WHAT springs to mind when you think of Spain? Well, for me, it’s the excellent medical care when you have pneumonia, but for everyone else, I suspect it’s a blend of things. You have those who’ll conjure up images of bank robbers burying other bank robbers underneath their swimming pools in Marbella. And then you’ll have those who’ll think of the cathedrals, and Guernica and cooking freshly caught percebes on the untouched Atlantic beaches.
Spain is so many things. It’s mountains and deserts and wearing tight trousers while you stab a bull. It’s clubs that stay open until dawn, pounding the night with a pulsating beat that only makes any sense if you’ve ingested a bucketful of what, the other day, I mistakenly called MDF.
It’s beautiful, flavoursome olive oil and it’s old men sitting in white plastic chairs at the side of the road, living to be 120 because Angela Merkel pays them to not do anything all day. And then there’s paella, which is made by cooking up a bag of rice and then emptying the contents of your bin into it. Prawn shells, used teabags, fag ends, the tops and the bottoms of carrots and all the rest of it. God knows how this works but it does. I love it.
Oh, then there’s sport. On the one hand you have Rafael Nadal grunting his way into the hearts and (they imagine) knickers of every woman in the world and on the other you have Barcelona and Real Madrid, all-conquering powerhouses of world football.
Spain’s great. It’s my second favourite Mediterranean peninsula. Which is odd because when it comes to cars, it’s up there with Ethiopia and South Sudan. Yes, it has given the world Fernando Alonso but he now spends his time driving round at the back, making jokes over the radio. Or turning up at the wrong racetrack altogether and doing the wrong sport.
Then there’s driving in Spain. I’ve done this many times and I’d love to tell you what it’s like but I can’t remember. Normally, this is because it’s 4am and I’m in a hire car that pulls to the left or won’t stop and I’m tired. I had a Nissan Micra, I think, this year and I hated it very much. Quite an achievement since I was too ill to drive it.
Someone, and I would like to meet him so that I can poke some cocktail sticks into his eyes, reckoned, plainly after the car had been finished, that it should have a cigarette lighter. And he decided to mount it in the passenger footwell so every time it goes round a right-handed corner, the passenger’s left leg is smashed.
“The Golf R estate isn’t much to behold but this somehow was even worse. They should have called it the Fat Girl’s Ugly Sister”
So what about Spain’s actual car industry? Back in 1898 an outfit that became Hispano-Suiza began. But that went bankrupt in 1903 and later became French. And after that? Well, put it this way, the history of the Spanish automotive industry takes up four lines on Wikipedia. At this point, Spanish car enthusiasts — both of them — will be jumping up and down, reminding me out loud there is Seat, and they’re right, of course.
Seat is Spanish. Apart from the fact that it’s owned by Volkswagen, which is German, and its cars are made in the Czech Republic, Belgium, Argentina, Portugal, Ukraine, Slovakia and, naturally, Germany.
However, the car you see pictured this morning was made in Spain. Using many of the same parts that Volkswagen uses to make the Golf R.
It’s called the Seat Leon Something or Other 300 4Drive estate and when I came out of my office and saw it sitting there in a car park, my shoulders sagged as if I’d suddenly got a puncture. The Golf R estate isn’t much to behold but this somehow was even worse. They should have called it the Fat Girl’s Ugly Sister. It would have been an easier name to remember. And more honest.
Inside, it’s a Golf, except it had been fitted with some enormous front seats that were extremely comfortable. That made me happy as I set the fiddly Golf sat nav, fired up the 2-litre Golf engine, which, like the Golf’s unit, has received a 10bhp uplift, engaged first on the Golf DSG gearbox and set off to the countryside.
It felt pretty much like a Golf on the motorway, apart from the excellent seats, but when I reached the Cotswolds it did something strange. Right at the top of the rev range, which is somewhere no Seat driver has been before, it made an absolutely wonderful noise.
Not from the back, which is the usual thing these days, but from the front. It wasn’t electronic acoustic trickery in the exhaust pipe. It was the sound of an actual engine enjoying itself.
“There has to be a price incentive. The Seat salesman has to be able to say: ‘You can have this car and a DFS sofa for the price of a Golf R.'”
I liked this noise so much that I spent my entire time with this car deliberately in completely the wrong gear. And the result of this was that it did about one mile to the gallon.
It was probably even worse than that when someone folded down the rear seats and loaded up the enormous boot with bits of furniture that needed to be moved to somewhere else. Which I did. In second, most of the time.
Other things? Well, it is more comfortable than you’d imagine, given that it has sporting pretensions, the four-wheel-drive system will be useful if you have a horse enthusiast in the family and it seemed to be fitted with all of the things you’d expect in a car of this price.
And that raises an interesting point. If you grow some troublesome adenoids and pull on the sort of jumper that all cost-conscious motorists seem to wear, you’ll note that the Seat is £1,215 less expensive than the VW sister car. Unless you buy it with red paint, which for some reason adds £650 to the bill.
Ignoring the weird paint issue, this price differential makes sense. Millions of people all around the world would want a hot, fast four-wheel-drive Volkswagen estate. And the number of people who want a hot, fast four-wheel- drive Seat is about none. So there has to be a price incentive. The Seat salesman has to be able to say: “You can have this car and a DFS sofa for the price of a Golf R.”
However, if you examine the price business more carefully, you’ll notice that VW has some seriously big deals on the Golf R at the moment. Two people in our television production office drive them for that reason.
They even park them sometimes in the space reserved for my less expensive Golf GTI and I never mention the fact that they are staff and they have better cars than me and that they should learn their stations in life. Well, not often, anyway.
However, in future I will be mentioning, quite a lot, the Seat Whatever It’s Called has better seats than their cars. And makes a nicer noise. And that they’ve been fools for not buying Spanish.
Tweet to @JeremyClarkson Follow @JeremyClarkson
Head to head: Seat Leon ST Cupra 300 4Drive vs VW Golf R estate
|Seat Leon ST Cupra 300 4Drive||VW Golf R estate|
|Boot space (rear seats up)||587 litre||605 litres|
Write to us at firstname.lastname@example.org, or Driving, The Sunday Times, 1 London Bridge Street, London SE1 9GF