The entry-level 109bhp 1.2-litre petrol has decent low-down shove but we prefer the slightly pricier 113bhp 1.0-litre petrol. It’s a little quicker but importantly it’s cheaper to tax, less thirsty and, despite its size, it’s reasonably peppy, giving good acceleration while also emitting a fairly sporty exhaust note. If you’ll mainly be driving around town, then it’s worth considering. There’s also a 1.4 petrol with either 123bhp or 148bhp. The higher-powered version is particularly sprightly and our favourite engine in the range. It even shuts down half of its cylinders to save fuel when you’re cruising along.
Even more potent petrols are available. The 177bhp 1.8-litre unit is offered in FR Technology trim only, while the 296bhp 2.0-litre Cupra 300 model has enough pace to keep up with the fastest hot estates out there, especially if you go for the four-wheel drive version. A Volkswagen Golf R Estate will still be more fun to drive, though.
The diesel options are a 1.6 with 113bhp, and a 2.0 with 148bhp or 181bhp. Even the 1.6 has enough low-down shove to ensure brisk, relaxed progress, while the 2.0s feel really punchy – and both return decent fuel economy. Be warned, though, that both also send plenty of noise into the interior if they’re pushed hard.
The Leon ST’s suspension set-up changes as you move up the range.
Beyond the standard suspension, SE Technology and FR Technology trims come with lowered sports suspension. The higher-powered versions, which include the 177bhp 1.8 petrol and 181bhp 2.0 diesel, get a more sophisticated rear suspension set-up, and by the time you hit the dizzying performance heights of the Cupra model, features adaptive dampers as well. Meanwhile, the X-Perience version has raised suspension to give extra off-road ground clearance – but most owners aren’t likely to venture far away from the tarmac.
In practice, whichever ST you choose you’ll notice that the ride is a little firmer than on, say, a VW Golf Estate. It just about manages to remain comfortable, although the more basic suspension in the lower models does create a bit of patter from the rear of the car when you’re cruising along and never really settle down.
If anything, the high-performance Cupra’s ride is the most impressive of the lot when its adaptive dampers are set to Comfort mode. True, it’s still undeniably firm, but better controlled as a result and surprisingly comfortable for such a focused performance model.
With its extra high suspension delivering a bit more wheel travel, the X-Perience model is also smoother than the regular ST, too.
Most of the Leon’s chassis set-ups – ranging from the simpler design of entry-level versions to the trick adaptive shock absorbers of Cupra models – are relatively firm, so all editions of the car keep body roll in check, and stay impressively flat through corners. The exception is the X-Perience, which being slightly taller suffers from a touch more lean.
The Cupra is particularly impressive in this regard; it has huge amounts of grip through a corner and clings on very well, inspiring you to push your limits, although the two-wheel drive model tends to spin up its wheels when accelerating out of tight bends. This is all sorted if you order the four-wheel drive Cupra 300, but even so it isn’t as thrilling or engaging as the best hot hatches, such as the Ford Focus RS. But that doesn’t come as a practical estate, though.
Every Leon has nicely weighted, precise steering that helps make it easy to place the car accurately in bends, although more feedback would boost confidence when the roads are slippery. In any case, the weighting makes it easy to park and move around town.
The Leon ST is a little less refined than its Audi and Volkswagen stablemates when you rev the engines hard. Yet once you’re up to motorway speeds there’s not much noise from the petrols, but you can still hear the diesels in the background when cruising, or when you put your foot down. You’re more likely to be troubled by wind noise from the Leon’s sharp-edged door mirrors than any engine noise, though.
Another area where the Leon can struggle is road noise. You’ll notice a fair amount of rumble on even basic-spec versions, and this becomes more of an issue with every increase in tyre size as you go up the model range – the wide tyres fitted to the Cupra 300 are the worst offenders. For the best experience, stick to the smaller wheels.
The standard gearbox on most editions is a slick-shifting six-speed manual unit, but the 1.6-litre diesel gets a five-speed ’box that feels a little notchy by comparison. The DSG automatic gearbox (optional on the majority of Leon STs) is smooth enough most of the time, but it can be a bit clunky at low speeds, such as when you’re trying to reverse the Leon into a parking space. You can take control through the paddles mounted on the steering wheel, though.
You shouldn’t have any problems getting comfortable in a Leon. The steering wheel moves in and out, as well as up and down, while the driver’s seat has a good range of movement forwards and backwards and height adjustment is standard on all editions. The FR Technology, Xcellence and Cupra models get a sportier seat with extra side support, which makes longer journeys more comfortable.
It’s frustrating, though, that lumbar adjustment doesn’t come as standard on the entry-level S trim; you need to step up to the SE edition for that, which is equipped with a supportive height-adjustable armrest, too.
