Remember this? The good old reliable estate car. It’s what we used to transport the family to the seaside, for some it doubled up as a workhorse. If you could stretch to a big Volvo there was even room for furniture. Antique dealers loved them, apparently.
Then Nissan came up with a new idea, a crossover, part SUV, part hatchback which pretty much made the estate car redundant. Fortunately there are still plenty of manufacturers keeping the faith even though sales have dwindled and I have been driving a belter.
The Leon is a medium sized family estate and by today’s standards is good value. It starts at £24,000, quite a bit less than an equivalent SUV, easily takes five adults and has a big boot. The new model is a tad longer and has an extra 30 litres of space – that’s a small suitcase.
Now I have nothing against SUVs, I own one, and as good as they are, you will get more driving pleasure from an estate, particularly if Leon is the car of choice. As part of the Volkswagen Audi group Seat has always been the fun brand with a reputation for being sporty and cheeky but without the price tag of a VW or Audi.
It is one of those cars that feels great before you have covered a mile. Everything about it is in tune with the driver, comfy driving position, precise, quick steering, and a feeling that the handling is going to be razor sharp. It is.
My test car was the FR Sport so the clue is in the name. Low profile 18inch rims and sport suspension yet this was no hard ride. I expected it to be, but while certainly on the firm side it was still comfortable and cushioned potholes and the like better than any car I have driven this year.
Power came from a mild hybrid 1.5 litre petrol, Seat’s best engine in my opinion, and mated to a seven speed automatic DSG gearbox. Does it get any better? Hold on, this is no steaming hot hatch but quick enough to keep the driver’s heartbeat pumping should you feel the need.
There are two reasons why I rate this engine so highly: lively performance and strong economy. During my week I never dropped below 40mpg, finished with an average of 45mpg and managed 49mpg on a quick 100 mile motorway run.
This is an efficient unit and part of it is down to technology developed by VW-Audi. Two of the four cylinders close down when the car is coasting so saving fuel. Good to have friends in high places…
Now I am going to tell you why this seemingly wonderful Leon caused me irritation and frustration for a couple of days.
Seat has gone all in on technology. Digital dashboard, which is excellent, and a all singing and dancing infotainment system that controls everything. It is a familiar set up, a 10in touch screen where you will find a mountain of information, navigation and smartphone interface, along with those features we use constantly – heating and radio.
Trouble is it takes a while to work it out. If you can find it, Seat provides a tutorial to point you in the right direction so it is a good idea to take a calm half hour to get to know the system.
I measure ease of use against the various cars I review. Mercedes, Audi, Kia are a few examples of systems that are intuitive, while Mazda’s set up is so simple it would make the perfect industry template.
It all came together eventually although the voice control ‘lady’ butting in with a random question when not asked tried our patience. Had I done something to trigger the interruptions when delving into the coms? Who knows.
There was only one other oddment and concerned touch sensitive pads to adjust the heating temperature. They are beautifully slim and flush fitting but are not back lit so cannot be seen at night. Has someone forgotten to connect them for illumination?
Did it spoil my time with Leon? Absolutely not. This is a fine car in just about every way and is also a tow car of the year winner, something else I was able to experience and can see why it won its category.
Apart from having to go to the top of the range for a rear camera Leon is well equipped and has a full suite of driver safety aids
Is there still a future for an estate car? If this is an example then there are years of life left.
Leon Estate FR Sport TSI EVO
1.5 litre petrol; 148bhp. 7sp automatic
0-62mph 8.5secs; 135mph
44 to 48.7mpg combined
132g/km. 1st tax £210
Insurance group 22
Boot: 620-1541 litres
Towing capacity: 1700kg