First Drive: Seat Leon ST

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Seat Leon ST

Seat has enjoyed a huge increase in sales over the last year, which is largely down to its highly accomplished new Leon. Originally launched as a five-door hatchback, it has since been joined by the three-door Leon SC coupe, and now this, the ST compact estate. AOL Cars spent a day with one in the rolling hills of the Cotswolds to find out if it's worthy of your consideration.

What is it?

Sharing its underpinnings with the five-door Leon, the ST estate gets an additional 27cm of bodywork hanging out over the rear wheels. It might not sound like much, but it transforms the 380-litre boot of the hatchback to a commodious 587 litres, which rises to a decent 1,470 litres with the rear seats folded flat (something you can do with the push of a button on SE models and above). Elsewhere it is standard Leon, meaning a handsome exterior design and a high quality interior with room for five.

What's under the bonnet?

A range of four-cylinder turbocharged petrol and diesel engines to suit all tastes. Petrol models kick off with the fuel-sipping 1.2-litre TSI, which proves not to be the gammy leg that its tiny displacement suggests it would be. One up is the 1.4-litre TSI, which offers a useful 34bhp more at 138bhp. Topping the range is a 178bhp 1.8-litre unit, currently the fastest version available. The diesel units broadly mirror the petrols in terms of power offered, with a 104bhp 1.6-litre, and a 2.0-litre available in 148bhp and 181bhp states of tune.

All engines are mated to a slick six-speed manual gearbox, with a seven-speed twin-clutch DSG automatic optionally available on almost all variants. The most powerful petrol and diesel models also get independent rear suspension in place of the technically inferior torsion beam found on less expensive models, which has the dual benefit of lessening the amount of surface imperfections that are felt in the cabin, and also making the car feel more alive when being driven enthusiastically.

What's the spec like?

Part of Seat's strategy to differentiate its products from the rest of the VW group family includes offering increased levels of on-board toys. As such, every Leon ST comes with air conditioning, Bluetooth phone connectivity with audio streaming and a five-inch colour touchscreen that drives the majority of the car's functions. If that isn't enough, SE models add an electronic limited-slip differential for greater stability in corners, as well as cruise control and a smattering of leather on the steering wheel and gearknob. Range-topping FR models are further bestowed with dual-zone climate control, LED taillights, and get subtly different front and rear bumpers for a sportier look.

Trick options are also available, some of which were until recently the preserve of expensive luxury saloons. Amongst the highlights are Adaptive Cruise Control, which will automatically regulate the speed of the car in line with other traffic, a full-length panoramic sunroof, and full LED headlights, which should last for the lifetime of the car.

Any rivals?

Almost all the established players in the hatchback market offer their cars in a more practical estate form. Aside from Seat's sibling rivals from Volkswagen and Skoda, the Leon ST has to go into battle against the Ford Focus Estate, Hyundai i30 Tourer, Kia Cee'd Sportwagon and Renault Megane Sport Tourer. All have their appeal but few blend the style, quality and engaging drive of the Seat in quite such a convincing manner. Performance estate fans will have to plump for the Focus ST Estate, but a Cupra version of the Leon Estate is on the way.

Seat Leon ST

Seat Leon ST


What's it like to drive?

The ST is almost identical to drive to the regular Leon, which is no bad thing, given it is stable and secure, with just enough driver interaction to make a journey on the right road interesting. Even the entry-level engines provide useful urge, though it is the top-end diesel that feels the most muscular, with a surfeit of torque making easy work of the tightest of overtaking opportunities. If you are a keen driver, it is worth considering the top-end models with their superior independent suspension setup. If a car that suits the daily commute is more of a priority, then you'll revel in the Leon's light, accurate steering and well-weighted pedal controls.

The AOL Cars verdict

The Leon has grown up to be one of the leading cars in its class, and the extra boot space of the ST model only increases its appeal. While it won't be a replacement for a big Volvo, Seat is confident the load space available will suit most buyers needs to a tee. While some rivals may offer a longer warranty, more powerful engines or a cheaper list price, for us none have quite the same all-round appeal as the Leon. Quite simply, it's a cracking car.

The Knowledge

Model: Seat Leon ST 1.6 TDI SE
Price: £19,495 on the road
Engine: 1.6-litre, four-cylinder, turbodiesel
Power: 104bhp
Max speed: 119mph
0-62mph: 11.1 seconds
MPG: 74.3 (combined)
Emissions: 99g/km CO2