SEAT is owned by Volkswagen, which also owns Audi, Skoda and a chunk of Porsche. (Or is it the other way 'round?!) Anyway, there is a lot of synergy going on.

Leon sits on the same MQB modular platform used in the Golf 7 (and Audi A3), plus SEAT also gets to use VW engines.

Unfortunately, SEAT still has to deal with the old chestnut of older buyers who remember when FIAT and SEAT were in bed together and the horrible machines they made. There's also the elephant in the room: Leon is still not a Golf!

Leon comes in three body styles: five- and three-door (SC) hatchbacks and an Estate (ST). We put the five-door Leon FR diesel through its paces to see if it can really be better than a Golf.

The front-wheel drive car is a smart-looking machine. Leon's exterior features some sharp Audi-esque styling crease and sharp headlight clusters. Overall, the quality of design has definitely moved the Spanish machine more upmarket.

Inside, the cabin is a little sombre and quite German. Obviously, the switchgear and dials have that familiar VW feel and quality. There is seating for five and despite the Leon being in the compact family car sector, there is a good deal of cabin space. The boot is good - but nowhere near as big as the one you can get for similar money in a Skoda Octavia.

The only criticism inside concerns the dashboard area: the dash is simple and logically laid out, but the use of some plain plastics and trim make it a bit dull. A hi-tech audio sat/nav screen livens things up a bit but Leon still fails to match the sense of contentment you get from a Golf. At night, Leon's subtle cabin illumination does add some class to the occasion. In fairness to Leon, I got into it from a Renault Mégane GT line, which looks like a nightclub in comparison.

SEAT's FR badge is akin to VW's GT or Ford's ST, so it is no surprise to find that under the bonnet there is a tuned, 2-litre Golf GTD engine. Our Leon FR is a powerful machine with 184hp and 380nm. A sprint from 0-100km/h takes just 7.5 seconds. In the real world, Leon FR pulls like a train, with little driver effort. A manual gearbox is standard.

In day-to-day driving the car feels quite normal and not overly inspiring. With a light right foot, impressive fuel consumption figures are attainable. The standard 150hp, 2-litre diesel Leon is really all you need in terms of balanced performance, but if you can afford the FR then go for it. Like the Golf GTD, the FR makes most sense for high-speed long distance work where it comes into its own.

SEAT's five-door Leon FR 184 is a far more affordable option next to a Golf GTD. But remember: the Golf will hold onto more of its value when you go to sell it on. The trick is to be aware of this fact and make your own choice.

As for standard Leon versus Golf, the same advice applies. There are savings to be made on the new price (although not as big as with the FR/GTD), but the VW will always be seen as the 'posher' car in Ireland.

The SEAT Leon range is good and the 184hp FR is a stealthy hot hatch that is fun and frugal.

Michael Sheridan