In the wake of our Hilux leaving, Nick wondered whether he'd warm to our new Leon long-term loaner.
Nick WilkinsonVideo Producer / XCAR
Nick Wilkinson is XCAR's Producer, so can either be found huffing serious quantities of exhaust fumes armed with a camera or making a montage of some kind. His background is in video, and as a film and motorsport nut finds himself in heaven most weekdays
When our long-term ToyARTa Hilux left, it was like losing a friend. I don't care how pathetic or clichéd it sounds, it's the truth. Alex and I actually watched it disappear from sight outside the office, the Pop Bang Colour paint job causing the public to double take for the very last time. It's funny how quickly you get used to driving a car that stops people in their tracks; an Invincible Hilux splashed in multicolour paint, jacked up, complete with roof rack, winch, and snorkel did just that in a city where Astons and Porsches barely raise an eyebrow.
This car had carried mountains of kit over mountains, the four-wheel drive system had helped me out of some jams, I'd slept and eaten in it countless times, it had even help me move house twice. Every time I spotted it in a car park (I have a talent for losing cars, so the paint job as well as its monstrous stance provided another advantage), a sly grin crossed my face. A kid once told me I was driving his dream car. People parted like the red sea when I was in a rush, and I was always waved in at busy junctions.
You get the point -- the Hilux well and truly has a special place carved into my heart, and its replacement would need to be something very, very special. As a crew car, it has a very specific job to do, and drives through hell and back in the process. Defender? Ranger? Leon?! Yes. A black SEAT Leon FR 2.0-litre TDI 184. Problem?
I have to admit, I was not sold at first arrival. As a car I think it's great, but it is silly to suggest that it could be a like-for-like replacement, it just would not be able to do the things the Hilux could do, therefore compromising our shoots, which in turn affects the films themselves. To call it an underdog in this scenario was somewhat of an understatement, but I needed to live with it, so deal with it I did. And from the very first shoot with a three camera crew, pulling up to the office and seeing the mountain of kit that needed to go in, my concerns I had very vocally expressed would surely, finally be vindicated.
Four enormous kit bags, three tripods, a jib, and a full-size slider sprawled out taking up most of the kit room themselves. But no, it actually fit snugly, and, admittedly, reduced our passenger capacity to three. Still, the compact space and lower load height made it less of a back-breaking mission to load and get out, and despite crowding my workspace (the boot is where I change lenses, mic up Alex, and is my outside office), it kept everything within arms reach, ending the days of having to climb into the Hilux and emerging much later, stiff back, with mic in hand that happened to have been pushed to the furthest corners of Narnia.
Then, there's the drive; the Leon cut my fuel bill in half by consistently managing at least 40 mpg despite spending most of its life chasing far faster cars. The Hilux would, at its peak, hit 20, and despite filming supercars, my fuel bill would be higher than Alex's. Clearly the Leon knows the way to my heart is through my wallet. Smart.
Not only this, but the way it drives is a definite plus. It handles absolutely brilliantly, it's so peppy and and the balance is just beautiful. It may be the forgotten underdog in our shoots, hidden away behind the camera, but while tracking whatever car we happen to be filming, it pulls its punches and, more often than not, can more than hold its own on a country road.
Everyone who has driven it has remarked how much fun it is. It's also one of the most refined diesels I've ever gotten into.
Not that it matters one bit for filming, but it does look good, doesn't it? The other day, driving back from a shoot, the black Leon, coated in dust kicked up by an Exige Roadster (Alex apologizes), I got a few shooting glances from pedestrians on the way back to the office. A group of guys walking down the street did a double take, and, I'm not kidding, I flooded with panic instantly, assuming I'd broken something or the front diffuser was dragging or the grille had fallen off trying to keep up with Lotus' best.
Getting out of the car I realised nothing was wrong. It was the Leon's looks garnering all those glances all along.
My family doesn't usually comment on cars, but all individually spoke on how attractive the Leon is. In black, it looks sleek, the triangular lines and piercing DRLs giving it an aggressive edge.
I definitely misjudged the Leon. One thing's for sure, we won't have it forever and it's going to be tough giving it back.