Opting for the kitchen sink with Seat’s Leon ST
Granted the opportunity to indulge in typical ‘up-specifying’ with the latest estate car, or Sports Tourer in Seat-speak, version of the lovely Leon, Iain P W Robertson managed to add almost £3.5k to the invoice bottom-line.
It is a popular activity these days, whether buying privately, or acquiring a new car for business use. For the company car sector, the base-line provides the P11d figures that satisfy both taxman and the company accountant and Seat’s latest Leon line-up, which is not merely a lot smarter than before but also a whole lot more businesslike, is a great place to start the loading exercise.
Therefore, let us take a gander at the vehicle first. The previous generation Leon was just a 5-door sporty hatch. Oh, it was good, in that VW Group sort of way, in that its build quality was tight, the detailing was moderate and the chassis dynamics were well above average. However, Seat knew that it was a heartbeat away from potential disaster. Unless the firm altered its design stance and practicality status, with the aim of meeting the new car market’s demands somewhat more succinctly, it would remain a lost cause and would be a brand that would be sold-off ultimately by Volkswagen, something that the German company would find intolerable, as it will have been seen by all to have failed in its broader brand developmental endeavours.
The new Leon, available in 5-door hatch, 3-door SC and 5-door ST forms (as here) is a range within a range and each variant shares the DNA and the crisp design and first-rate technology to take it forwards in leaps and bounds. Just one drive makes you appreciate that, despite its family leanings, the Leon is usefully different to the Skoda Octavia, VW Golf, or Audi A3 that all share the same modern platform. Seat can now stop crossing its fingers and the uptake rate of the new line-up surely underscores that it is a brand that can cease checking over its corporate shoulder, in readiness for the night of a thousand cuts. It ain’t coming! By the same token, VW’s main board can heave a sigh of relief, because it is not going to lose face for the moment.
Were I to acquire one of these new models, then I would not be seeking a diesel version, as the list price differential with the petrol alternative would take far too long for me to amortise with annual mileage covered and I tend to change my personal vehicles too frequently to make it worthwhile anyway. Therefore, petrol it is, in 1.8TSi FR form, in which the engine delivers a healthy 177bhp and a modest 184lbs ft of pulling potency, mated to a 7-speed DSG (twin-clutch, automated transmission, with paddle-shift).
The other figures for this thoroughly revised unit are quite impressive and the government’s Official Combined fuel return of 48.7mpg, while largely unattainable by anyone other than an MPG-miser, highlights that well over 40mpg should be within the bounds of normal owners. Taking all the performance testing into account, my low of 38.5mpg backs this up. Its 135g/km CO2 rating equates to a VED Band E, or a meagre £130 to the Exchequer every year. Yet, as a sporty wagon, its 0-60mph time of 7.4 seconds and a top speed nudging 140mph suggest that higher speed continental travel is well within its bounty.
In this unfettered state, the Leon ST FR is a competent and eminently pleasing machine, possessing a decent boot and a pleasant cabin. In fact, you could leave it alone, avoid ticking the boxes on the extra-cost options list and remain perfectly contented with your choice. However, that would be to miss the point entirely about this exercise, which is what the vast majority of British car buyers do. Sometimes they even think about which ‘extras’ might add more to the value of their vehicles at trade-in time. You might term it ‘personalisation’, or ‘customising’. The point is that the carmakers have spent a fortune on upgrading and enhancing the specifications of their cars, creating an options/accessories list is not just a useful profits earner but it allows the buyer to tailor the package to seemingly better suit their requirements. Look, it is a car-snob thing, which is something that British car buyers are pretty good at.
Fortunately, the Technology Pack that would include the spangly LED headlamps, the excellent sat-nav system and the DAB stereo unit, is still being supplied as standard, which does save a few shekels (£1,075, to be precise). The same applies to the ‘Drive Profile’ that features a ‘MODE’ button to provide Sport, Comfort, Eco, or Individual settings. It is a feature of this VW platform and Seat’s engineers have selected a decent range of adjustability to the suspension, steering assistance and throttle responses to make it worthwhile.
Even my personal Skoda Citigo features the next pack, which is for Winter and includes heated front seats, the headlamp washer system (which is actually a legal requirement for Xenon lamps) and heated front washer nozzles. It costs a reasonable £350 but I would find it hard to live seasonally without the heated elements. However, I can also make a case for the Convenience Pack at £150, which includes rain-sensing wipers, the headlamp auto-on that also includes a coming and leaving home timer, as well as a self-dimming rear-view mirror. You might not feel that such items are justifiable, after all, a flick of a switch, or touch of a button, is all that is required otherwise.
The Safety Pack includes a tiredness recognition system that I find difficult to comprehend and also a seatbelt reminder for back seat occupants that comes up as a small warning bar in the main instrument display. It costs just £115 and might be worth it, if you transport forgetful people in the back seats frequently. Okay. The jury is still out on this one.
In exchange for an extra £250, the standard stereo system can be upgraded to a 135W kickin’ hi-fi unit supported by ten cabin speakers and a boot-mounted subwoofer. If that all sounds a bit scary, I actually appreciate better sound reproduction in the car and it would cost a lot more to get an outside contractor in to achieve similar results. This represents pretty good value for money in my book.
Mind you, the high beam assist and lane assist functions of the £295 Driver Assist Pack are not on my radar at all. I know when to apply dip and main beam and leaving it to the car’s ‘brain’ to do so is feckless. Although ticked and fitted to the test car, it is not an option pack that I would select normally. Yet, the Alcantara upholstered seats, at £440, seem like decent value, although Seat refers to the ‘hide’ elements that cover the sporty bolsters as ‘leatherette’, a descriptive term I have not heard since the 1970s and which suggests that what it looks like is not what it is. It might be a delete-option.
Although it costs a whopping £500, the adaptive cruise control, which also slows the car automatically (even bringing it to a grinding halt, if needed), should it detect an obstacle ahead, could be useful while driving abroad. Relieving driver tedium on miles of arrow-straight motorways is a useful feature, although I would never recommend using cruise control, active or not, in the UK. Our cluttered roads simply make its application ineffective. It is pricey but it also works remarkably well. Perhaps ‘city-brake’ technology might be a better option?
Popping open the boot to reveal the boot divider net, at £150, is a lot to pay for not very much. I do have this on my Citigo but I inherited it from a couple of Octavia vRS models ago, when it cost me nothing. However, the space-saver spare, priced at £95, really ought to be standard-fit and not on Seat’s options list at all. I was also disappointed to see that the steering wheel-mounted paddle-shifters for the DSG gearbox cost an extra £130. They, too, should be standard and this is now typical penny-pinching by the VW Group, at a level which you might expect on an Audi but not on a sporty Seat.
Even the 18-inch alloy wheels on the test car are options that weigh in at £375. I think that I can live with the standard items and the towbar pre-installation kit at £150 is another little something that I, personally, can live without. The options tally equates to £3,495, which hikes up the cost of the Leon ST FR to £26,345.
Conclusion: Personalisation costs. Naturally, you can take your pick of various options and others not mentioned here but my advice would be to spend wisely, before it becomes a runaway project, the benefits of which would not be felt at trade-in time. Otherwise, the Seat Leon is a charming and very engaging model, which is zesty enough to enjoy safely and cost-efficient enough to warrant as a next purchase.