SEAT Leon ST 1.6 TDI review

12 Dec, 2013 10:45am Luke Madden

We review the new SEAT Leon ST estate on UK roads for the first time


The standard Leon hatch is our current Car of the Year, and we’re happy to see that the SEAT Leon ST hasn’t lost any of that car’s sparkle. We like the way it looks, the way it drives and the way it’s able to deal with the needs of your average family. Best of all, it’s not even as if you have to pay over the odds for all its talents – the SEAT Leon ST is actually one of the cheapest cars in its class.

Things have changed since we last drove the SEAT Leon ST, with the introduction of the new Honda Civic Tourer to the class. But now with our first UK drive of the Leon, is it still our favourite family estate?

Ignore the Spanish plates on the left-hand-drive car in our pictures – we’ve managed to get our hands on an ST in the UK before the right-hand-drive versions are actually available. Aside from where the steering wheel is, this 1.6 TDI SE model is identical to the one you’ll receive in January if you’ve already placed an order.

SEAT Leon ST review

This is the most efficient engine in the line-up – with fuel economy of 74.3mpg – but it also happens to be the least powerful. That’s not as bad as it sounds, though, because this 104bhp engine more than capable of dealing with the ST’s additional 45kg of weight over the hatch, even when it’s loaded up with passengers.

Officially, acceleration from 0-62mph takes 11.1 seconds but it’s the in-gear torque that keeps the Leon ST feeling like it always has power in reserve.

If we had any complaints about the 1.6 TDI it would be its slightly rough note under acceleration but provided you’ve got the radio turned on you can soon forget about it. Once you’re up to motorway speeds you can’t even hear the engine anyway – in fact, you can’t hear much because the cabin is so well insulated from wind and road noise.

Clearly, though, you’re buying a Leon ST for its practical touches and this car has plenty of those. Sure, the 587-litre boot isn't as big as the 624-litre space in the Civic Tourer and nor is it as spacious as the VW Golf or Skoda Octavia Estates. But, it’s plenty big enough and our SE model gets an ‘easy rear seat-back release’, which folds down the rear seats with the use of just one hand, freeing up 1,470 litres of space in the process.

If you need to load in something up to 2.5m long then you can always fold down the passenger seat, too.

In fact, there’s plenty to praise about the Leon’s interior, which features plenty of soft-touch plastics, a few interesting design details and a colour touchscreen infotainment system.

The ST’s angular lines and sweeping roofline are a hint at the subtly sporty way that it drives. The steering is nice and quick, there’s plenty of grip from the front wheels and the body stays nice and stable through quick direction changes.

It’s no sports car but if you want your family runabout to have a bit of fun to it then the Leon ST is a good choice.

What makes it our favourite car in this class, though, is the fact that it’ll be about £2,000 less than a Golf Estate and roughly the same amount cheaper than a Civic Tourer and you still get cruise control, air-con and 16-inch alloys. What’s more, if you order now SEAT will throw in a Technology Pack – normally £1,075 – which includes sat-nav and full-LED headlights.

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So you have to turn on the radio not to be annoyed by the engine noise then. Anyone who has experienced this power unit in other VW group cars will not be surprised by this. Had this car been produced by the opposition, most of whom have better diesels by the way, we would have been deafened, not by the engine itself but by the "yah boos" coming from AE!
Really, this review sinks to a new low of boot licking. A rather more vulgar expression really comes to mind.

Not as elegant or classy looking as the Octavia.

You are right about this engine. I don't know how VAG get away with it, or why people keep buying this engine. It's noisy, under powered, and not really fuel efficient in real life driving. BMW, Renault, Ford and Honda all have better 1.6 litre diesels on offer.

I have been driving this car in hatch form and while I'd say the engine is near silent at idle, it can get quite noisy when accelerating.

The worst part is that you have to thrash it because every one of the 5 gears is so long. Why they have given it such impractically long ratios as opposed to using a six speed 'box is unnecessarily stingey. As a result, it lacks responsiveness and punch when you need it. Furthermore, I'm comparing this to a far heavier Grand Scenic with the 106bhp 1.5dci, which felt far more lively because of the shorter gearing.

It is a shame, because the Leon is otherwise a perfectly good car.

In terms of refinement the Renault diesel is much better as are those from PSA/Ford or even, for that matter, Vauxhall. Had my own first experience of a common rail era diesel been the VW group unit, I would not have gravitated away from petrol.

I can only comment on its refinement compared to a 2010 built 1.5dci and 2007 PSA 1.6, so while the VAG unit is more refined than those, I'm not doubting the competition has come along too.

Plus, I believe it's likely to be the sound insulation of the Leon as opposed to mechanical refinement of the engine that keeps noise levels to an acceptable level.

I'd just like to add that the Leon is achieving 45mpg when it claims 74mpg, compared to the heavier Renault which claimed 55mpg and achieved 43mpg. A 30mpg gap is simply unacceptable.

Key specs

  • Car tested: SEAT Leon ST 1.6 TDI SE
  • Price: £19,495
  • Engine: 1.6-litre 4cyl turbodiesel
  • Power: 104bhp
  • Transmission: Five-speed manual, front-wheel drive
  • 0-62mph: 11.1 seconds
  • Top speed: 119mph
  • Economy: 74.3mpg
  • CO2: 99g/km
  • Equipment: Cruise control, 16-inch alloys, air-con, colour touchscreen, electric windows
  • On sale: Now

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