Seat offers up more family space

Road test: Seat Leon ST - “It may be vanilla, but it’s vanilla with a little Spanish zest”

Make: Seat

Model: Leon

Year: 2014

Fuel: Diesel

Date Reviewed: January 14, 2014

Tue, Jan 14, 2014, 12:31

   

Space, as Douglas Adams was wont to remind us, is big. Vastly, hugely, mind-bogglingly big. It indeed makes that walk to the chemist’s, which you consider big, to feel like mere peanuts. Space is also big in another sense. It’s big (as in, important) if you’re a family car buyer because bigness is what makes a car function the way you want it to. Bigness of boot space and of rear seat room in particular. Of course, big can also be bad. Big fuel bills are a big no-no, as would be a big motor tax demand. And big repair or servicing bills? Nope, forget that.

So finding a car that slots neatly into that small, perfect space between different versions of big is something of, well, a big deal. That is what makes this new Seat Leon ST (ST being estate in Spanish, apparently) something of a find. Estates are finally starting to burrow their way into the collective conscious of Irish car buyers as we realise that (A) they’re not just for brewery reps any more and (B) the running costs on that SUV are looking a bit steep but we still want something with a big boot.

The Leon ST certainly has that covered, with a seats-up boot capacity of 587-litres. That’s pretty enormous, and it’s a figure that comes with two significant benefits. First, it doesn’t mean a back end that looks as if someone has stapled a steamer trunk to the front of a passing hatchback - the Leon ST looks slick and sleek from pretty much any angle (other than the one from which you notice the massive rear overhang) and there’s an argument to made in favour of the ST being the best looking of the three Leon variants. Secondly, Seat has somehow cunningly managed to have that much boot and still squeeze in a full-size spare wheel. That’s an important consideration given that peculiarly Irish talent of turning tarmac into potholes and one that will help keep Leon ST owners mobile when others are stuck at the roadside realising that sealant and an air compressor aren’t much use when you’ve banjaxed the rims of two alloys.

So, you can fill the boot with all of the chattels your children need to haul around with them (and as any parent will tell you, that’s an aircraft hanger’s worth) and still find decent space in the rear seats for boosters and the like. In fact, there’s just about enough width in that rear seat to squeeze three child car seats in abreast, if you squeeze and squash a little.

In the front the sense of bigness extends to the quality. The steering wheel, a sporty three-spoke affair feels really nice to hold (its leather wrapped on our SE test car, the spec Seat Ireland reckons will be the big seller) and the rest of the dash looks and feels exceptionally nice. Any doubts you may have about Seat build quality can be dispelled by the fact that the firm’s Martorell factory near Barcelona is considered good enough to build the Q3 SUV for Audi. Seat’s cabin quality isn’t quite up to that level, but it’s good enough by most other standards, and lifted by the optional addition of leather and alcantara seats.

Where the Leon ST isn’t big is in the engine department. The 105hp 1.6-litre TDI diesel is a familiar engine, and if you buy one with stop-start, you’ll have tiny 99g/km Co2 emissions and motor tax of €180 a year. Fuel consumption is also pretty small. Seat claims 3.8-litres per 100km, which is north of 70mpg. We couldn’t quite manage that, but 4.8-litres per 100km (58mpg) on an engine with barely 100km on the odometer seems pretty good in give and take driving conditions. Better yet, it’s quiet and well insulated when it comes to noise.

A shame that the same can’t be said for the cabin, into which quite a bit of tyre, wind and road noise finds its way. Both the Leon and its cousin, the Skoda Octavia, are noticeably less refined overall than the Mighty VW Golf with which they share parts. Perhaps it’s only right and proper that the Golf has a measure of superiority over its underlings, but its seems a shame that Seat (and Skoda) is effectively being told to make its cars less good than they could be.

At least the driving experience makes up for the refinement shortcomings. The steering is like lemon icing - both sharp and sweet and is far better at telling you what’s happening under the tyres than that of the vaunted Golf GTI. The Leon also rides really well. There’s a slight sense of firm fidgetiness over poor surfaces but it’s very good at smoothing away big obstacles, which is a particularly helpful trait in a family hauler.

At €24,405 for our well-equipped SE test car, it also seems to be big on value. Lots of toys and equipment (including cruise, aircon, LED running lights, multi-function wheel and more) and if you want a cheaper one, prices start at €20,185 for a basic 1.2 TSI S. You could argue that there’s not much special about a simple, affordable family estate but the Leon ST is a particularly well executed member of the species and that, for many family buyers, will mean it has big appeal. It’s at this point that we would normally point out how much cheaper than a comparable Golf it is, but actually VW Ireland doesn’t sell the Golf Estate here, so the Leon’s only in-house competition is from the Skoda Octavia Combi. Let the brotherly squabbling commence...

The Lowdown: Seat Leon ST 1.6 TDI SE Stop/Start

ENGINE

1.6-litre four-cylinder turbo diesel, 105hp @ 4,000rpm, 250Nm @ 1,500rpm

PERFORMANCE

0-100km/h in 11.1secs

FUEL ECONOMY

Claimed 3.8l/100km (73mpg)

EMISSIONS

99g/km (motor tax €180)

PRICE

€24,405 as tested (Leon ST prices start at €20,185)

OUR VERDICT: 3/5

“It may be vanilla, but it’s vanilla with a little Spanish zest. Capable & practical but also handsome and sweet to drive.”