Put pep in your step with Leon
Buying an estate car tends to be a practical consideration. But this souped-up Seat really moves too, writes Geraldine Herbert
Estates are rarely cars of choice. Rather they are the heroically dull option when the number of bikes, wellies, labradors and kids you need to ferry around has increased to an unmanageable amount. But over the past few years, a new breed of discreet but sporty load-luggers has emerged which sprint to triple figures faster than flat-pack furniture really needs to go.
Seat's recently facelifted Leon ST Cupra is one such car. The cosmetic surgery is minor and it now sports a wider bonnet, revised front bumper and more prominent trapezoidal front grille. Thanks to a two-litre engine it gets to very fast speeds very quickly - in fact it will shoot to 100kmh in just 4.9 seconds; think how useful that could be on those time-pressed mornings when the kids can't find their shoes.
Boy-racer friendly adjustments and additions include active suspension management using the new Dynamic Chassis Control and electrically controlled mechanical front differential that improves high-speed cornering response. Suffice to know, it all makes you feel like a better driver and the result is an extremely punchy car with well weighted steering.
The six-speed DSG transmission is a little disappointing particularly at low speeds but there is the option of using the wheel-mounted paddles. On the road the new four-wheel drive system has given the ST Cupra a more sure-footed feel through the sharper bends.
Inside, there is a new touchscreen infotainment system - not the most user-friendly but it gets the job done - and generally the interior is a pleasant place to be.
Space throughout is good and the boot space at 578 litres compares well with rivals. And like all medium estate cars, it just about holds an average family and wisely leaves no room for anybody else. This may limit your ferrying options, but trust me that's not always a bad thing.
An avalanche of electronics including driver assistance systems such as Traffic Jam Assist, Lane Assist and Adaptive Cruise Control keeps you safely on the road. The two-litre engine gives a combined consumption figure of 7.2 litres per 100km, though the version without four-wheel drive does achieve 6.8 litres. CO2 emissions are 164 g/km so motor tax is €570 annually.
The starting price for the ST Cupra is €45,035. Seat added a Matt Black Pack and sound system to the press car bringing the price to €46,465. There are two natural rivals to the ST Cupra, the Ford Focus ST Estate and the Skoda Octavia Combi RS. Comparing on price alone, the Seat is a little on the steep side, a 2.0 Ecoboost 250 ps Ford Focus ST is priced at €40,950 and a 2.0 TSI 245 bhp DSG Skoda Octavia Combi RS at €42,515 though none are as powerful as the Cupra.
While trendy SUVs and innovative MPVs offer myriad options to dazzle family buyers from sliding doors to pull-out seats, an estate car's ability to fit lots of shopping inside is hardly mind-blowing, but the Leon ST offers much more.
This fast and sporty estate drives like a hot hatch and comes with four-wheel drive. Overall, the Leon ST Cupra is not cheap but it makes a very interesting alternative to a conventional family car and proves being sensible can be fun.