manufacturers models, notably Ford and GM. As one would expect, the Golf is a safety-conscious zone boasting seven airbags (including a driver’s knee airbag) and stability control. Mechanical parts are marked to deter thieves and the car achieved a 5 star Euro NCAP rating in crash tests. Basic equipment includes Bluetooth, a DAB radio and air conditioning, but opt for a mid range specification to get adaptive cruise control, automatic sensor-driven lights and wipers, plus alloy wheels. The higher spec models also offer full climate-controlled aircon which is worth considering as an option on other models if made available as it keeps the interior at a pre-set temperature. A touch screen infotainment system sits in the centre of the dashboard, from which many features can be controlled. The Golf will seat four adults in comfort and five at a pinch. Boot space is about par for the segment and benefits from a height adjustable floor which is useful for eliminating a step up to the rear seats when in their folded down position.

Sitting directly alongside the Golf is the Leon from sister company SEAT. This car can be looked upon as the equivalent of a Spanish holiday, offering fun, flair and affordability. Whereas the Golf is very conservative in design, the Leon is more stylish and distinctive, yet shares the same platform, engines and technology … so basically a Golf in disguise! It offers both style and substance in a package comprising German engineering, Spanish flair and a build quality to virtually match its cousin. As with the Golf, there is a comprehensive range of engines including high powered derivatives for the FR and Cupra models at the top end of the model spectrum. Handling is generally good thanks to the suspension and damping set up, but some may consider the ride to be slightly on the firm side. Personally, I find this advantageous as it eliminates some of the sickening motion encountered in some vehicles. Overall refinement doesn’t quite match that of the Golf primarily because of more wind noise and models fitted with larger wheels suffer excessive road noise. Safety and security features are plentiful including seven airbags, stability control, tyre pressure monitoring and emergency brake assist. To help deter thieves, all models have an alarm fitted and the Leon also achieved a 5 star Euro NCAP rating.

Interior switch gear largely mimics that fitted in the Golf. Obviously, the sharing of common components is more cost effective and if they’re good enough for a VW, that is a compliment to the Leon! The dashboard is angled slightly towards the driver and is generally a match for the Golf in terms of refinement. The model also has a touch screen infotainment system with sensory response, and whilst this serves the purpose, it would benefit from being somewhat larger. Standard equipment includes basic air conditioning, Bluetooth and an MP3 compatible CD player whilst higher spec models get alloy wheels, cruise control and bright trim on the dashboard. The FR models add dual zone climate controlled aircon, sports seats and leather trim. The Leon easily accommodates four adults but there is enough room for a fifth. The model comes in three derivatives, namely a three-door SC, five-door and estate, and rear head and legroom is slightly reduced in the coupé model. Luggage space can only be described as average offering 380 litres with the rear seats in place, and as with the Golf, there is a step up when the rear seats are folded. The Leon does not offer the adjustable floor height to compensate for this and the boot area offers no useful storage facilities unlike the ‘simply clever’ features of Škoda models!

This latest incarnation of the SEAT Leon makes it one of the best family cars around, with its blend of practicality, performance and style. It is a rewarding car to drive owing to comfortable seats and an airy cabin. Opt for one of the lower-aspirated engines to yield the greatest economy. The Leon undercuts the price of the Golf across its range but the downside is that residual values will not be as great. However, for many people, the deciding factor when purchasing a car is the upfront price, and in this respect the overall package offered by the Leon is hard to beat. A VW Golf 1.6TDI 5-door Bluemotion with climate control and metallic paint currently costs €30400 (£22420). A SEAT Leon 1.6TDI SE 5-door with similar specification has a current list price of €27500 (£20255) so it’s clear to see that the Leon offers very good value for money.

Little doubt then that it’s a choice between brand and style!

IMG_2960
VW Golf Estate
IMG_2961
SEAT Leon Estate