It may lack the finish and refinement of some of its cousins, but the new SEAT Leon ST estate counters with an attractive price tag, generous levels of equipment and styling that makes its German and Czech stable mates look dowdy.
In the Metal:
And then there were three! For the first time ever the SEAT Leon range is made up of three distinct models with this ST (Sports Tourer) joining the previously launched SC (Sports Coupé) and the regular five-door Leon hatchback. This is all part of SEAT's plan to re-establish itself after years of neglect and, as the figures show, it is working and should continue to work, with the more practical Leon likely to appeal to the lucrative fleet market when it arrives in Ireland next month.
Not that the stylish looking estate will only appeal to business users; it can also serve as a good looking and versatile family car thanks to a huge 587-litre boot. This is more than is offered by the Toyota Auris Touring Sports, and even cars like the Audi A6 Avant and BMW 5 Series Touring are bettered; it is second only to the Skoda Octavia Combi. Capacity can be increased to 1,470 litres with the rear seats collapsed. On SE and FR models this is as easy as pulling a release handle in the boot to reveal a virtually flat floor. All models feature a split level floor too, which, at its highest level, offers no lip to negotiate when loading heavier or larger items.
Like the five-door hatch the rear seats of the ST estate provide decent head- and legroom for adult passengers (a sloping roofline in the SC model does restrict headroom) and the interior is full of high quality and durable feeling fittings. Not quite Golf or even Octavia levels of panache, but it's not bad at all, and the dashboard is ever so slightly titled towards the driver, hinting at the Leon being the sportiest of the three.
Anyone who has driven one of the new generation Leons - or indeed read our reviews of the other two members of the family - are unlikely to be surprised with the news that the ST drives rather like them. That is to say much like the Volkswagen Golf that it shares a lot of its parts with - only a bit sharper. The engineers in Martorell have the same basic ingredients to play with as their counterparts in Wolfsburg, Ingolstadt and Mlada Boleslav, in the case of the suspension, but have managed to put them together a little better. The Leon, even in ST guise, feels a tad more playful, a little more willing to be driven than its cousins. In short, it is more fun to drive. This is not at the expense of comfort though. In fact, only the larger speed bumps that Barcelona has to offer (closer to walls in height) seem to unsettle the car; the rest of the time barely a ripple is registered.
At the launch we had the opportunity to sample both the 1.4-litre TSI petrol engine (which will not be offered here) and the 2.0-litre TDI diesel (which will) and as always the diesel impressed with its smoothness, power delivery and quietness once up to speed. It is not as fun to drive as the fizzy TSI unit, but the trade-off is fuel consumption of 4.4 litres/100km and emissions of 117g/km.
What you get for your Money:
Ignoring the entry level 'S' trim specification (which most buyers do) the Leon has an awful lot on offer. While the ST range starts at €20,185 for a 1.2-litre TSI S model or the SE trim at €22,690, most buyers are likely to opt for the €23,720 1.6-litre TDI 90, or even the €24,720 TDI 105 that, due to the inclusion of stop-start, has emissions of just 99g/km, making for a low annual tax bill of €170.
That SE specification car includes as standard 16-inch alloys, a five-inch colour touchscreen, cruise control, XDS+ (an electronic driver assistance system to help with cornering) and hill hold functions and the boot mounted toggles for collapsing the rear seats. FR specification is the sportiest trim level, but it is also only offered with the sportiest engines: a 180hp 1.8-litre TSI petrol, a 150hp 2.0-litre TDI (with either manual or DSG transmissions) or a 184hp version of the same engine, which at €29,930 makes you wonder why the Volkswagen Golf GTD is so expensive.
The ST may be the third and final body style for the SEAT Leon, but there is still more to come. First up will be an as yet unnamed 4x4 model in the same vein as the Skoda Octavia Scout. This will likely be offered with a choice between the 110hp 1.6-litre TDI and 150hp 2.0-litre TDI engines and will feature a raised ride height and protective cladding.
After that will come the big guns - Cupra. While not confirmed yet we should be looking at a 265hp standard Cupra model (more power than the last Cupra R) and a 280hp Cupra R. The hottest models will not just be available in hatch or coupé body styles either; there will even be as ST Cupra offered.
The Kia cee'd Sportswagon arguably has it on looks and the Skoda Octavia Combi certainly has it on practicality, but the Leon ST has the former on price and the latter on how it drives. Big things are expected for the third member of the Leon family with dealers clambering over each other to get their hands on them and SEAT Ireland predicting to sell 250 units in 2014.