Seat Leon ST review: loads better than a Golf Estate?

Chris Knapman
2017 Seat Leon ST main

The Seat Leon ST is in an estate version of the popular hatchback, and shares its underpinnings with the Volkswagen Golf Estate and Skoda Octavia Estate.

As with the Leon hatchback, the ST underwent a midlife facelift in 2017, resulting in improved equipment levels and the availability of new engines, including a turbocharged 1.0-litre petrol unit. The boot still isn’t as big as you get with some rivals, but it should prove large enough for most families.

The ST Cupra 300 combines all of this space with the performance of a hot hatch, as well as the assurance of four-wheel drive, while the Leon X-Perience has a raised ride height, four-wheel drive and plastic cladding to give it an off-roader inspired feel.

Space 8/10

Beaten by rivals for boot space

2017 Seat Leon ST boot space 

The VW Golf Estate and SkodaOctavia Estate have bigger luggage areas than the Leon ST. But the Seat’s load area still feels capacious and importantly it’s well shaped: the wheel arches don’t intrude and there’s a low loading lip.

The seats can be folded flat from the load area, without clambering in through the tailgate or twisting through the rear doors. And the boot also has some handy hooks for securing objects, as well as a 12v power supply.

Beyond the boot, there’s room for adults in both the front and rear seats, and the doors open nice and wide to make access easy. In-car storage is adequate, if not up to the level of the Leon ST’s most direct rivals.

Comfort 7/10

Firm but acceptable

2017 Seat Leon ST interior 

It's easy to find a good driving position in the Leon ST because there’s a wide range of adjustment for both the steering wheel and seat. The seats themselves are supportive too, whether in standard or sports guise.

The suspension that's fitted to regular versions of the Leon is noticeably firmer around town than that of equivalent VW Golfs, but comfort does improve with speed. Even so, we’d recommend sticking with 17-inch wheels or smaller for the best ride quality.

FR Technology-spec Leons are lowered to give them a sportier feel than the regular cars, but they actually seem no less civilised.  

Diesel engines come in 1.6- or 2.0-litre capacities. Both a bit noisy at idle, but do settle when cruising. The petrol engines (available in 1.0, 1.2, 1.4, 1.8 or 2.0-litre forms) are particularly smooth and quiet throughout the rev range.

ST Cupra models are fitted as standard with adjustable suspension that gives a softer approach in its Comfort setting or a firmer, more controlled ride when put into Sport or Cupra modes. Meanwhile, the additional ride height of the Leon X-Perience gives a slightly more supple ride than other Leons.

Book a free Seat Leon ST home test drive

Dashboard layout  4/10

Clumsy touchscreen disappoints

2017 Seat Leon ST dashboard 

Big, rotary climate controls make it easy to adjust the temperature inside the car, and although some of the plastics lower down on the dashboard feel a bit cheap, quality is otherwise good.

What lets the Leon down is its 8-inch touchscreen system, and specifically the lack of a secondary rotary control to flick between menus and zoom in and out of the satnav map. Without it, navigating some of the functions becomes an exercise in frustration, not to mention distracting. It marks the biggest flaw in an otherwise very capable car.

Easy to drive 8/10

Good visibility and strong engines

2017 Seat Leon ST driving rear 

Even the smaller engines make it easy to get up to speed, with the 1.0- and 1.4-litre petrol units punching well above their weight. Most versions of the Leon ST are available with the option of a DSG automatic gearbox. This can be a bit jerky when manoeuvring but is otherwise excellent, as is its manual equivalent.

Light yet precise pedals add to the ease of driving, and the estate body shape and large glass area at the rear make for good visibility.

Fun to drive 9/10

Cupra models will make you smile

2017 Seat Leon ST driving front 

The Leon ST's different suspension setups not only affect comfort, but also how much fun the car is. While regular versions of the car feel agile, refined, comfortable and composed on winding roads, FR models feel tauter still and keener to change direction.

The ST Cupra is an extremely capable car, and great fun to drive, particularly in four-wheel drive form, although it costs almost as much as the more desirable Volkswagen Golf R Estate.

