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.
Seat Leon ST ride comfort
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.
Seat Leon ST handling
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.
Seat Leon ST refinement
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.
A smooth, punchy four-cylinder petrol that kicks off the range in terms of both power and price. However, we'd spend a little extra for the more powerful and efficient 1.0-litre three-cylinder petrol, as it's the more rounded choice.
1.0 TSI 115
This turbocharged three-cylinder engine may be the smallest available, but it produces more power than the cheaper 1.2 and also has much better economy. On the road it’s flexible but not quite as refined as the four-cylinder engines.
1.4 TSI 125
This 1.4-litre turbocharged unit has 123bhp that can take the Leon from 0-62mph in less than nine seconds, which is perfectly respectable for the class. It’s one of the less efficient petrol engines, though, and isn’t available with an automatic gearbox.
1.4 EcoTSI 150
This 148bhp 1.4-litre turbocharged petrol is available from our favoured mid-spec FR Technology trim. It features cylinder deactivation to help save fuel when you’re cruising along, but has more than enough power for brisk progress when you need it. That fuel-saving tech helps it to return impressive CO2 emissions, too, and you can have it with the seven-speed automatic gearbox.
1.8 TSI 180
This is one of the older engines in the Leon line-up, and it shows. The 1.8-litre turbocharged unit has a healthy 177bhp, but it’s also relatively inefficient, with CO2 emissions of 137g/km. It doesn’t feel that much faster than the more economical, cheaper 1.4 EcoTSI model, either. It gets a six-speed manual gearbox as standard, but can also be ordered with a seven-speed DSG automatic ’box.
2.0 TSI 300
With 296bhp, the Cupra will hit 0-62mph in less than six seconds with the standard six-speed manual gearbox fitted, while the optional six-speed dual-clutch automatic is even quicker. It’s a really strong engine that pulls hard from low revs, but does struggle to put its power on to the road smoothly. Opting for four-wheel drive helps address this, but it’s only available with the auto ‘box. Considering the performance on offer, the running costs are acceptable too.
1.6 TDI 115
Performance from the least powerful of the Leon’s diesel engines is perfectly acceptable, thanks to a decent amount of shove at low revs. Economy should be excellent and emissions of 108g/km of CO2 are competitive. Some diesel clatter does make its way inside if you put your foot down, though.
2.0 TDI 150
This 148bhp 2.0-litre engine has more than enough shove for a car of the Leon’s size, which makes overtaking relatively easy. It comes with a six-speed manual gearbox, although you can also order it with a six-speed DSG automatic. Going for the auto does hurt its fuel economy and CO2 emissions, though.
2.0 TDI 184
The range-topping diesel has enormous reserves of pulling power – enough to take the Leon from 0-62mph in around 7.5sec and makes overtaking on A-roads a breeze. It’s available only on the top trims, though, and it doesn’t come cheap, so be sure you really need that extra performance over the TDI 150 version before shelling out the extra cash. It’s a little less efficient than the TDI 150, although not by much.