All of the controls that you’ll need to use regularly –those of the heating, ventilation and infotainment, for example – are positioned within easy reach. The instrument console also contains a small digital display between the rev counter and speedometer that, on higher-spec models, offers a range of useful information such as fuel range and average consumption. The high-up infotainment screen means you don’t have to divert your gaze too far from the road when adjusting your music or the sat-nav.
The view ahead from the Leon ST is hard to fault; it’s easy to place the front corners of the car. Over-the-shoulder vision is also pretty good, although the compared to some other estates, the angled rear pillars do hinder things a little.
Rear parking sensors are standard only on SE Dynamic Technology and pricier FR Technology, but you can add them for a reasonable cost to entry-level S and SE Technology trims. Xcellence and Cupra editions come with front and rear parking sensors. A reversing camera is also on the options list.
Entry-level S Leon STs get a 5.0in colour touchscreen mounted high in the centre of the dashboard, which includes Bluetooth. It’s a pity you can’t add a DAB radio or multifunction steering wheel to the entry-level model, though, even as cost options. These comes from SE Technology trim upward, which also upgrades the screen size to 8.0ins and adds sat-nav plus two USB sockets.
Seat's 8.0in touchscreen system tries to be clever by hiding its buttons to free up real estate on the display – then, when it detects that your finger is moving towards the screen, it brings up the relevant buttons again. It’s not quite as slick as it sounds – you’ll occasionally find yourself waiting for the hidden buttons to reappear while the system spots your finger and plays catch-up – and some of the icons are quite small and situated inconveniently close to the edge of the screen.
The pinch function for the map isn’t very responsive, either, yet the rest of the menus are, and the graphics look sharp. It’s particularly frustrating when you’re on the move, and we vastly prefer the rotary dial controllers you’ll find in some rivals, or even the rotary knob from the older Leon ST.
Full Link (for operating your smartphone’s apps from the touchscreen), is either an inexpensive option or standard on the upper-level trims, while the Xcellence trim includes a wireless phone charger – be warned, though, that the system only natively works with Android-based phones.
The Leon ST’s dashboard is smart rather than plush. The major touch points feel fine – all models bar the standard S have a soft leather-covered steering wheel and gear knob - but there are signs of cost cutting. It’s not hard to spot harsher materials around the interior, there are a few sharp edges around the seat bases and some brittle-feeling plastics around the rear door handles. It all seems well put together, though, and the VW Group-sourced switches and buttons feel robust.
Ultimately, it looks smarter than a Ford Focus or Vauxhall Astra but not quite up to VW Golf standards, but considering the price differential to the Golf, the Leon remains impressive.
There’s more than enough space for a couple of tall adults in the front, with particularly good head and leg room on offer.
There are plenty of cubbyholes for assorted clutter, too, including an armrest with a storage compartment on all but the entry-level editions, a pair of cupholders between the seats, plus a decent-sized glovebox and front door bins.
The addition of an electric handbrake on all but S trim also frees up an extra cubbyhole between the front seats. We also like the optional wireless phone charging system that can hold your mobile in place no matter how hard you drive.
Despite the thick pillars behind the back doors, the rear of the Leon ST’s interior still manages to feel relatively airy. There’s space for three, but if they’re three adults it’s a squeeze. If it’s just two though, only the really tall are likely to grumble about leg room or head room, and the Leon is on a par with the likes of the VW Golf Estate, albeit not as spacious as the bigger Skoda Octavia Estate.
Rear-seat passengers don’t get lots of storage space, but there are useful door bins that are big enough for a reasonably large drinks bottle. It’s also fairly airy and light, which means passengers won’t feel hemmed in on longer journeys.
The Leon is a conventional family estate car so unlike MPVs and SUVs, doesn’t try to do anything especially clever with its seating configuration. The rear seatbacks fold down in a 60/40 split to extend the boot space, but that’s your lot.
The passenger seat height is fixed in entry-level S trim, but if you follow our advice and step up to the SE Technology model at least, then you’ll be rewarded by a seat height adjuster as standard, but only upper-spec FR Technology models get the added bonus of passenger lumbar adjustment.
587 litres. That’s how much space you get in the ST’s boot. So what does that actually mean in the real world? Enough space to take a couple of large-ish suitcases, a fold-up pram, or a typical weekly shop for a family of four. So it’s good, but not the best; a VW Golf Estate or Skoda Octavia Estate is bigger still.
All but the standard S trim has the option of a dual-height boot floor (standard on X-Perience models); it’s not an expensive option so we’d say go for it, because in its upper position this creates a separate storage area, and also smoothes out the step left when you’ve folded the rear seats down. These lay almost flat, but not quite, so getting in larger loads could be awkward.
