Steve Sharpe drives SEAT’s award-winning Leon estate
The SEAT Leon ST, which stands for Sports Tourer, is the estate version in the big-selling Leon range, and joins the three- and five-door hatchback as a more practical alternative.
SEAT has been going from strength to strength, to borrow the tagline from another manufacturer, and has been steadily improving its fleet down the years.
Only this week the company scored a hat-trick of trophies in the Auto Express awards, with the big-selling Leon winning Compact Family car, the Leon Cupra winning the Hot Hatch category, and this very car, the Leon ST, picking up best estate award.
Some extremely big names were brushed aside on the way to these titles, cars like BMW’s 3 Touring and Ford’s ever-popular Fiesta.
So why is it that the Spanish manufacturer is enjoying so much success, with sales this year up 20 per cent on the same period last year.
Well, it certainly can’t harm it being so closely allied to Volkswagen.
When you’re sitting in a SEAT you’re surrounded by the same quality materials as the Germans’ own badged cars, and indeed Skoda, too.
Not only that, they’re good to look at, good to drive and, importantly, competitively priced.
That successful combination is perfectly rolled into one with the Leon ST.
The ST has the same wheelbase as the five-door hatch but has 27cm of extra length behind the rear wheels.
It gives the ST an impressive amount of room in a clever two-tier boot area, handles that flip the rear seats down from the boot and a folding front passenger seat to take care of extra-long objects.
With the false boot floor in place there is no lip to hoist objects over, which makes loading bulky items easier.
There’s plenty of space for four people, too, with room for a little one in the middle at the back.
With good levels of legroom and headroom in both front and rear, you’ll get very few complaints from passengers.
It’s a handsome car, too, in a very understated way. It’s well-proportioned, with the extra length on the back taking little away from its svelte shape.
The subtle creases along the sides and on the bonnet don’t dominate the design and both the front and the rear end are sleek and unfussily designed.
Inside you’re faced with quality materials set out in familiar VW style.
I drove the hi-spec FR trim, which added sports seats and leather steering wheel. But there’s quality right through the trims. The majority of the plastics are cushioned to the touch, and even the harder surfaces have a little give, meaning that very few of the plastics feel hard.
The layout is straightforward, the switches are simple to locate and operate and everything appears to be where it should be.
Take the Leon out on the road and, with the FR version I drove, you get a surprisingly powerful performance, but not to the detriment of running costs.
The 2-litre TDi will reach 60 in just under eight seconds, but not only that it pulls impressively right through the gears. Reaching mid-range revs starts a surge forward that is more hot hatch than family estate.
It’s provides an effortless ride, flexible and smooth.
There is a mode switch that allows you to select Normal, Eco, Sport and individual settings and even on Eco setting the ST has a an urgent response when the pedal is pressed.
Official figures are an average of 65mpg, which is pretty impressive for a car with the punch that the ST has, although it has to be said that I didn’t get near that after some urban driving and 120 miles on the motorway, but who knows how they work these things out.
But there’s also just 112g/km emissions, which will keep road tax down, helped by an extremely usable Stop-Start system, which you become comfortable with instantly.
Those 120 motorway miles went by in a flash because the Leon’s an extremely comfortable car to travel in.
The suspension soaks up motorway imperfections and potholes around town.
But the set-up allows fine levels of control when cornering, too, and although there is some lean when taking tight bends there’s excellent grip, ensuring the estate remains sure-footed right the way through.
One of the best things that can be said about the ST is that there’s no telling you’re in an estate from the drive – it handles the same as a hatchback.
There’s little noise to disrupt the cabin’s serenity. The engine only sounds throaty at the highest revs, although when in Sport mode the noise is deliberately enhanced, apparently.
The ST feels no bigger or bulkier in normal conditions. Steering is light and well-weighted, and even on the town run it’s easy to manoeuvre and, thanks to a lot of glass, you get a good view all around for parking.
The Leon sets out a great case for choosing a tourer over a hatchback. Not only do you get the added practicality of an estate but it doesn’t detract from a really impressive driving experience.
The range starts at around £16,675 for the basic 1.2 petrol version but by the time you get to the hot FR version I drove you’re up to nearly £24,000, which rose to almost £28,000 when options like the Leather pack (£1,205), SEAT sound system (£355 and Adaptive Cruise Control (£505) are added.
But equipment levels are good throughout the range.
Even entry-level S trim gets Bluetooth, USB input, air-con, colour touch-screen, wheel-mounted audio controls and electric front windows. Move up to the SE trim and you get alloys, cruise control and front and rear central armrests
The top spec FR cars gets firmer suspension, front and rear parking sensors, bigger alloys and dual-zone climate control
If you’re looking for a family estate with a real kick then the ST is well worth considering, but that price tag is putting it close in BMW territory.
Choose carefully, though, and the ST is a fine car indeed, well worthy of the accolades it’s been receiving.
SEAT Leon ST
Transmission: Six-speed manual.
0-62: 7.8 seconds.
Top Speed: 142mph.
Economy: Avg 65.7mpg
Price: £23,815 (with options, £27,945)