What is it?
The Seat Leon ST marks the third and final body shape that the latest Leon is going to take. Yes, it’s an estate, which Seat is calling ST (presumably denoting that it’s a ‘sports tourer’), but when you first set eyes on this more practical Leon it doesn’t strike you as a load lugger – this lengthened Leon's stylish lines disguise its extra 272mm well.
The other numbers are fairly impressive, with 587 litres of cargo space and 1470 litres with the seats down – load-lugging capacity that trumps the now-discontinued Seat Exeo ST.
What the Leon ST doesn’t beat on space, though, is the Volkswagen Golf estate. The Seat's German sibling offers 605 litres of boot volume, expanding to 1620 litres. Presumably the VW Group is positioning the Leon as the stylish, sporty-looking choice next to the more utilitarian Golf.
You can choose between four diesel engines on the new ST, which comprise two 1.6-litre cars with either 104bhp or 108bhp, or two 2.0-litre TDIs, in two states of tune – 148bhp or 181bhp.
Here we’re testing the most powerful petrol car, the 1.8-litre TSI with a power output of 178bhp. It also comes with a seven-speed dual-clutch automatic gearbox. If you want a petrol-powered Leon ST but you're not after a swift warm estate, then go for either the 1.2 or 1.4-litre TSI with 104bhp and 138bhp respectively.
What's it like?
The Leon estate is never going to be able to compete with the crossover market in the everyday practicality stakes; the new Nissan Qashqai has nothing to fear there, of course. The ST is no doubt aimed at those downsizing from bigger traditional family holdalls such as the Mondeo estate (the ST beats the Ford for load space with 587 litres versus 537 litres). However, its real raison d’etre is to fit the brief for those after a small family car that hasn’t compromised its looks in the name of practicality.
To that end, Seat has made the load space as useful as possible. There’s a through hatch for packing those extra-long items, rear compartment release handles that make it a cinch to drop the back seats, a double boot floor that can be flush with the loading lip or set lower for a deeper loading area and there are 13 cubby holes throughout the cabin. You can also opt for a flat-folding front passenger seat so you can even squeeze in that extra-long stepladder you’ve just bought from B&Q.
The Seat brand might have dropped its 'auto emóticion', but it still wants its models to be known for offering sportier and more stylish alternatives to Volkswagen and Skoda.
This 178bhp petrol-powered car is no hot hatch, but it can perform the 0-62mph sprint in a respectable 7.7sec – about half a second slower than the lighter hatchback. In as-tested FR spec the Leon ST receives Seat’s Dynamic Chassis Control which allows you to adjust the car’s responses between Comfort, Normal or Sport.
We’ve driven the Leon ST on the continent before, but this was the first time we’ve had an opportunity to try the system on UK roads.
The FR spec car's all-round multi-link suspension flattens out the lumps and bumps of English country roads much more effectively than the torsion beam rear set-up of lower-spec models. Plus, compared to lesser Leons, the electronic limited-slip diff that these sportier models are fitted with reacts swiftly to help in the corners, where a braked inside wheel eases the car into the turn and helps to avoid understeer.
On the road you almost forget the estate's longer rear overhang and it doesn’t seem any less dynamic. The electromechanical steering set-up doesn’t provide you with oodles of feedback but there's enough to keep enthusiasts happy. On the motorway, the estate’s cabin is a pleasant place to be and the noise suppression is excellent. The seven-speed dual-clutch gearbox helps provide seamless changes, too, accurately judging the right gear whatever you ask of the car.
Should I buy one?
The Leon ST occupies a fairly unusual place in the market. Elsewhere in the VW Group stable there are more practical cars, including the Skoda Octavia and the more boxy-looking VW Golf estate. Shop away from cars based on VW’s MQB platform and leading the fight against the Leon ST 1.8 TSI is probably the Ford Focus.
The top petrol models can challenge the Seat for showroom appeal, and dynamically it’s class-leading for driver involvement (although the Focus ST estate can provide space and blistering pace for only £23,095). But that’s not to discount the Leon’s cachet, that VW Group cars always seem to have in spades.
So if you’re after a stylish estate that has hatchback-like driving manners allied to impressive load-lugging abilities, then Seat's Leon ST is difficult to overlook.
Seat Leon ST 1.8 TSI FR 180PS DSG
Price £22,845 0-62mph 7.7sec Top speed 139mph Economy 49.6mpg CO2 135g/km Kerb weight 1372kg Engine 4 cyls, turbocharged, petrol Power 178bhp Torque 184lb ft at 1500-3900rpm Gearbox 7-spd dual-clutch automatic