Would suit My friend Tomas
Price £17,495 (2-litre turbodiesel, as tested)
Performance 135mph, 0-60mph in 8.2 seconds
Combined fuel economy 47.1mpg
Further information 0500 222 222
Unaccustomed as I am to public speaking, like an idiot, I went and did it anyway at the wedding of a friend in Copenhagen recently. The Danes love giving speeches; they live for the moment when the toastmaster calls their name. Wedding receptions last for days, or so it can seem, as close friends and family of the bride and groom say "a few words" (Danish for: "ramble on like Castro, before rousing your audience from their collective coma with a singalong").
As a foreigner (albeit one married to a Dane) I assumed I would be exempt but, following intense peer pressure I agreed to say something. I was determined to keep my speech short and sweet and I had an idea: my friend, the groom, is obsessed by cars to the extent that, for instance, he actually knows what a Gordon Keeble is (see right) and will talk to you about it until you wish you had a gun. Just before he got engaged, he bought a Seat Leon FR and now dotes on the thing as if it were his firstborn.
I decided that my speech would recount an excited phone call my friend had made to me a few months earlier: "I've decided to do it - the time has come!" he told me. I assumed this meant that he was finally going to propose to his long-standing girlfriend - a subject of speculation among all his friends for some years now. "That's great", I said, "Finally. Fantastic! But when? Where?" "I don't know exactly, but I know it's going to be black with 18-inch alloys!" Not exactly a killer punch line, I grant you, but enough to raise a polite titter, or so I thought.
But as the evening wore on, the speeches grew increasingly emotional. They talked of deceased relatives who were absent that night, past traumas and other heavy stuff. People professed their love and admiration for the newlywed couple; several broke down in tears. It was all very moving, but went on for bloody hours. Over the course of the evening I may have drunk some wine and so, by the time I tottered to the microphone somewhere the wrong side of midnight, we were all feeling a little tired and emotional. By then I knew, of course, that my speech would plummet like a bucket down a well but it was too late to pull out, the toastmaster had my name. Afterwards, I sat down to a confused silence and the condolences of my wife.
The arrival of a Leon FR on my drive last week revived this harrowing memory but, after a quick, frisky spin in it, I could at least appreciate my friend's obsession. The Leon is, essentially, a cheaper, better-looking Golf GTi. For less than £17,000 for the petrol version (£17,495 for the turbodiesel I tried) you get the same engine, the same performance (adequate, but not startling), the same six-speed gearbox, the usual hot-hatch over-steer and virtually the same quality (some of the interior feels like it's built down to a price, but VWs can feel like that these days, too). To signify the power advantage over the standard Leon, the FR has alloy wheels that look like they've come from a Lego Bionic kit and lots of exhaust pipes. The Leon's windscreen wipers are concealed in the A-pillars, which is both neat and consistent with that sexy feline look they've got goin' on (you know, like two paws cleaning its face). Above all, it has personality by the gallon, which is probably something I could have done with when I made that speech. s
It's a classic: Gordon Keeble
The Gordon Keeble is one of the great "what-might-have-beens" of the British car industry. Or one of its great white elephants, I'm never sure which. Designed by the Italian legend Giorgio Giugiaro when he was barely out of his teens, the car was named after its British creators, John Gordon and Jim Keeble.
In the early 1960s they set out to build a car to the same engineering standards as contemporary aircraft, with a space-frame chassis and fibreglass body work. The engine, however, was an American-sourced V8 which always counted against the Keeble in the snobbish world of high-end sports cars, despite the fact that it was every bit as quick as a contemporary Aston or Ferrari (130mph, 0-60mph in 7.5 seconds), looked gorgeous and drove well.
Only around 99 cars were built from 1964-1966, owing to tedious economic factors, but because they didn't rust, it is thought that most survive and are highly cherished.