The Seat Leon ST, a compact estate, is the most practical addition to the growing Leon lineup. However, some will argue the rugged, somewhat go anywhere X-Perience is the better option. Nonetheless both are Seat Leon's underneath.
Seat’s award-garlanded and briskly selling Leon is the lynchpin of the Spanish brand’s range, which doesn’t contain a huge number of models but does offer increasing variations on them.
You can buy a Seat Ibiza as a three door, a five-door and an estate, and the Leon has been multiplying along the same lines with the recent arrival of the three-door hatch and now this Sports Tourer estate.
The ST rides on the same wheelbase as the five-door hatch but carries 27cm of extra length aft of the rear axle, boosting its seats-up load space to 587 litres.
Fell the backrests, and that rises to 1470 litres, easily topping the hatch’s volume as well as the space offered by the recently deleted Audi A4-based Exeo ST. So it’s commodious, and convenient too.
The backrests spring forwards when you tug their release levers, and although the seat cushion doesn’t fold to provide a protective bulkhead, the floor is relatively flat. You can also tip the front passenger’s seat’s backrest forward for long loads and the boot is usefully flat-sided space.
A shame, though, that the roll-out parcel shelf can’t be tilted upwards to ease loading, and that the double load floor is an option, along with picnic tables and bag hooks. More positively, the Leon’s plentiful rear seat room isn’t compromised by its re-engineering as an estate.
This enlarged Leon remains handsome too, the crisply rendered crease lines of the hatch satisfyingly reprised on this estate. And despite its extra length, the ST doesn’t suffer with an over-bulky rear end either.
Up front, its engine range mirrors that of the five door, a 1.2 turbo of 108bhp, a 123bhp and 148bhp 1.4 turbos and a 178bhp 1.8 providing the petrol choice. Diesels run to a 108bhp 1.6, and a 2.0 litre of either 148bhp or 182bhp.
The Leon’s suite of electronic driver aids is extended with the estate’s debut, radar-governed cruise control, electronically controlled dampers and variable-ratio steering options joining the blind-spot alert, drowsiness monitoring, intelligent braking and main beam assistance previously offered.
With these, the sat-nav, LED lights and a panoramic roof, it’s possible to spec yourself a Seat wagon of considerably more sophistication than the Spanish manufacturer used to offer.
And the weight-efficient architecture of the VW Group’s MQB platform (which is becoming better known than some of the models based opon it) makes the base 1.2 ST the lightest wagon in its segment.
Which is probably just as well, given the scope for packing this car with the kit needed for an ambitious family holiday. Or carrying a small van’s worth of goods, Seat reckoning that this version of the Leon should penetrate deeper into fleets.
The ST is certainly worthy of the steel-eyed consideration of fleet managers. Apart from there being a low-emission, low tax 87g/km 1.6 TDI Ecomotive model, this car provides the same appealing blend of polished basics and value for money that has scored the five door its accolades.
Besides all that space you get (not always intuitive) sat-nav across most of the range and driving dynamics of quiet accomplishment. As for the rest of the standard equipment the entry-level S models aren't worth considering, especially considering the fitments found standard on the SE models including alloy wheels, cruise control, hill hold assist and electronic locking differential. The FR trimmed Leon STs gain more sporty attire, suspension and alloy wheels, while the FR Titanium models gain the biggest alloys and the fully infotainment offering as standard.
However, don't despair. Those pining for a lower-trimmed model can still get the 6.5in touchscreen infotainment system complete with sat nav and DAB radio, plus the inclusion of LED headlights by opting for either SE Technology, SE Dynamic Technology or FR Technology trims. The Cupra models come with aggressive bodykits, red brake calipers, mechanical slip diff, dynamic chassis control and smartphone integration as standard, while the Black Editions add black exterior trim and bucket seats into the package.
Most of the Leon range comes with a twist beam rear axle rather than the multi-link hardware of the high-powered models, but it provides a decently compliant ride most of the time and cornering that’s grippy and neat despite some roll.
The standard steering system serves consistent weighting and precision too, though without much real feel. The new variable ratio rack wasn’t available to try, and the lane assist system we’d avoid, its squirming efforts to keep the Leon on the straight and narrow providing a fine impression of a ferret wrestling with your car’s steering gear.
The 2.0 litre TDI diesel is best suited to heavy-duty lugging given the stout torque delivery that comes with both versions. Seat reckons it will be the second best-selling engine in 148bhp form, which provides you with 235lb ft of torque from a fairly low 1750rpm.
The test car’s motor was hooked to a six-speed DSG transmission that you’ll need to flick into sport if you’re after sharp reactions. In stick-triggered manual mode – there are no paddles – you’ll uncover quite a rangy engine in the lower ratios, and one with pleasingly solid pull.
Most, of course, will leave the car in drive, which slightly dulls its go while serving decently civilised progress that’s only occasionally broken by jolts from the DSG transmission. That said, your ears will be in no doubt that this is an oil-burner.
The smaller 1.6 diesel we know to be a sweeter thing – Seat had none to sample, surprisingly – and is also forecast to be the UK’s best-seller. It’s likely to be strong enough for the tasks faced by an estate, and it’s usefully cheaper to run, too.
The sweetest engine of all, however, is the smooth-spinning 1.2 turbo, which compensates for its sometimes leisurely performance with a characterful soundtrack and impressive civility. If you don’t plan to tax your ST with too much weight, this version offers the best value in terms of liveability and kit.
Although the Leon is very much a Focus-class car, Seat also has the bigger Mondeo and Vauxhall Insignia in its sights for the ST, and while it can’t match them for outright load volume, the comparison is not far-fetched.