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Road Tests

Seat Leon ST: This new car is competent and capable, but not captivating


PRICE £22,825 (as tested)
ENGINE CAPACITY 1.6-litre diesel
POWER OUTPUT (kW @ RPM) 77 @ 3-4,000
0-62 MPH (SECONDS) 11.1

Every time I write a review of a car, I like to reveal another flaw – about me rather than the car. This time it is a tendency to car-spotting, a symptom of something deep-seated and slightly ugly. Most recently, I was delighted to turn into traffic behind a tastefully restored, Toyota Celica, c. 1972, a sort of Japanese mini-Mustang; something of a period piece. It made me happy.

More prosaically, whenever I find myself in one of the Volkswagen Group's many variations on the Golf theme, I like to see how long it takes to be surrounded by them. Motorways are good places to try this. Such is the popularity of the VW Golf and its many siblings that it doesn't take long to be in a convoy with, say, a Skoda Octavia, VW Tiguan, Audi TT, VW Beetle, Seat Leon, Audi A3 – all Golf-based – and, of course, a couple of Golfs. I then have a complete Wolfsburg pack (the town VW has called home for many decades).

As it goes, the Seat Leon ST is a very acceptable variation on the Golf theme. More adventurously styled than the staid Skoda and VW equivalent, but obviously cheaper, roomier and more practical than an Audi, it fulfils a certain function, though the danger, as with some other brands, is being squeezed between new truly budget badges, notably Dacia, and existing premium or near-premium brands such as VW. It doesn't make much difference, I guess, to the VW group for which a sale is a sale; but it is a long-term worry for the survival of Seat and those who depend on it.

This car does everything well, nothing badly. It is reasonable value for money, but I would go for the Skoda Roomster or a Nissan Qashqai instead. Indeed, that sort of funky crossover vehicle is what families have migrated to; as with the Astra or Focus estate, the Leon ST is trying to survive in a smaller niche – its archetypal user being, I imagine, a divorced local authority housing officer.

So, the Seat Leon ST: competent, capable but not captivating. Perhaps, in 40 years' time I will be pottering around on my mobility scooter and will spot an old Leon ST parked. But will it be me or the Leon that's the charming period piece?