SINGAPORE - The local launch of the new Seat Leon barely allows the latest, eighth-generation Volkswagen Golf to steal a lead in the marketplace.
Both the Leon and Golf (which was launched here just three months ago) are based on Volkswagen Group's MQB Evo platform, which has also spawned more models across other group-owned brands such as Audi and Skoda.
For the local market, the Seat Leon comes in two iterations - a five-door hatchback and a compact station wagon called Leon ST (Sportstourer). There is but one engine choice: a 1.5-litre e-TSI, which is a mild hybrid unit boasting 149hp and a 48-volt electrical system to provide greater efficiency.
The Spanish-designed Leon takes on a slightly more aggressive styling compared with the VW Golf, with accentuated angles giving it a more chiselled look.
The ST version has a larger cargo area neatly grafted to the rear, giving it more practicality. It provides 620 litres of space, compared with 380 litres in the hatchback.
The five-door hatch and ST look identical when viewed directly from the rear or front. The difference is obvious only from the side, where a longer rump also gets a different C-pillar treatment. The hatchback looks sporty, while the more practical ST is more staid.
The cars' four-cylinder e-TSI engine is a familiar unit from parent company VW and is found in several other cars in town.
This direct-injection engine is paired with a 48-volt belt-driven starter-alternator which boosts torque when driving off.
The system also starts the engine and, on the move, switches it off as much as possible - a transition which is seamless and unnoticeable.
The system also allows for energy recuperation during braking and deceleration. The recovered energy is stored in a 48-volt lithium-ion battery. All these are supposed to contribute to better fuel efficiency.
While Seat claims that both cars consume 5 litres of petrol for every 100km (despite the ST having a 49kg weight penalty), the test cars average around 7 litres/100km. This is still respectable.
You are not going to burn pavement in either of these cars. Acceleration is a leisurely, and strangely identical, 8.5 seconds to 100kmh - similar to what the new VW Golf can achieve.
More than what the figures suggest, it is the cars' torque of 250Nm from just 1,500rpm - together with their smooth-shifting seven-speed dual-clutch gearbox - which makes overtaking easy. Top speed is an adequate, and yet again identical, 217kmh.
Apart from the body styling, it is in the ride and handling department that differentiates the two. You would expect better handling from the sportier and lighter hatchback, but it was surprisingly the ST that proved more fun.
The additional weight at the back from a bigger expanse of metal hunkers the rear end down to offer a more balanced and neutral ride, especially in the bends.
Both cars have a relatively small turning circle of 10.6m, which makes getting out of tight spots a cinch.
The physical instrument cluster with real dials is missed, but understandably, the march of technology provides the driver with more graphic design choices, which seem more important to the new generation of buyers. A central 10-inch LCD infotainment screen featuring Apple CarPlay and Android Auto also aims to reduce the perceived "button clutter".
The stereo's volume button is still analogue, but the oft-used climate-control switches have been digitally reduced to a sub-menu available only via the infotainment touchscreen.
These aside, the two Leons are well built, refined and boast quality materials. If you are in the market for a sporty-looking hatchback, the Leon has it in spades - especially if you pick the brighter colours.
But if you need more boot space, the Leon ST makes up for its staid looks with a sportier drive and a lot more practicality.
Seat Leon; Leon ST
Price: $125,999; $130,999 with COE
Engine: 1,498cc 16 -valve inline-4 turbocharged
Transmission: Seven-speed dual-clutch with paddle shift
Power: 149hp at 5,000rpm
Torque: 250Nm at 1,500-3,500rpm
0-100 kmh: 8.5 seconds
Top speed: 217kmh
Fuel consumption: 5 litres/100km
Agent: Vertex Euro Motors