NEXT time you are in Madrid, drop in to the Mercado de San Miguel. It’s a market like no other – a large, welcoming tapas-fest under one roof. Friends and families get together, the wine and chatter flows – and the whole chic and cheery gathering looks flawlessy stylish.
For, like the French and Italians, the Spanish know a thing or two about looking good – and that extends to their cars. The latest case in point is the SEAT Leon ST, an estate with a sporting demeanour and a purposeful, crisp look.
Flush Magazine ran the rule over the car, an FR 2.0 TDI DSG-auto, during a week-long loan, looking cool in ‘phantom black metallic’.
Gone are the days when estate cars were merely beasts of burden, transport for reps and tradesmen, their load-carrying rear ends often looking like an afterthought. Now they are as attractive as their hatchback/saloon siblings. You can also apply the saying ‘handsome is as handsome does’ to the Leon ST FR, for the car handles in just as sporting a manner as its looks suggest, with help from specially-tuned suspension.
Mega-grippy cornering and a firm ride make the estate an engaging drive, with a spirited exhaust note for a soundtrack. The FR gains exclusive, sporty, front and rear bumpers, dark-tinted windows and chrome twin-tailpipe exhaust.
And the pacy cues continue inside with the likes of front sports seats – ours were leather-upholstered – perforated leather steering wheel with red contrast stitching and FR logo, and aluminium front door sill trims.
There’s a generous helping of tasty kit, with features including dual-zone climate control, electrically folding and adjustable heated door mirrors which have integrated LED indicators, passenger door mirror with kerb function, drive profile for different set-ups (sport/comfort/ eco/ individual), LED tail-lights, and front and rear parking sensors with optical parking system display.
And it doesn’t end there … think coming-home headlight function, height-and reach-adjustable steering wheel, 12-volt power supply in the centre console, rear reading lights, ambient spot lighting and footwell illumination, five-inch touchscreen with posh satnav, MP3-compatible CD player, Bluetooth and steering wheel-mounted audio and telephone controls … and more.
Where safety is concerned, the Leon ST has been awarded a five-star rating by assessment body Euro NCAP. SEAT says the outstanding score puts the car among the very safest on the road.
Features such as front passenger airbag deactivation, to facilitate installing a rear-facing child seat, helped achieve the score, while extensive use of high strength and ultra-high strength steels in key areas of the chassis ensure that the car remains as stable as possible during a collision. High-tech safety systems include lane-keeping assistant and multi-collision brake technology.
On the practicality front, the load-space is 587 litres, extending to 1,470 litres with the split-fold rear seats down. The illuminated boot has a double floor, cargo rings, a cargo net and a 12-volt power socket, there’s a through-hatch into the cabin for long, thin stuff, and 13 cubbies.
The DSG transmission offers full auto or selectable gears, but the former is so smooth and quick-shifting you will probably never bother with the latter. There’s smooth power aplenty from the two-litre diesel engine, which the maker says returns 60mpg (combined).
The Leon ST FR is a captivating blend of Spanish flair and German quality, due to its tie-up with Volkswagen. It combines a thoroughly rewarding driving experience with lots of practical features.
My only niggle was the dark interior, which would have benefited by a dash of colour to liven it up.
MAKE/MODEL: SEAT Leon ST FR 2.0 TDI
TECHNICAL: 1,968cc, 184bhp, turbocharged four-cylinder diesel engine. Six-speed automatic transmission.
PERFORMANCE: 0-62mph, 7.8 seconds; top speed, 140mph.
FUEL: 60mpg (combined)
EMISSIONS: 122 g/km