The SEAT Leon ST manages to keep most of the sporty looks of the hatchback, thanks to sharp styling creases along the side of the car and a sloping rear hatchback. To make it look its best, you need to specify the LED headlight package, which gives the Leon a unique identity on the road. The Leon ST is arguably the most youthful of the hatchback-based estates, with the Skoda Octavia Estate and Vauxhall Astra Sports Tourer more staid in comparison. Entry-level cars forgo alloy wheels and chrome roof rails, but ‘SE’ models and upwards all have these features as standard. The four-wheel drive X-perience model gets bespoke styling, with 18-inch wheels, a raised ride height, protective plastic bumpers and standard LED headlights, while the sporty ‘Cupra’ model features a unique bodykit, red brake calipers and 19-inch alloys.
In the past, the Leon’s interior almost seemed restrained, so as not to tread on the toes of its relations, the Volkswagen Golf and Audi A3. While still simple in its layout, material quality has improved considerably, with the Alcantara seats and sports steering wheel in FR models a particular highlight. With a wide range of adjustment for the steering wheel and driver’s seat, anyone can find their ideal driving position. Another significant improvement is the relocation of the infotainment touch-screen to the same level as the instrument cluster, making it far safer to read. It’s a less fussy and clearer layout than the Ford Focus Estate or Astra Sports Tourer, while the Kia Cee’d SW runs it close for quality. The Golf Estate is still the most upmarket, but not by as much as you might expect. Our only real criticism is with the drab, monotone shade of the materials used throughout the cabin – a few more different textures and colours would go a long way towards brightening up what is an otherwise pleasant and nicely thought out cabin.
Compared with the gargantuan Octavia Estate, some space has been sacrificed for style, mainly to accommodate the Leon ST’s sloping rear hatch, but there’s 55 per cent more room than you’ll find in the hatchback. We doubt many would complain about the 587-litre boot, which expands to 1,470 litres, 270 litres less than the Octavia. The ST has a double height boot floor, so you can load items onto a surface flush with the loading lip, or remove the artificial floor to reveal a cubby area. SE and FR trim levels get handles in the boot to fold the rear seats with one pull, while a fold-flat passenger seat is available, allowing transportation of items 2.7 metres long. Space in the back is good too, and tall passengers will have no problem getting comfortable behind the wheel. The 4×4 version is also good for a little light off-road driving – but it’s not a serious mud-plugger, think of it more as a Leon ST that will be snow proof during a cold winter, than a farmyard workhorse.
Ride and handling
Just like the hatchback, the Leon ST has been built to be as light as possible and weighs just 1,254kg when fitted with a small petrol engine, 284kg less than the lightest Cee’d SW. As you’ll know if you’ve ever driven a car after four adults have just hopped out, this lightness gives it an instant advantage in handling, with a keen willingness to change direction and zip through corners with minimum fuss and body lean. The FR trim level gets stiffer suspension, which sharpens the steering and body control, while ride comfort is firmer, but still within acceptable bounds for a family car. FR models are also available with progressive steering – reducing the required turns from lock to lock from 1.4 to 1.1 and making the ST feel more agile – as well as DCC Adaptive Chassis Control, with adjustable dampers featuring ‘Sport’ and ‘Comfort’ modes. The Cupra is even more eager to tackle corners, but it struggles to put its power down effectively, and doesn’t have enough grip to cope if you are really aggressive with the throttle. The X-Perience model has more body roll than the standard car due to its raised ride height, but the added ride comfort makes it an excellent cruiser, and we think it’s an acceptable compromise, given its added off-roading ability.
Choose a petrol and power ranges from 104bhp to 276bhp, with turbocharged engines increasing in size from 1.2 to 1.4 and 2.0-litres. While a 1.2 might seem too small for an estate, its power and torque are surprising, and it feels great from behind the wheel, but might struggle if you try to attempt any steep hills with the car fully loaded. The 1.4-litre is a superb all-rounder, especially if you plan on more motorway miles, while the 2.0-litre TSI engine offers bonkers performance, and sounds really sporty too. The 1.6-litre diesel with 104bhp offers enough power so long as you’re in the right gear, while the 2.0-litre TDI with 148bhp feels flexible and grown-up. The top power output is reserved for the 181bhp diesel, but we found the extra shove unnecessary most of the time, and would spend the extra on some choice options instead. A DSG automatic gearbox is available with most engines, offering quick gear changes, but occasionally getting flustered if you ask it for more than one down change, or if you start to rush it. The six-speed manual though, is excellent.
Every engine except the 2.0 TSI beats 50mpg and emits less than 125g/km of CO2, with the star performer being the Ecomotive version. This is fitted with the same 108bhp, 1.6-litre diesel as the Golf BlueMotion and returns 85.6mpg and 87g/km of CO2, giving it a potential range of 941 miles between fill-ups. The 1.2-litre petrol manages 57.6mpg with both a manual or automatic DSG gearbox, while the 1.6-litre diesel returns between 74.3mpg and 72.4mpg. Other running costs should be competitive, and the Leon has good residual values, and undercuts most of its rivals on both price, and equipment. The top Cupra and X-Perience models are quite pricey though, even if they do both come lavishly equipped.
SEAT has a good reputation for reliability and customer service, and is placed 21st out of 39 manufacturers in Warranty Direct’s Reliability Index, and only 9th for average repair cost and time off the road. The Leon ST is covered by a three-year/60,000 mile warranty, extendable to a maximum of five-years/90,000 miles for an additional fee. Vauxhall, Kia and Hyundai offer longer warranties for free.
The Leon ST has been awarded a five-star Euro NCAP crash test score, with an adult protection rating of 94 per cent, putting it near the top of the class for safety. Various safety aids are available, including drowsiness detection, Full Beam Assist and lane-keeping assistant. Front Assist will help detect a potential front collision and even apply the brakes, while adaptive cruise control keeps a set distance from the vehicle in front.
The Leon ST is exceptionally well equipped for the price, with S models offering roof rails, air-con, electric heated door mirrors and Bluetooth. Step up to SE and you get alloy wheels, front foglights, cruise control and leather trim highlights, as well as chrome roof rails and the easy-fold rear seats. FR adds a sporting look to the exterior, as well as dual-zone air-con, front and rear parking sensors and sports seats.
The Leon ST offers the perfect blend of practicality and pleasure behind the wheel. The cavernous boot and attractive interior would be great on their own, but a high level of equipment, excellent engines and impressive handling make this a highly desirable family car. The Cupra and X-perience 4×4 models also mean there should be enough choice to suit the needs of almost any buyer – whatever their priorities are from behind the wheel.