But every now and again they pull off the seemingly impossible and turn a rather dull-looking car into a motoring work of art.
Take the SEAT Leon. This was a snazzy little car when it first came out but it ended up with little to cheer it in the later versions. It was neat but it rarely stood out in the car park.
Now with a neat touch here and a daring sweep here, Leon now has the stance it deserves. It was always a good car underneath. Now it looks the part, too.
The secret, it seems, is with the lights. Fortunately I parked this current Leon against a slightly older sibling and the differences were stark. It made me realise how much improved this car is. The old model was staid, but the newcomer arouses greater interest.
The lights at the front are sharper and at the back wider and more prominent; there is a bolder Leon badge at the back, showing this is a name to be proud of; and the cabin is a driver’s dream.
So, what is the Leon e-Hybrid? Basically, it’s a 1.4 litre model with an electric motor to assist. It has already established itself as a leader of its class, combining drive appeal with practicality and impressive financial figures.
With a 40-mile electric vehicle range and emissions as low as 27g/km, the Leon e-Hybrid is rated at six per cent Benefit in Kind, making it an attractive option for company car drivers.
With FR trim as standard gives drivers a selection of drive modes and sports suspension, as well as a variety of pleasantries such as wireless phone charging and heated door mirrors for a competitive price.
Experts say competition in the plug-in hybrid market has intensified this year, with many new models joining the fray. The SEAT Leon has long given its rivals a hard time, and that’s still the case now it's offered as a plug-in hybrid electric vehicle.
The cabin is a delight. It is solid, neat and easy to live with. One delightful safety feature is a warning light which makes the door panel glow amber if a car is overtaking, acting as a warning not to pull out if it’s in your blind spot.
It claims to be a safe choice, too. Occupants benefit from the inclusion of seven airbags as standard, including the new front-central airbag that prevents possible head contact between the driver and front passenger in the event of a side collision.
A range of the latest active safety systems use data from a variety of feeds and sensors ensures new Leon sees the road ahead like never before and, importantly, is ready to adapt and react to changing driving scenarios.
Systems including Autonomous Emergency Braking, Side and Exit Assist, Traffic Sign Recognition, Traffic Jam Assist, Light Assist and Pre-Crash Assist, work in unison to create a protective bubble around the vehicle and for occupants.
The Pre-Crash Assist system reacts in as little as 0.2 seconds should it detect a collision is about to happen – the seatbelts pre-tense, the hazard lights flash, the side windows and sunroof close – helping protect the passenger compartment.
The Leon e-Hybrid costs from £30,970. The e-Hybrid drivetrain combines a 1.4-litre TSI petrol engine with an electric motor and six-speed DSG transmission, resulting in a total power output of 204PS and a 0-62mph time of 7.5 seconds.
Power is supplied to the electric motor via a lithium-ion battery back which is recharged via a 3.6kW AC inlet. This enables it to be fully charged from zero per cent in up to three hours 42 minutes.
Because it has an electric-only range of 40 miles, it means many people who use it on shorter journeys may never need to fill it with petrol.
he Leon PHEV drivetrain is available in FR, FR Sport, Xcellence, Xcellence Lux and First Edition trims.
Also new to the Leon line-up is the mild-hybrid 1.0-litre eTSI engine. This drivetrain offers 110PS and is available exclusively with a DSG (automatic) gearbox across all trim levels, with prices starting from £22,720 and making it the best value DSG-equipped Leon on offer.
The 1.0 eTSI uses a 48V starter-generator and lithium-ion battery to enable the car to coast with the engine switched off, recuperate energy under deceleration and provide electrical torque assistance during acceleration.
Both Leon e-HYBRID and the 1.0 eTSI drivetrains meet the latest emissions requirements.
While the Leon SE 1.0-litre eTSI DSG benefits from a cost of just £22,500 it is anticipated that this drivetrain in SE Dynamic trim will prove the most popular with fleets, balancing value for money with impressive technology. The trim level adds SEAT Digital Cockpit with Navi, a 10-inch infotainment screen, 17in alloy wheels, tinted rear side windows and Park Assist over and above the already generously equipped SE while still retaining a low value of £23,600.
SEAT Leon e-Hybrid FR
Price: £32,835. As tested £34,035 with extras such as charging cables (£145), safety and driving pack (£790) and interior wrap around lighting (£265)
Engine: A 1.4 litre petrol engine plus an electric motor
Transmission: Six-speed automatic
Performance: Top speed 137mph and 0 to 60mph in 7.5 seconds
Warranty: Three years, 60,000 miles