SEAT is known more for its sporty models than its sensible family workhorses but the first ever SEAT Leon ST estate could be about to shake-up that traditional image.
We were impressed with the quick 1.8-litre TSI Leon ST, but the 2.0-litre TDI tested here is likely to be a more common sight on British roads thanks to its low CO2 output.
Fleet buyers will be as pleased with the 106g/km emissions figure as the enormous 587 litres of boot space. That luggage bay is big enough to beat all its rivals bar the VW Golf Estate and Skoda Octavia.
Features such as the split-level boot floor, a pair of handles that drop the rear seats flat with a single pull, and the option of a front passenger seat to carry items up to 2.5 meters long all help make the Leon ST a talented load-lugger. It carries an £825 premium over the five-door hatch, but the boot is 55 per cent bigger.
The rear seats provide decent head and legroom for adult passengers, and unlike the (now discontinued) Exeo ST the Leon feels like a high-tech, quality product. It shares the smart interior design of the hatch, with the wide dash console canted towards the driver and a colour touchscreen to navigate all the major functions.
On the road the diesel engine makes its presence felt almost immediately, with a characterless rumble when accelerating that settles to a hushed 70mph cruise. It feels tractable enough to haul the Leon ST around even when fully loaded. It’s not as engaging to drive as the fizzy, rev-hungry TSI models, but an official combined economy of 68.9mpg will be hard to argue with for those covering big distances.
Light steering provides just enough feedback to place the Leon confidently into the tight corners on our hilly test route, and the six-speed manual gearbox delivers much sweeter changes than the occasionally jerky shifts from the DSG automatic transmission.
Two new optional gadgets are ushered with this new bodystyle and are available across the Leon range from now on. The first is radar guided cruise control (ACC) that uses sensors to automatically adjust your speed to maintain a gap to the car in front and the second is the Dynamic Chassis Control (DCC), which changes the level of damping according to vehicle speed and vertical wheel movement. This helps increase ride comfort and firms up in ‘Sport’ mode – but the difference is small enough not to detract from the driving experience.
It’s as sleek as the award-winning SEAT Leon hatch, does the sensible stuff well, and even manages to inject some desirability into this small but vital segment. Plans are underway for a rough-and-tumble off-road version with four-wheel drive too, plus a hot hatch Cupra version – both likely to join the range from next year.