In my line of work, Iím always writing about the latest models and concepts, but rarely spend much time thinking about older cars. Well, along with my time in the Leon ST, this month Iíve also been driving a decade-old car and got to experience a forty-year-old classic, and itís been fascinating to reflect on how they compare to the 17-plate SEAT.
First letís go right back to the 1970s, and my friendís Triumph 2000 Mk2. He asked if I could take some pictures for his insurance renewal, and having seen the green saloon nestled in his garage many times, I jumped at the chance to see it running. It certainly sounds the part warming up on the drive, the 2.0-litre straight-six unit emitting a lumpy idle until you dial-in the manual choke.
The 2000 was a big car in its time, but today it feels smaller inside than a family hatchback. Remarkably, itís actually longer than the Leon ST, but far more of its metalwork is given over to the jutting bonnet, boot and protruding chrome bumpers. By comparison, the SEAT maximises passenger and boot space and measures more than 10 centimetres wider than the Triumph. Itís the latter thatís most noticeable, because you sit almost shoulder to shoulder in the front of the older car and three back seat passengers would be very snug indeed.
Other things that struck me were the fact the 2000 would probably have appealed to a fairly similar customer as the Leon does today. Both are practical cars, but with more than a nod towards enthusiastic drivers. Yes, the Mk2 feels quite soft on its retro high-profile tyres, but I was also impressed by how agile it felt. The front brakes have been upgraded to Triumph Stag discs and calipers and felt strong, and itís a good job too. Safety features are limited, but include three-point seatbelts and a toughened windscreen; a far cry from the autonomous emergency braking system and airbag-laden Leon.
I then fast-forwarded three decades to my ënewí 2006 Skoda Fabia Elegance 1.9 TDI runabout. Passed down from a family member, it even boasts one feature Iíve missed lately in the Leon; heated seats. So what has it revealed? Well, I think itís fair to say that headlights have been revolutionised in the past decade. The Fabiaís bulbs canít hold a candle to LED items. Its push-knob and green-lit radio/CD player would also be derided by todayís younger buyers, as would the inability to connect to a smartphone. Crumple zones mean itís safer than the Triumph, but thereís just two airbags, compared with seven dotted around the Leon.
There are some deficiencies in the modern cars too, because in all the old vehicles Iíve been in recently, the ride quality is much gentler. The 14-inch alloys and balloon tyres fitted to the Fabia might not look sexy, but they mask potholes the 17-inch wheels of the Leon thump into.
Date arrived 10th May 2017
Fuel economy 67.3mpg (combined) 48.8mpg (on test)
Playing with older cars highlighted just how safe and advanced the Leon ST is.
But, it also reminded me that cars with smaller wheels have a smoother ride.