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Driven: SEAT Leon ST FR. Image by Max Earey.

Driven: SEAT Leon ST FR
SEAT's stylish estate gets a longer test on UK roads in ultimate spec. Does it still impress us?


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| Test drive | SEAT Leon ST FR |

Overall rating: 4.5 4.5 4.5 4.5 4.5

Good points: sharp looks, plenty of equipment, competitive price, superb drive, makes a great noise under heavy throttle.
Not so good: some of the interior finishing a bit behind the times, 18-inch wheels spoil the ride.

Key Facts

Model tested: SEAT Leon ST 2.0 FR TDI 184
Pricing: £23,380 as standard; car as tested £27,325
Engine: 2.0-litre turbocharged four-cylinder diesel
Transmission: six-speed manual, front-wheel drive
Body style: five-door estate
Rivals: Ford Focus Estate, Renault Mégane Sport Tourer, Vauxhall Astra Sports Tourer
CO2 emissions: 122g/km
Combined economy: 62.8mpg
Top speed: 142mph
0-62mph: 7.8 seconds
Power: 184hp at 4,000rpm
Torque: 380Nm at 1,750- to 3,000rpm

Our view:

This is our third form of exposure to SEAT's stylish Leon ST (Sports Tourer) within the past six months and here we're trying it in top-of-the-tree (for now) FR spec with the 184hp diesel engine. Until a mooted Cupra estate makes an appearance, this is most powerful engine you can specify in the ST and short of pairing it to the DSG gearbox, the manual car is the range daddy. Furthermore, this is a SEAT estate with the same oomph as a Mk7 Golf GTD, which is impressive.

We've talked at length about the Leon's sharp styling - whichever of its three body styles it's in - and if anything the ST is getting better to behold by the day. There are so many neat details, like the C-shaped daytime running lights in the headlamps, the crease running from the front wing into the door, the angular door mirrors (which have the added benefit of channelling plenty of cooling air into the driver's area with the windows open) and the sloping roofline. Our car was fitted with a Titanium Pack (£700), which paints the door mirrors, um, titanium, while it adds 18-inch 'Performance' alloy wheels; more on those later. With some subtle badging and the FR's LED rear lights, it looks expensive and more arresting than any of its comparable rivals - or indeed its stable mates - and we're talking about the whole Volkswagen Group here.

Inside it's good, with plenty of space and a fair-sized boot, although the angled rear screen impinges on the upper load area. The ergonomics are superb and there's plenty of equipment on the FR, but there are one or two things that - away from the glitz of a launch and with more time to assess the car - start to grate. Like the five-inch touchscreen for the infotainment and satnav (navigation is part of the Technology Pack along with LED headlights and a DAB radio, and at the moment that pack is free for Leon buyers); it's too small and therefore fiddly to use. It's also surrounded by buttons that are clearly lifted from a Golf Mk6, which makes the SEAT feel like it is getting hand-me-downs.

However, driving it is a delight. The engine, in particular, is a stunner. So linear that you'd struggle to tell it's a diesel, it has low-down lug as well as a keenness to rev. And SEAT has obviously meddled with the exhaust on the ST FR, because when the Leon is being extended it sounds wonderful; an off-beat thrum permeating the cabin, which adds to the performance experience. As the 184hp FR is really quick; whether a more potent Cupra version is strictly necessary, we're not sure, because the FR feels every bit as rapid as its on-paper stats and then some. It can cruise and toddle around town in admirable fashion without ever breaching the 2,000rpm mark, but start caning it and it soon hauls you into the speed zone that would see law enforcement officers holding you in dim regard.

The abundant motive power is matched to decent, accurate steering and monster brakes that mercifully lack that over-assisted snappiness that some Volkswagen Group products used to exhibit, plus a slick six-speed manual possessing ratios that are spaced to perfection for the engine's muscle. Body control, as we've found previously, is magnificent for any car in this class, let alone an estate.

One option we'd avoid, though, is the 18-inch wheels. They look brilliant, but they seem to have a pretty sizeable detrimental effect on the Leon's ride quality and its resistance to having its trajectory dictated to by road imperfections. On more than one occasion, the ST FR skittered uncomfortably close to oncoming traffic when encountering what was only a modest (by abject UK standards) pockmark on the tarmac - and this was well within the speed limit of the roads in question.

Where this exact spec all made sense, though, was on the lane linking my village to the nearest major trunk route. Some other publications would term this 'The Road'; a stretch of tarmac that sifts the dynamic wheat from the chaff, so to speak. This road is five miles long and covers pretty much all the bases - smooth straights, well-sighted sweepers, some sudden, tight jinks and a variety of surfaces ranging from the acceptable to the downright shoddy, all topped off with one almighty compression, a blind, cresting right and collapsed verges that look like mini Mariana Trenches, which would mutilate any alloy dumb enough to drop into them. And the Leon ST FR destroyed this road. Absolutely obliterated it, with iron-fisted body control, mammoth pace and a liberal helping of beautiful chassis adjustability. There's not much at this sort of price level that could have done it better or in a more entertaining fashion - you'd probably have to move up to something like a Golf R, and that's some accolade.

The Leon ST remains one of our favourites in this class and also one of the most understated Q-car estates we've encountered. It needs to be optioned carefully, as the 18s didn't win any friends during our week with them, and there are one or two areas where you feel like Volkswagen is still holding SEAT back. But this is way more entertaining than the Golf on which it is based, and it looks a damn sight more interesting too. In fact, there's little in this C-segment estate class that can better the Leon ST.


Ford Focus Estate: always up to the job in terms of dynamics, but its diesel engines can't match this 2.0-litre Volkswagen lump. Recent facelift has improved the front no end though.

Renault Mégane Sport Tourer: a bit of an oddball, value choice, as the dynamics are nowhere near the same league as the Leon's, and neither is its ageing interior.

Vauxhall Astra Sports Tourer: sharp styling and keen pricing, with the range starting at £16,400 compared to the ST's £16,675. Spanish car is newer design and better drive, though.

Matt Robinson - 5 Aug 2014    - SEAT road tests
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- Leon ST images

2014 SEAT Leon ST FR. Image by Max Earey.2014 SEAT Leon ST FR. Image by Max Earey.2014 SEAT Leon ST FR. Image by Max Earey.2014 SEAT Leon ST FR. Image by Max Earey.2014 SEAT Leon ST FR. Image by Max Earey.

2014 SEAT Leon ST FR. Image by Max Earey.2014 SEAT Leon ST FR. Image by Max Earey.2014 SEAT Leon ST FR. Image by Max Earey.2014 SEAT Leon ST FR. Image by Max Earey.2014 SEAT Leon ST FR. Image by Max Earey.

2014 SEAT Leon ST FR. Image by Max Earey.

2014 SEAT Leon ST FR. Image by Max Earey.

2014 SEAT Leon ST FR. Image by Max Earey.

2014 SEAT Leon ST FR. Image by Max Earey.

2014 SEAT Leon ST FR. Image by Max Earey.

2014 SEAT Leon ST FR. Image by Max Earey.

2014 SEAT Leon ST FR. Image by Max Earey.

2014 SEAT Leon ST FR. Image by Max Earey.


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