SEAT Leon ST review
The SEAT Leon ST estate joins the Leon hatchback and Leon SC line-up for first time bringing practicality, sharp handling and style
The SEAT Leon ST is one of five body styles the versitile model is now available in. Options include the three-door, five-door, hot hatch Cupra, four-wheel drive X-Perience and the load-lugging ST.
The ST line-up mirrors the five-door’s, with S, SE and FR trim levels, and power coming from a selection of turbocharged petrol and diesel engines. These include an efficient 87g/km 1.6 TDI Ecomotive model, but many will go for the standard 1.6 TDI in SE specification.
This is the first time that an estate version of the Leon has been offered, and SEAT has done a wonderful job of keeping the hatchback’s style in tact. It drives almost as well too, despite weighing 45kg more than the five-door and there’s even a hot Cupra version on the way designed to take on the Ford Focus ST Estate.
Adding more versatility to the ST is the addition of a new four-wheel drive X-Perience model. It sits 28mm higher, comes with permanent four-wheel drive and more rugged exterior styling. It is, however, only available with a 148bhp or 181bhp 2.0-litre turbodiesel engine.
Maximum boot space of 1,470 is a few litres down on both the Skoda Octavia Estate and VW Golf Estate, but still near the top of the class. To make the most of every available inch, though, there are clever touches like a moveable boot floor, handles that flip the rear seats down from the boot and a folding front passenger seat to accommodate especially long objects.
Our choice: SEAT Leon ST 1.2 TSI
The SEAT Leon ST is just as stylish as the hatchback on which it’s based. There’s an extra 272mm of bodywork, but the ST has the same wheelbase as the hatchback, at 2,636mm.
Obligatory roof rails (which are silver on SE models and up) and larger rear windows mean the Leon is still well proportioned, while the tailgate has a similar rake to the hatchback’s, with the same badge boot handle and number plate set in the bumper.
SEAT is continuing to offer LED headlights as a free upgrade on SE models and above, and these add a talking point to the car’s front end, while at the back, the LED tail-lamps also look sharp. X-Perience models come with extra body cladding on the front and rear bumpers, as well as a chrome exhaust and roof rails.
Climb inside, and the only clue that you’re at the wheel of an estate is that the rear screen is a bit further away in the rear-view mirror. That means you get a well built interior with a simple layout that’s easy to get along with. It’s clear that lots of switchgear is shared with the Octavia – especially instruments, minor switches and the touchscreen infotainment system – but everything feels well built, and the gloss metallic grey dash inserts and chrome trim give the SE model a lift.
While the seats are trimmed in black cloth, they’re comfortable and offer a wide range of adjustment, plus the light-coloured headlining makes the cabin feel airier. If you want to let even more light in, you can choose the £975 electrically operated panoramic glass sunroof, which is exclusive to the ST.
Better insulation means the VW Group 1.6-litre TDI diesel engine feels smoother in the SEAT than it does in the Skoda Octavia Estate. It never really feels slow, thanks to a slick gearshift and snappy throttle response.
A 108bhp 1.6 TDI Ecomotive model returns an incredible 80mpg, but lacks refinement as the revs rise, while the punchy 104bhp 1.2 TSI is much smoother and cheaper to buy in the first place. Moving up the range there are 1.4 TSI, 1.8 TSI and 2.0 TDI engines – all available in sporty FR trim.
The 1.8 TSI and 2.0 TDI deliver hot-hatch levels of acceleration, but it’s the smaller units that will make more sense in the long run. The twin-clutch DSG gearbox gives the car a more grown-up feel, but can occasionally be hesitant on downshifts.
The Leon ST’s four-cylinder 1.2 TSI engine idles quietly, while the stop-start system is so unobtrusive that you’d be forgiven for thinking it hasn’t engaged. As well as being smooth, the 104bhp engine punches above its weight, and the DSG automatic is excellent. Seven forward gears give the SEAT an advantage, but its 175Nm of torque helps, too. The maximum output is available from 1,400-4,000rpm, so there’s always plenty of mid-range punch that makes the car feel nicely responsive on the road.
The SEAT has an advantage over its rivals for handling thanks to its electronic diff. In corners, this system gently brakes individual front wheels, and as a result the Leon gets around them with far greater agility than its main rivals. It feels stable and has lots of grip, while body roll is kept in check, too.
This performance doesn’t come at the expense of comfort, either. The suspension becomes a little unsettled over bumps, but the Leon regains composure quickly.
The Leon hatchback earned a five-star Euro NCAP rating, and the ST has the same safety kit, including seven airbags and tyre pressure monitors, although advanced features such as tiredness recognition and a lane-keeping aid are both available as optional extras.
SEAT didn’t do very well in the last Driver Power survey, and its dealers came dead last in our 2013 poll, in 31st place. The latest Leon had too few votes to make our 2014 survey, but the VW Golf and Audi A3 use the same running gear and finished 18th and 16th respectively, scoring for quality and reliability.
You get a 587-litre boot in the Leon ST, and while that’s 73 litres down on the Peugeot 308 SW, there are some pretty useful touches that come as standard. For starters, the tailgate is lighter than the Peugeot’s, so its easier to open and close, and current SEATs don’t suffer from the same soft-closing problem that proved an annoyance on the last-generation hatchback.
There’s a two-level boot floor, so you can either have a flat floor with the seats folded, or a deep load bay under the cover. With the latter, there’s 56cm to play with, compared with 50cm under the 308 SW’s load cover.
In addition, there’s a deep carpeted well underneath for the optional £95 spare wheel, while SEAT has thoughtfully included slots in the boot trim to stow the load cover under the boot floor. That load cover is far easier to remove than the Peugeot’s, too. The back seats can be folded via boot-mounted levers, and while the floor isn’t completely flat, SEAT does offer a folding front passenger seat for £75, which makes loading extra-long items easy.
In the back, there’s a bit more headroom than you get in the standard Leon due to the ST’s longer roofline, and it feels airy and spacious.
Priced at around £825 more, model for model, than the five-door Leon Hatchback, the ST commands a bigger premium than the VW Golf Estate, but starts at over £2,000 less. It’s reasonably well equipped, with cruise control, Bluetooth connectivity and a split-level boot floor all standard.
Choose one of the smaller diesel and petrol engines, and running costs really are minimal. Pick of the bunch is the 1.6 TDI Ecomotive model capable of fuel economy and CO2 emissions of 80mpg and 87g/km – making it one of the cleanest non-hybrid cars on the road. The 1.2 TSI unit comes with either 85bhp or 104bhp, returning 54mpg and 119g/km, or 58mpg and 114g/km respectively.
A 138bhp 1.4 TSI engine almost matches the 1.2 with 53mpg and 121g/km, while the 178bhp 1.8 TSI still manages an impressive 50mpg and 132g/km when paired with the DSG gearbox. Even the most powerful engine in the range – the 181bhp 2.0 TDI returns 66mpg and emits just 112g/km of CO2. Pair that engine with the 4x4 X-Perience and those figures diminish slightly, falling to 57.6mpg and 129g/km of CO2.