Seat comes out fighting but its Leon lacks edge
Seat is planning to come out of the shadow of its German parent, ending a decade in which it dawdled among the lower-ranking brands on the Irish – and international – markets. The loss-making member of the VW Group is eager to cast off the view that it’s the weakest link in the Teutonic family.
For Irish customers, the first signal of a potential revival was the decision to overhaul the specification on its outgoing models and revise the price list to make its cars competitive. Then there was the go-ahead for new investment in its Irish dealer network, a mix of increased marketing and promotion along with dealer support. However, these are just the ancillaries; the crux of the plan involves a significant revamp of Seat’s model range.
Forgive us for being a little cynical, however. We’ve heard such promises before, including from the Spanish brand. Initial signs were not good either: a new logo that looks little different from the old; and the decision to scrap one of the best taglines in the motor industry – “auto emocion” – and replacing it with “enjoyneering”, a car crash of marketing speak.
Seat has an identity problem. It still likes to consider itself the sporty value proposition within the VW Group. If Skoda offers value for money, Volkswagen stands for mainstream premium and Audi for upmarket appeal, then Seat needs to play on this more youthful, sporty persona. Its customer base is the youngest within the group, according to its Spanish executives, so its models should be dynamic, or at least look more dynamic than the rest. Sadly the marketing rarely matches the motoring reality. In the past, it has unveiled some outstandingly good-looking concept cars while its Cupra performance variants sit well with the youthful, sporty spin. But auto emocion never existed in the world of the Altea and Alhambera. If there was any emotion involved, it was usually despair at a future motoring life filled with people carriers.
Things are about to change however. Seat is fighting back – or so they tell us. The first launches in its revised range were the Ibiza and Toledo, neither particularly exciting or sporty but both appealing to a core audience that wants good looks at an affordable price.
Car you’d like to own
Thankfully there is light at the end of the tunnel. Now comes the Leon, a car that has come to epitomise where Seat’s heart should lie.
The Leon has been the single bright light in its otherwise dull range this past decade; a Seat you would actually like to own. It boasts Golf-like engineering but better styling. The Leon has been the final line of defence against those who say the brand has lost the battle for relevance.