Seat’s handsome new Leon ST means you’re even more spoiled for choice for mid-sized, hatch-based wagons right now. This isn’t a stretched hot hatch: Seat’s wagon suffix is confusingly identical to Ford’s performance models. But even the basic Leon is an engaging drive, so can the estate-bodied ST maintain Seat’s fine recent form?
Doesn’t everyone want crossovers instead of boxy estates these days?
Thought the Qashqai and Q3 crossovers of this world were taking over? Their ubiquity might seem so, but Skoda, VW, Honda, Ford and Renault have all revealed new or revised estates in the last few months. There’s still life in the idea of a hatchback with a garden shed strapped to the back.
Diesel is a default choice in this market, so let’s play devil’s advocate. Time to settle into the solidly build but somewhat drab cabin of the new Seat Leon ST to see if a downsized petrol engine makes just as much sense.
Which Seat Leon engine are we talking about here?
The VW’s Group’s 1.4 TSI motor: a direct-injection, turbocharged four-cylinder good for 138bhp and 184lb ft. Those are strong figures for the class, churned out by a tuneful, willing little engine that’s a real torch-bearer among the downsizing trend.
Coupled with a slick six-speed gearbox that’s identical in action (and in gearknob) to that of a VW Golf or Skoda Octavia (which share this MQB platform hidden beneath the skin), it’s a strong powertrain, offering 0-62mph in around 8.4sec. 53mpg is the official figure, with 40-45mpg our more realistic test average.
Here’s a thumbs-up for forced induction: the turbo-free new Honda Civic Tourer in comparable 1.8 iVTEC guises doesn’t arrive at 62mph until 0.8sec later. The Seat crucifies the Honda for torque too: 184lb ft plays just 128lb ft in the Civic car. Japan retaliates with crisper throttle response, but it’s too little too late.
Torque: handy for carting around a bootful of gubbins!
Speaking of which… Open the Leon ST’s low-lipped tailgate and you’ve a 587-litre boot. Flip the back seats down via a handy lever in the boot and that expands to 1470 litres. In isolation then, this is an extremely practical holdall. But compare the Leon ST with its closest rivals and the story’s less rosy. A Skoda Octavia makes best use of the MQB platform (610/1740 litres), with its VW Golf Estate sister car close behind at 600/1620 litres.
Seems curious, doesn’t it, that the Leon should, ostensibly, be the same car as its Czech and German relatives underneath, yet it gets beaten in the wagon wars? The Leon ST stands 15mm lower than the Octavia and a good 30mm below the Golf, and it’s a smidge shorter than both – handy for the styling, not so much the space.
Perhaps that’s a sign the handsome Seat is supposed to assume the youthful, sporting position within the VW Group, and leave the maturity of load-lugging to the grown-ups.
The slower Honda partially hits back in the practicality stakes – though it’s more cramped for passengers, you get a 628/1668-litre boot. Meanwhile, the venerable Ford Focus Estate – recently facelifted and now almost as sharply suited as the Leon – matches the Seat, thanks to 476/1502 litres of storage.
A small boot for the class then. Better be good to drive!
Whether it’s the slightly higher shoulderline, or the more supportive seats, the Leon’s driving position definitely feels that bit lower than the Golf’s or Octavia’s. That’s a running theme throughout the car’s dynamics – though it should, and often does feel like an identikit MQB car, there’s a whiff of fun in the Leon missing in its straight-faced cousins. And with no weighty diesel weighing down the nose, the little turbo’d petrol is a willing participant.
Grip is strong, body roll well-checked, and control weights middling-to-light. It’s a good basis for the rumoured Leon ST Cupra, which twins 276bhp grunt from the new Nürburgring lap record holder with the ST’s boxier body. Look out, Ford Focus ST Estate…
Our ‘SE’ trim test car is the fleet drivers’ favourite, but shouldn’t be overlooked if you’re not munching many motorways. Standard kit includes sensible 16in footwear, Bluetooth, privacy glass, cruise control, and air-conditioning. At the time of writing, Seat’s also throwing in a free tech pack, adding pretty LED headlights, DAB radio and sat-nav, via the entry-level greetings card-sized screen. The offer only lasts until 31st March 2014, so you’d better be quick if you want to take advantage.
Ducking under the £20,000 barrier by £80, the Leon ST with this punchy little 1.4 TSI undercuts its direct Honda competitor by around £250, but is outpriced by the £19,190 Skoda enemy within. If you’re happy with a merely ‘large’ rather than ‘Space Shuttle load bay’ of a boot, then the Leon’s chuckable handling makes it a worthy addition to the test drive list.
Read the Seat Leon ST review on our sister site Parkers.co.uk