Our reigning Car of the Year just keeps on strengthening its case. For the first time, the five-door Leon and three-door Leon SC are being joined by a more practical ST estate.
But does the added bulk undo the SEAT’s svelte styling, efficient engines and nimble handling? While the ST won’t turn heads like the shorter-wheelbase SC coupé, that car’s sharp lines and angular details haven’t been lost. We think it looks more interesting than the VW Golf Estate or Skoda Octavia Estate, which is exactly where SEAT needs to be – leading the way when it comes to style.
The pretty exterior also hides a very practical interior. Thanks to an extra 270mm of rear overhang, there’s a 587-litre boot – that’s 23 litres fewer than in the Golf Estate and 18 litres down on the Octavia Estate, but few drivers are likely to notice the difference. Pull a handle near the load lip and the back rests flop down, freeing up 1,470 litres of load space. And if that’s not enough, the passenger seat can be folded forward to accommodate items up to 2.5 metres long.
The rest of the interior is just as spacious and well screwed together as in other Leons – our top-spec FR had sporty flourishes like the branded steering wheel and supportive sports seats. You get the same choice of petrol and diesel options as in the five-door and SC, so engines range in size from 1.2 to 2.0 litres and 104bhp to 181bhp. We tried the 178bhp 1.8 TSI – the pinnacle of the petrol line-up – along with the £1,250 optional seven-speed DSG gearbox. Teaming a sporty, free-revving petrol engine with a practical estate bodystyle seems like a mismatch, but the result is better than you’d think.
The ST weighs around 45kg more than the five-door, so there is a fraction more body roll in fast corners, but for the most part the car feels as dynamic as the hatch and just as comfortable in low and high-speed bends. Front-end grip is particularly strong, while the engine delivers hot hatch pace and a sweet-sounding growl from the exhausts.
Light steering is often criticised, but the ST’s goes against the grain by delivering accurate responses and just enough feedback. FR models get the Adaptive Chassis Control (DCC) system, which provides Eco, Comfort and Sport modes. Move through the settings, and the steering, throttle and shift times are all sharpened up.
The familiar DSG box works quickly and smoothly enough in most situations, but ask too much of it in Sport mode and it can be hesitant to change down. The Leon is already a well priced car, and the cheapest ST – the £16,675 104bhp 1.2 TSI S – costs over £2,000 less than the equivalent Golf Estate.
However, you pay £1,005 for the ST over the five-door Leon; the Golf Estate commands a premium of £765 over the hatch version. And as fun as it is to drive, this £22,845 1.8 TSI is hard to justify – especially when you could buy a 217bhp manual Octavia vRS Estate 2.0 TSI for just £945 more.