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 is our reigning Car of the Year, and the Sports Tourer, or ST, is the third bodystyle in the range, joining the five-
door hatch and three-door Sport Coupe (SC).
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.
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
If you want a stylish estate, you could do a lot worse than the Leon ST. From the nose to the rear doors, it’s identical to the five-door car, with the same sharp, angular looks – save for the addition of silver roof rails.
As with the five-door Leon, SEAT offers the ST with a free Tech Pack upgrade (until March 2014), which adds the distinctive LED headlights seen on the car in our pictures.
The rear overhang has been extended by 272mm to accommodate the larger boot. The angle of the rear screen is similar to that of the hatchback, which limits the Leon’s ultimate carrying capacity, but it does give the ST neat proportions from almost every angle.
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.
It’s in corners where the SEAT steals a big advantage over its rivals. The Leon features a clever XDS differential, which improves traction in bends by limiting wheelspin, and as a result, the ST corners with more poise and agility than rivals. This makes it hugely entertaining, while the extra weight of the estate hasn’t spoiled the sharp handling.
Take it easy, and the Leon is comfortable and composed. It’s not the best over bumps, but it manages to smooth out all but the worst imperfections in the road.
SEAT hasn’t performed very well in our Driver Power satisfaction surveys, but the brand’s latest models should help to turn around its fortunes. One area that’s ripe for improvement is the service provided by its dealers: SEAT came 31st and last in the 2013 dealer survey.
The Leon hatchback boasts a five-star Euro NCAP rating, and it has the best percentage scores of this trio. Seven airbags and tyre-
pressure monitors are fitted as standard, while optional safety kit includes a driver tiredness alert system and lane-keeping aid.
The Leon ST's 587-litre capacity is 37 litres down on the Honda Civic Tourer’s and 23 litres behind the Skoda Octavia’s. With the back seats folded, the 1,470-litre maximum available space is 198 litres behind the Civic’s.
However, all is not lost for the Leon, as it features a number of useful touches. The load cover retracts simply by pressing its handle, there are two bag hooks on either side of the load bay and the boot floor has two levels as standard. In the upper position, it creates a completely flat boot lip and floor when the back seats are folded, and even in the lower position, there’s a slope in the floor rather than the step found in the Octavia. Like the Skoda, the SEAT offers you the option of a folding front seat. It’s cheaper (£75) and means you can carry items that are up to 2.5 metres long.
Another practical feature is the low weight of the false boot floor, which makes it relatively easy for one person to lift it from one position to another. It also falls into place pretty easily, thanks to the handy plastic guides in the floor.
Under there, the space for the optional spare wheel is carpeted, creating a deep storage area where small, loose items won’t rattle around when you’re on the move.
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.