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
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 features the same broad range of petrol and diesel engines – there’s even a hot Cupra version on the way designed to take on the Ford Focus ST Estate. 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 five-door hatch (our 2013 car of the year) and three-door SC Coupe both made an immediate impact with their crisp creases and smart proportions, and the ST doesn’t let the team down. Based on the longer-wheelbase of the five-door hatch, it adds an extra 270mm to the rear overhang, but doesn’t look bulky from any angle. From the outside it’s a feast of crisp lines - from the grille, headlights and wing mirrors to the blade-sharp creases that run along the flanks of the car – and certainly more interesting to look at than any of its rivals. On the inside, from the rear seats forward, it’s identical to the rest of the Leon range, that means the same generous leg room and an uncluttered centre console focused around a large touchscreen, Quality has improved significantly compared to the previous-generation Leon, as has equipment levels, with even entry-level S models (SE and FR trims are also offered) getting air-con, Bluetooth, a touchscreen display and seven airbags.
It would be easy to assume that with the ST’s focus firmly on practicality, that the driving experience would suffer, but that’s not necessarily the case. Because it weighs in at around 45kg more than the five-door hatch it doesn’t feel quite as dynamic in fast bends, with noticeably more body roll, but the difference is negligible for 99 per cent of the time. Light but precise steering, a slick manual gearbox, an excellent driving position and great visibility means the ST is simple and relaxing to drive (and park) around town – how it behaves at higher speeds depends on which engine you go for. 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.
Based on the VW Group’s latest MQB platform, the Leon ST shares its mechanicals with the Audi A3, VW Golf and Skoda Octavia, so benefits from enormous economies of scale and proven technology. However, SEAT didn’t score too well in our 2013 Driver Power survey, finishing 27th overall. The main frustrations from customers though were ride quality and practicality, two areas in which the Leon ST excels. In terms of safety, the Leon has a full five-star rating from Euro NCAP, thanks to its long-list of standard safety kit and excellent crash absorption due to the extensive use of high-strength steels in the MQB platform.
By most standards, boot capacity of 587-litres with the rear seats in place, or 1,470-litres with them folded flat is a huge loading area. Unfortunately, the Skoda Octavia Estate and VW Golf Estate are both a few litres larger. In the real world though it’s unlikely to make much of a difference, especially when you consider the practical touches SEAT has added to make the space as useable as possible. Two handles located near the wide boot opening allow you to flip the rear seats down without contorting yourself around the rear door frame, while the boot floor can be slotted in at two different levels – a lower setting to maximize space, and higher notch to create a perfectly flat boot floor. The front passenger seat can fold forward too, allowing you to carry objects up to 2.5m long. Durable-looking materials suggest the Leon ST will have no problems standing up to the rigors of family life.
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. 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.