But as soon as their eyes set on the Leon, it sparked an interest that would make marketing gurus envious. It scored top marks in the looks department from my impromptu panel. Our model, with its black metallic paint, 17-inch alloy wheels and full body kit, certainly stands out in the crowd.
And despite not being the fastest Leon in the range, lacking the outright urge of the Cupra R, the 180bhp version still packs a punch.
Despite its performance credentials, on a 200-mile round trip the Leon was comfortable in sixth gear and felt reassuring when faced with challenging country lanes. Its hushed engine note at cruising speeds means it would be all too easy to break the speed limit on the motorway.
The Leon doesn't only excel in looks and performance. It has plenty of leg room in the back and generous boot space, which gives it more than enough potential as an everyday fleet car.
Our test model has a cracking stereo too, complete with six-CD autochanger. If I am picky, though, the lack of stereo controls on the steering column lets it down – a safety feature I believe should be a standard on all cars, including a sporty model such as the Leon, which is targeted towards a younger driver.
In terms of economy, the Leon is wavering slightly below the combined fuel consumption figure of 33.2mpg, with our model only reaching 29.6mpg. But it's comparable with two of our other performance-biased long-termers, the MG ZT-T 1.8T at 28.9mpg and the Mazda6 2.3 Sport at 30mpg.
However, due to the Leon's sporty nature and the fact that it has been in the hands of two of our hard-driving road test team recently, that economy figure is not too bad. As for problems, I have none to report. Previous testers recorded faults with the windscreen washer, which was emptying within a few days of being filled, and the CD autochanger, which had a tendency to jump mid-track. But after a visit back to SEAT UK, both have been fixed.
For the performance and style you get for an on-the-road price of £15,000, I can't fault the Leon. In many ways it is a shame that more people aren't aware of it. I'm sure if it was backed by a catchy TV advertising campaign, like Peugeot's 'Bombay Dreams' advert for the 206, it would surely save me having to explain what a Leon looks like.
On the other hand, the Leon's lack of recognition can be a bonus. Not only does it mean you don't see too many others on the road, it also makes this something of a stealth car for the occasional traffic light grand prix. Adele Burton
Company car tax bill 2003/04 (22% taxpayer): £68 per month