by Brian Byrne.

I’m already on record as liking the SEAT Leon ahead of its VW Group sibling the Golf. It has better looks, more Spanish style verve in its detailing, and in the Sportstourer version of this review car one of the most handsome in its format.

Apparently the word ‘estate’ is no longer used these days for wagons, but you know what I mean.

The style has the sharp edges which I have made positive comments about in my last run in the latest Leon. The front design offers a purposeful look without becoming all-out aggressive. There’s a nice eagle-eye theme about the headlights, which in this version are full LED. The side view metal sculpting plays well with different lighting and the Sportstourer format works well with the longer car which this Leon generation is. The integrated black roof rails add to the visual stretch of the overall look.

In the FR grade of the review car, the interior trimmings includes a distinctive leather-wrapped steering wheel, and matching part-leather seats, both with the red stitching effect that denotes sportiness. There is excellent room for the legs and elbows of the rear passengers, and there’s also a gain of boot capacity over the previous model.

That the nameplate Leon has been part of the SEAT lineup for 21 years says much for an enduring affection which this car has gathered. It was always part of the brand’s appeal, probably deliberately on Volkswagen’s part, that it has a sportier ethos than VW models. It gave an option against the carefully-maintained relative conservatism of the German cars.

This is the fourth generation of the Leon, which arrived last year in hatchback form. So it has all the underpinnings and technologies of the latest from the Group, along with that extra level of pizazz that SEAT gives.

Apart from the wagon format, I was driving this one because it also came with the SEAT version of plug-in hybrid petrol power. They’re branding it e-Hybrid, but to be honest I think a lot of these tech-branding names are more of a confusion than anything else. It’s a PHEV, a term which most people have now got the understanding of.

In this case, the powertrain is a 1.4 turbo petrol with a 60km-range battery for the electric motor system. An overall output of 204hp is both impressive and useful. You can keep the battery full overnight from a standard 13-amp socket, or faster with a dedicated wallbox or at a public facility.

As it happened, because of the kind of driving I was doing during the week, I just set the engine to charge it while on the motorway — which it did more efficiently on cruise control, by the way — and used it in electric drive while in urban areas. That all worked out well for me. Remember, though, there’s no free lunch in energy … so charging on the run does increase fuel consumption. Everything should, though, balance out.

The extra punch available was useful in acceleration on a couple of overtaking occasions, and while the FR grade has a lower and marginally harder suspension, that didn’t impinge on ride comfort. Being a hybrid, it has an automatic dual-clutch transmission, with clean fast shifts under any pressure. In this grade too, there are optional drive modes, the sports one changing shift points in the transmission and sharpening other responses.

PRICE: €35,201 as driven, and you can get €5,000 off this with an SEAI grant because it’s PHEV. WHAT I LIKED: It’s one of those cars that just works well and gives distinctive style too.