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THE Leon, arguably the prettiest in the company's new generation of cars, marks the pinnacle of Seat's renaissance as a world-class manufacturer. The nine-model range, based on the ubiquitous Volkswagen Golf platform in true VW Group fashion, starts with the 1.4S at ú10,995 on the road and rises to the exciting 180bhp 20V Cupra at ú17,995. All are five-door hatchbacks, with no three-door model planned.

The Leon slots beneath the four-door Toledo and above the five-door Cordoba Vario estate to form a Focus/Golf rival that packs more than a fair measure of Mediterranean flair at prices to make most of the opposition quiver. The 180bhp 1.8 20V T tested here - one model below the top of the range Cupra and retailing at ú15,995 on the road - offers remarkable value for money and is, Seat claims, the most powerful production car for under ú16,000.

Volkswagen's influence is clear in the Leon's build and finish, which is as good as any Golf's. Details such as the beautifully damped tailgate release, cleverly integrated into the 'S' badge icon, the now-familiar damped interior grab handles and 'spot the VW parts bin' trim items help elevate the Leon's image, imparting much of that coveted Germanic feel.

Six engines power the Leon, all of them shared with other Volkswagen Group products: these are 1.4 75bhp, 1.6 100bhp 1.8 20V 125bhp and 1.8 20V T 180bhp petrol units, and the now-familiar 1.9-litre TDI units in both 90bhp and 110bhp TDI forms. Four trim levels comprise S, SE, Sport and Cupra, while the forthcoming four-wheel drive 20V T4 will top the range off with an introduction date to be announced.

CO2 emissions and fuel consumption data correct at time of writing. The latest figures are available in the Fleet News fuel cost calculator and the company car tax calculator.

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