In the boot you’ll find useful additions such as four lashing eyes and a 12v socket.
The Leon ST is pitched as a better-value alternative to the VW Golf Estate, and you should certainly be able to buy better-specced editions of the Seat for less money than its VW stablemate. Seat dealers may also be more willing to do a large discount, although you need to bear in mind that while the Leon’s resale values after three years are no disgrace, they’re not as good as a Golf’s. PCP offerings are generally competitive, too.
The engine and transmission line-up in the main promises low running costs, and manual and automatic models alike deliver CO2 emissions that make company car tax appealing.
For example, the 1.0-litre petrol Ecomotive edition has the lowest CO2 emissions at 102g/km and an official government fuel economy figure of 64.2mpg, making it a tempting company car choice. If you need even better economy, the 1.6-litre diesel has an official economy figure of nearly 68.9mpg, although the CO2 emissions rise to 108g/km. In the real world, though, expect that diesel figure to be closer to 50mpg.
Clearly the higher performance models, such as the 2.0 TDI 184, 1.8 TSI 180 and 2.0 TSI 300, don’t offer such efficiency, making them the priciest versions to choose. They’re only really worth looking at if you’re looking for blistering performance.
No Leon ST is short of standard equipment. Even the entry-level S models get air-con, a touchscreen infotainment system with 5.0in screen and Bluetooth. However, at the very least we reckon it’s worth stepping up to SE Technology. This brings 16in alloy wheels, cruise control, driver and passenger seat height adjustment, driver’s lumbar adjustment, an 8.0in touchscreen, sat-nav, a DAB radio and a leather steering wheel and gearknob. It also opens the door to various desirable options packs that aren’t even offered on the S edition. Next up, SE Dynamic Technology adds 17in alloys, rear privacy glass and rear parking sensors.
Sporty FR Technology trim is our favourite of all the Leon versions, though. As standard it has LED headlights, power-folding door mirrors, passenger lumbar adjustment, dual-zone climate control, front and rear parking sensors, auto lights and wipers and sports seats. You also get bigger 17in alloy wheels and sportier front and rear bumpers outside. FR Titanium trim adds on extra styling enhancements including side skirts and 18in alloys.
Xcellence Technology trim might be tempting if you prefer a slightly less sporty looking car than the FR models. Instead you get a chrome front grille and window surrounds, plus added luxuries including keyless entry.
Cupra models are sporty but also well equipped. Based on the FR Technology trim they add adaptive dampers and a limited slip differential. On the inside a leather sports steering wheel, part-Alcantara sports seats with embossed Cupra logos, alloy pedals and ambient LED lighting are all standard.
Finally, the off-road-style X-Perience models come in two states of trim. SE Technology builds on what’s fitted to the regular ST equivalent, with more luxuries such as passenger lumbar adjustment, rear door blinds, power-folding door mirrors, privacy glass, LED headlights, a dual-height boot floor and dual-zone climate control. You also get raised suspension, black roof rails and 18in alloy wheels for that rugged look outside. SE Lux adds sports-style, leather-trimmed, electrically adjustable and heated front seats, along with chrome roof rails.
The Leon has always had a good reputation for reliability. Seat as a brand also bills pretty well, with a creditable mid-table finish in our most recent What Car? reliability survey, above brands including Renault and Volkswagen.
The Leon’s standard warranty is nothing special by the benchmarks of the class, such as Kia’s seven-year cover – Seat covers the car for three years or 60,000 miles, whichever comes sooner – although you can extend the cover for up to five years for a reasonable extra cost.
The Leon ST comes with a healthy yield of the latest safety equipment. Every model gets seven airbags, stability control and a tyre pressure monitoring system. There are also active front head restraints to minimise whiplash in an accident, and Isofix child-seat mounting points.
Commendably, every Leon bar the basic S model come with automatic emergency city braking, which automatically applies maximum braking if the system detects you’re about to hit a car, and can watch out for pedestrians too.
Leons equipped with an automatic gearbox can take this autonomy one step further. With the optional pack that includes Traffic Jam Assist, in heavy traffic the car is able to stop, start, speed up, slow down and even steer for you. The same package also includes Emergency Assist, which keeps an eye on you, and if it thinks you’ve nodded off it’ll try to wake you by lightly pulsing the brakes. If that doesn’t work it will activate the hazard warning lights and bring the car to a controlled stop.
If the worst comes to the worst, it’s good to know that back in 2012 the Leon received the maximum five stars in its Euro NCAP crash test.
All Leons get remote central locking and an alarm to help keep thieves at bay. Security experts Thatcham awarded the car the maximum five stars for resistance to theft, and four stars for guarding against being broken into.