THE Leon has been a pillar of SEAT's range for decades. No wonder when so many satisfied owners said it offers the VW Golf experience at a much lower price point.

But could this generation be the tipping point when the Leon usurps the Golf on merit?

SEAT's design teams have been on a roll ever since the Ateca SUV wowed with its stylish deisgn and engaging driving manners way back in 2016. As the mainstay of the SEAT range for more than two decades they couldn’t afford to mess up the Leon.

The original Leon was a belter - it looked like a Spanish take on an Audi - but maybe it was a bit too good?

Since then, there’s always been a niggling feeling that the Leon has been held back so as not to embarass more expensive products from Ingolstadt and Wolfsburg.

With this, the foruth generation, the gloves are off.

Parent company unlocked the vault to the family jewels and handed SEAT everything it wanted.

So the Leon shares the same basic platform as the latest Golf/A3/Octavia. It has the same gadgets and gizmos (more of which anon) and the same hard-to-pin-down feeling of being a quality product.

In fact, SEAT reckons it is the most advanced vehcile the company has ever developed.

Yeovil Express:

Bold words. The Leon has always been one of the sweet spots in the SEAT range: a roomy, goodlooking hatchback available in a range of body styles with an award-winning lineup of engines, and now it is better than ever.

With predictive adaptive cruise control (which matches your speed to the car in front), emergency assist, travel assist and side and exit assist, it is certainly a very safe car.

But it’s also a very practical one, too. The increased dimensions of the 5-door and Sportstourer (86mm and 93mm respectively), make them extra roomier in the rear seats and offer an even larger boot capacity for the Sportstourer (620 litres).

SEAT’s designers have tightened up the styling, starting with a bolder grille and new LED headlights. Complex body surfacing draws the eye by playing with light and sahe while the rear is more distinctive thanks to a full width light bar. It looks good without being fussy.

The interior is less successful.

It’s pleasant enough, and comfortable, but the decision to go with a minimalist fascia leaves it short on visual theatre.

In common with other VW group vehicles a lot of effort has gone into replacing ‘old-fashioned’ knobs and buttons with touch-sensitive surfaces and a large LCD screen.

This change is only partly successful.

It makes the interior less intimidating for a newbie, but the touchscreen user interface is a mixed bag and the tiny touch surfaces for the heating/fan controls buried below the screen are just too small.

Adjusting the cabin temperature should be so intuitive you can do it without taking your eyes from the road. That’s not possible here.

There’s more than enough room for the driver and four adult passengers, but it’s a shame the middle passenger in the back has to straddle a transmission tunnel.

The tech runs to a digital cockpit, full smartphone integration including CarPlay and Android Auto, a 10-inch touchscreen with sat nav, seven speaker audio and voice control. SEAT has dumped the old USB type A inputs for new style Type C ports - useful if you have a new phone but users of older handsets will need an adaptor.

Leon is available with a range of sensible engine choices including, for the first time mild-hybrid (eTSI) and plug-in hybrid (eHybrid) variants. The 1.4 eHybrid is likely to be one of the most popular choices. This mates a 1.4 litre TSI petrol engine, an electric motor and a 13kWh lithium-ion battery pack and six-speed DSG transmission, to produce 150kW/204PS of power.

Is that good enough to keep the Leon near the top of the class? For now - in a very fast-moving market - the answer has to be ‘yes’.

The Leon is a fine family car and a worthy competitor to its VW siblings.

I predict a family feud.

The lowdown

Star ratings:

PERFORMANCE: Smooth and torquey. A good compromise. ***.

CABIN: Nicely made and ergononically sound but lacks the wow factor ***1/2.

PRACTICALITY: Plenty of room in the comfortable cabin and a big boot. ***1/2.

VALUE: Essentially the same car as a Volkswagen Golf but costs hundreds less. ***1/2.

Price: from £19,625 Engine: 1.4-litre/elec motor Max power: 204 PS (eHybrid) Max torque: 250 NM (eHybrid) Top speed: 137 MPH 0-62MPH: 7.5 seconds Combined n/a SUMMING UP: There’s nothing Mickey Mouse about this particular Leon king