The SEAT Leon ST or Sports Tourer, to give it its full name – is a confident car; fine fit and finish and exemplary detailing ensure the Spanish firms Golf rival is just that, a genuine challenger to the long established Leader of the Pack.
Its an attractive car on paper too; a hard-hitting 2.0-litre diesel engine, a six-speed DSG gearbox, and a 587-litre boot (1,470 with the rear seats folded) ought to provide more than enough fun for the family driver as well as all the storage space their growing brood needs. Lets find out, shall we?
The STs wheelbase is the same as that of the hatchback; the extra length comes entirely from the addition of the estate boot. This does, as you might expect, look a bit ungainly but isnt enough to turn a pretty car into an ugly one. It adds character and panache, at least to my eyes, and gives the Leon a nonchalance and confidence that I find enormously attractive; estate cars are cool and few look better than my Phantom Black ST.
My test car was fitted with the Titanium Pack, a 700 optional extra that comprises 18-inch alloys (to replace the standard 15-inch steel wheels), 225/40 tyres and titanium-coloured door mirrors. Id normally caution against larger wheels and lower-profile tyres, but in this case I have no hesitation in wholeheartedly recommending them; the ride is still very good, even with those rubber band tyres, and the handling is sublime.
The interior is simple and elegant and looks terrific. Everything falls to hand perfectly and the quality of all the controls, both major and minor, is exemplary.
The drivers seating position is also flawless thanks to a firm and supportive drivers seat that features both height and lumbar adjustment and a reach and rake adjustable steering wheel.
The FRs standard equipment is good, and is bolstered by a free-of-charge Technology Pack (normally 1,075) that adds sat-nav, a DAB radio, and LED headlights. Other extras fitted to my car included the Leather Pack at 1,195 and the Convenience Pack (rain-sensing wipers, auto headlights, and auto-dimming rear-view mirror) for a very reasonable 150.
My car was also fitted with High Beam Assist and Lane Assist as part of the Driver Assist Pack. I didnt like either so would save myself 295 by not ordering them.
Punchy and tight, the SEAT belies its 18-inch alloys and low profile tyres with a surprisingly pliant ride; few cars balance handling and ride as adeptly as the Leon ST. With fingertip control, the steering might not have quite the feel youd enjoy in a perfect world but it still provides more than enough feedback to enable you to lean hard on the tyres and feel exactly how much grip there is remaining. This boosts confidence and shrinks journey times when you are in the mood for a spot of hard charging.
The brilliant VW Group engine, with its abundance of torque and keen throttle response, was the perfect partner and helped provide more B-road fun that just about any diesel family car I can remember as long as you remembered to flick the gear lever back into the boxs Sport mode.
As is so often the case, Normal is a dreary experience designed to cycle the EU fuel economy test rather than provide satisfactory rear world gear changing; at a smidge over 30mph Drive would often short-shift into 6th when Sport kept it in a responsive 3rd. In practice I skimmed between the two, which is a tactile joy and no hardship at all, giving a super-responsive drive allied to decent fuel economy.
I have only one complaint about the STs dynamics.The DSG gearbox, normally such a delight to use that it renders the manual option redundant, was occasionally obstructive and slow from when engaging from rest.I lost count of the times that it paused before shifting, a pause that could last a heart-stopping second or so. This made me overly cautious when exiting a junction as I never knew whether it would respond instantaneously or not. However, my car had fewer than 200-miles on the clock when I got it, so perhaps it was just running-in jitters.
The 2-litre turbo-diesel engine is a cracker, producing 184PS and 280 lb/ft of torque, more than enough to endow the Leon with all the performance youll ever need on the road. If the 0-62mph acceleration time of 7.2 seconds doesnt impress you then youll have to take my word for it that mid-range acceleration, the sort you use to surge past slower traffic on winding roads where overtaking opportunities are few and far between, is simply sensational and hugely addictive.
This might explain why I only managed to achieve around 50 mpg. I have no doubt that more sensible driving would edge that much closer to the official fuel consumption figure of 60.1mpg. CO2 emissions are 122 g/km, placing it into VED class D. (The manual car is one class lower.)
Value for Money
A basic SEAT Leon ST FR costs 24,630, while my loaded ST costs 27,965. Both are sensational value given that an ST is all the family car youll ever need.
The SEAT Leon ST is a perfectly judged sporting estate. Forget esoteric exotics like the Audi RS4, no-one actually needs more performance than this. I drove it in the same week as an original Audi quattro, the late-eighties supercar that redefined accessible performance. The Leon was actually slightly faster, easier to drive, far more civilised, and more economical by a factor of three. It was also more fun, more relaxing, and far, far more confidence inspiring. That doesnt make the Quattro a bad car, it just demonstrates how far weve come in the last twenty five years.
What would I buy? The Leon ST, a car that stands as my favourite car of 2014 so far, seduced me. Whod have thought that a simple – but never lowly – diesel estate costing less than 30,000 would have been able to claim that?