At first glance the new SEAT Leon might look similar to its best-selling predecessor but dig a little under the skin and a lot has changed.

For starters, there is a new upmarket XCELLENCE trim level which as the name suggests packs in everything from an upgraded interior complete with part-leather sports seats to twin exhaust pipes, chrome radiator grille and a range of state-of-the-art technology.

As the luxury model in the facelifted range the emphasis is on classy sophistication, but this remains a car fantastically well suited to family life.

Well designed, well made and well finished the Sports Tourer model driven here is one of the most versatile in the range, with fold-flat rear seats opening up a van-like carrying capacity and neat touches like a 12-volt power socket in the boot.

Power on the test car came from a punchy, 2.0-litre turbocharged diesel engine that delivers a sprightly 150 horsepower while delivering real-world fuel consumption topping 60mpg.

With the introduction of the latest Volkswagen Group technology, the Leon is available with high-end additions, such as a wireless phone charger with built-in signal booster, and systems such as automatic city braking and pedestrian protection and, on cars with an automatic gearbox, one that will automatically start and stop the car when travelling in stop-and-go traffic.

Also available are clever packages that will spot traffic signs for you, recognise when you are starting to feel weary behind the wheel, automatically flick the headlights to and from main beam, keep you at a safe distance from the car in front when using cruise control on motorways and even park the car for you.

Standard equipment on the test car ranged from LED headlights, daytime running lights, front fog lamps and taillights, to multi-coloured ambient lighting, dual-zone climate control, parking sensors and keyless entry.

Yet more technology allows you to connect the eight-inch touchscreen with integrated satellite navigation to receive DAB digital radio and play music from an iPod or smartphone via a USB port or Bluetooth device. Voice control is also built in.

This long list of technology is easy to set up, not in the least obtrusive and succeeds in simply making life at the wheel more relaxed and safer.

Options on the test car, which has a list price of just under £25,000, included a storage pack with box under the front passenger seat and a double boot floor; a safety pack with the tiredness recognition system; tow bar pre-installation with hook and a set of stylish 17-inch ‘Dynamic Machined’ Atom Grey alloy wheels, to add another £2,400 to the bill.

The new Leon range covers every base from sporty three-door coupé, to practical and stylish five-door, and the capacious estate. With no fewer than six trim levels, a choice of five petrol and three diesel engines and there is choice aplenty.

The popularity of the third generation of the Leon was underlined this week when SEAT announced it had shattered all the sales records set by the two previous versions. In less than five years, from the end of 2012, the carmaker has sold 682,567 units of the SEAT Leon. 

Things are moving at a pace for the Barcelona-based company, with the Ateca SUV and the latest generation Ibiza about to be joined by the Arona, the baby brother to the Ateca. Add to that the launch of a new seven-seat large SUV next year and it is clear this is a marque on the march.

Auto facts

Model: SEAT Leon ST XCELLENCE Technology 2.0 TDI 150 PS

Price: £27,230 as tested

Insurance group: 21E (1-50)

Fuel consumption (combined): 67.3mpg

Top speed: 134mph

Length: 424.6cm/167.1in

Width: 181.6m/71.5in

Luggage capacity: 20.7 cu ft

Fuel tank capacity: 11 gallons/50 litres

CO2 emissions: 112g/km

Warranty: Three years/ 60,000 miles