Seat Leon 1.6-litre TDi S.

Price: £17,370.

Top speed: 119mph.

0-62mph: 10.7 seconds.

Fuel: 74.3mpg (combined figure).

CO2 emissions (g/km): 99.

Verdict: Impressive hatch, great looks, brilliant economy, fun to drive, generously equipped and well priced.

THE latest Seat Leon sits on the new VW Golf’s platform and it’s most obvious when you get behind the wheel.

And while the focus of the Leon remains very much on performance, it is thanks to the new modular platform and much-altered chassis that the car delivers improved ride comfort and refinement to make it stand out in its crowded sector.

The adoption of the highly-flexible platform not only helps to improve ride and handling but provides valuable weight savings and this together with weight reductions in other areas is good news for economy and general handling characteristics.

The new five-door Seat’s crisp, sharp-edged look makes it much more eye-catching than the outgoing model and the fresh design is carried through to the interior which offers more versatility and quality.

The car has undoubtedly made considerable important advances and despite generous equipment levels there is no significant alteration in price. In fact, the new Leon offers value for money with prices starting at £15,670 for the 1.2-litre TSi petrol.

This small petrol motor should be a popular choice, though Seat forecasts that the 1.6-litre TDi turbo diesel starting at £17,370 will be the best seller, especially as it returns an everyday fuel figure of 74.3mpg.

There is a wide range of petrol and diesel motors which are either new or updated and three different trim levels at launch.

While the lower-powered motors handle with agility and provide plenty of punch, the higher-powered FR versions are even better.

This is partly due to Seat offering two suspension set-ups. The lower-powered cars have semirigid rear axles with coil springs and hydraulic dampers while the cars with 150PS units and above have a more sophisticated and expensive multi-link rear axle with springs and hydraulic dampers.

On the road, the Leon feels more composed than before. The steering, too, is more communicative so that the driver can quickly gain an affinity with the vehicle.

Even the entry model, the 105PS 1.2-litre petrol, has a sporty edge and is fun to drive. This is a cracking little motor and its small turbo unit ensures the engine has power aplenty for quick acceleration and swift overtaking manoeuvres.

The engine is mated to a wellspaced and smooth six-speed manual gearbox which aids the 0-62mph sprint in just ten seconds while the top speed is an academic 119mph. Also pleasing is the combined fuel economy figure of 57.6mpg with CO2 emissions (g/km) at a low 114.

A more gutsy performer is the 140PS 1.4-litre TSi petrol unit which is also splendid on fuel at a combined figure of 54.3mpg.

The exceptionally economical 105PS 1.6-litre oil burner offers a supple but taut ride with very positive steering. It should be fast enough for most family needs and provide low running costs. And with a CO2 emissions figure of 99 (g/km) there is no road tax to pay.

The 134mph 2.0-litre diesel with 150PS on tap is a more relaxed drive. It is quieter and smoother riding than the 1.6-litre TDi and is also economical with a combined fuel figure of 69.9mpg. The SE specification model with leather upholstery costs £19,840.

Those motorists wanting extra performance should put the torquey FR models on their shortlist as their blend of power and road holding characteristics is also matched by excellent economy.

Seat, which operates under the wing of the giant VW company, has ensured that the Leon bristles with features and a first for the family hatchback class is the optional fitment of full LED headlamps.

The interior, neat and well laid out, has more shoulder room and cargo area, though the boot’s loading lip remains rather high.

The Leon gets a standard touchscreen media system and for the launch Seat is offering a technology pack which contains full LED headlights, navigation system and DAB radio. The pack normally costs £1,075 but is being offered for £500 for a limited time.