CAR interviews Seat design chief Alejandro Mesonero-Romanos (2012)

Published: 08 October 2012 Updated: 26 January 2015

At September’s Paris motor show, CAR interview Seat Head of Design Alejandro Mesonero-Romanos, quizzing him on the new Leon, Toledo, future SEAT concepts, and his design inspirations. Read our chat in full here.

CAR: How much flexibility does the VW Group’s new MQB shared platform offer you as a designer? Does it offer greater or more restrained scope to individualise Seats?

Alejandro Mesonero-Romanos: ‘The MQB platform is an exceptional piece of technology, because it offers a huge amount of flexibility. We can still have free reign with a car’s length, width, and height – the new Leon is 48mm wider than before. We wanted a wheel-at-each-corner stance for better room inside and greater agility. Seat took a very active consultation role in MQB platform design. We have a ‘coalition of design values’ in the VW Group, but Seat must also be more dynamic. Being sporty is too one-dimensional – our cars have to be dynamic all-rounders.’

Which elements of the new Leon’s design would you point to as clear examples of Seat’s dynamic, youth-led brief?

‘The whole car is designed around the theme of agility. The stance, the tight body dimensions, the tension in the surfacing and lines. It gives a crispness, like trouser creases! They’re neat and tidy, and yet allow movement. Our interiors are also dynamics-themed – sharp lines, angled towards the driver, elements raised to keep in the driver’s eye line. You can see this through the common use of triangle shapes around the new Leon.’

The VW Group, and Seat in particular, appear to favour sharp angles, crisp creases and straight lines in its design, a bit like the modernist trend in the 1980s. As car design moved through the 1990s, curves and aerodynamics became more popular. Now we’re back to sharp angles again. Do you think this is a natural change we’ll see again, or are sharp lines here to stay?

‘Seat’s future direction is all about clean surfaces and the continued evolution of fewer, bolder lines. This is similar to the 1980s, but now technology and manufacturing processes have improved to such a degree that we have more freedom in how we design a car.’

What design elements would you like to explore on future Seat concept cars?

‘We have concept cars planned for the near future, and will look at new materials. There’ll be an evolution of our double line theme on a car’s flanks. However, don’t expect any major changes yet – the face of Seat needs to be established; we can only be more adventurous once we are well known.’

Some criticise Seats as being a brand without focus. What is the face of Seat?

‘Our trapezoidal grille evokes a strong, squat stance, with the slimmer headlights and angled grille. The sophisticated frontage looks intelligent and determined. Competitors with large grilles look dumb. Our new cars will keep the same ingredients – but mixed up differently.’

Seat interiors haven’t been great in the past. What’s ahead for the future of Seat cabins?

‘This is one of the areas we’re most proud of in our new products. Old Seats like the Leon lacked quality inside, and this cost us sales. The Leon is now, in our opinion, close to the top of the segment. Driver-orientated cabins will be a big future theme for Seat. Driver-centric cockpits provoke egoism, and we want to massage the driver’s ego. Also, using a touchscreen allows decluttering, and better ergonomics alongside better materials.’

Will you do a Leon coupe this time? How will it differ from the five-door hatchback shown at Paris?

‘Yes, a three-door Leon SC will join the five-door hatch and estate soon. It’ll be shorter than the five-door, have a lower roof, and a more rakish profile. Hot hatch Cupras will follow soon.’

Moving away from the Leon… the new Toledo is clearly very closely related with another product in the VW Group, Skoda’s Rapid. Is it a real Seat or just badge engineering?

‘The Toledo and the Rapid are different animals. They are indeed a joint venture, and were from the very outset. Each car fits each brand, and will centre good value and low prices. I am sure the Seat Toledo wouldn’t have turned out any different had it never been involved with Skoda.’

What are your inspirations as a designer?

‘The human body – you can see it in the new Leon. I look at athletes under strain, with tensed biceps and shoulders, and a powerful stance. Also, the front of a Seat must look like a determined face, with an element of intelligence.’

By Ollie Kew

Former road tester and staff writer of this parish