The steering in all Leon STs is precise and consistent, helping to inspire plenty of confidence.

Reliability 7/10

Seat has a pretty good record

In a market in which Kia will sell you a Cee’d SW with a seven-year, 100,000-mile warranty, and Toyota’s Auris Touring Sports comes with a five-year warranty, the Leon ST’s warranty of three years and 60,000 miles is really the minimum Seat can get away with.

Fortunately, Seat has a decent reputation for reliability, having ranked 8th of the 24 manufacturers included in the JD Power Vehicle Dependability Survey in 2016. Chances are, therefore, the Leon ST shouldn’t let you down.

Fuel economy  7/10

A strong showing, but not the best

2017 Seat Leon ST driving side 

The Peugeot 308 SW offers better fuel economy than the Leon ST, version-for-version. And some VW Golf Estates also drink less fuel than equivalent Leons, even though the two cars are fitted with the same engines.

Fortunately, that's where the bad news ends. The Leon tends to equal or better most of its other rivals' fuel consumption figures, with the most economical 1.6-litre diesel model managing 69mpg in official tests, and the 1.0-litre petrol not far behind at 64mpg.

If you opt for the Cupra 300 you can just stretch 30mpg out of a tank on a longer run, but expect economy to plummet when you really start to enjoy the performance.

Affordability  8/10

Decent value and it should be cheap to run​

While the Leon ST was once considerably cheaper to buy than the equivalent VW Golf Estate, that is no longer the case. In fact, the difference is often just a few hundred pounds in the Leon’s favour, and nor will it hold on to its value as well. The Seat is though well kitted out with standard equipment meaning owners won’t have to go crazy ticking the options list.

Competitive CO2 emissions, in particular on the diesel Leon STs and the 1.0-litre petrol model, do make them good options for company car drivers.

Safety 9/10

Scores well for both adult and child protection

2017 Seat Leon ST crash test 

The Leon ST comes with seven airbags, including a driver’s knee ’bag, and this helped it earn the maximum five-star rating when it was crash tested by car safety specialists Euro NCAP.

Its score for child occupant protection was particularly impressive, bettering those of all its key rivals. What's more, the Leon matched the VW Golf for adult occupant protection, while scoring better than the Ford Focus.

As of the 2017 facelift the Leon ST is also available with a range of active safety systems including a city emergency braking device that automatically applies the brakes if it looks like you're going to run into the car in front in stop-start traffic. Lane keeping assist and a traffic jam assist function that can help drive the car semi-autonomously at low speeds can also be ordered on Leons with an automatic gearbox.

Standard spec  6/10

Cheaper versions miss some items you’ll want

2017 Seat Leon ST rear 

The Leon ST range starts with S spec which misses out on alloy wheels, split-folding rear seats and heated wing mirrors, although you do get a 5-inch touchscreen system, air-conditioning and a Bluetooth hands-free phone connection.

SE Technology adds 16-inch alloy wheels, cruise control and an 8-inch touchscreen with DAB radio, satnav and cruise control, while SE Dynamic Technology also includes rear parking sensors and 17-inch wheels.

FR Technology has sports seats, lowered suspension, and a dual-zone climate control system that lets the driver and front passenger select different temperatures.

Xcellence Technology includes keyless entry, front parking sensors and automatic lights and wipers, while Cupra 300 features 19-inch wheels and suitably sporty styling to go its impressive performance.

The off-road-inspired Leon X-Perience is available in SE Technology and SE Lux guises, the latter adding heated leather seats and chrome roof rails to the former’s comprehensive equipment list.

Our favourite version

1.4 EcoTSI 150PS FR Technology, list price £22,345

Options you should add: Metallic paint (£575), Park Assistance Pack consisting of front parking sensors, optical parking system display and rearview camera (£385)

The verdict 7/10

While slightly smaller on the inside than many of its rivals and fitted with an infotainment system that is frustrating to use, the Seat Leon ST still offers enough space for a family of four, and is good fun to drive. Just make sure you weigh up its price alongside rivals such as the Skoda Octavia Estate and Vauxhall Astra Sports Tourer.

Book a free test drive now to see if you like the Seat Leon ST

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