MOTORS REVIEW: Seat Leon ST SE 1-litre TSI

THE delight expressed by automotive journalists when they are sent a very much standard trim vehicle by a manufacturer is a bizarre phenomenon.

Twitter regularly breaks out into a frenzy of Dacias on steel wheels, Honda Civics specified without a sound system (it’s still possible to do so, apparently) and the myriad of blanked-off buttons that now grace the odd, very rare car that has somehow dodged the options list bingo marker.

In truth, hacks are too often treated to road tests in fully-specced, high trim cars and rarely offered an insight into the more affordable versions on sale.

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With the arrival of my Seat Leon ST 1-litre TSI SE, though, there came the rare sight of a few blanked-off buttons and — rather mercifully, in my opinion — an absence of the usual barrage of warning chimes and assisted steering inputs out on the road.

The array of semi-autonomous driving aids that have rained down on the car market in recent years may be justifiable in the name of collision prevention but it’s only when you step back into something that still relies more on revs than RAM (that’s an IT term, I’m told) that the straightforward nature of simply driving can be truly appreciated.

What becomes apparent in driving the entry-level Leon ST is just how much kit us car buyers now deem to be the bare minimum we’d consider when leafing through the brochures.

Truth be told, the Leon ST SE ticks boxes in almost every department I need as a dad of two with a fairly hefty weekly mileage to think about.

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I remember a time when the basic trim in any range line-up meant black plastic bumpers and door mirrors that would turn grey in the sun in the first few months of ownership.

Not so here.

The “basic” Leon ST comes with a full covering of metallic paint, 17-inch alloys, silver roof rails and LED daytime running lights.

And just as even the hardest up of UK households in the 21st century seem to be furnished with a 55-inch television, the interior’s well-equipped with technology.

Cruise control, air conditioning and an eight-inch touchscreen infotainment system which might not feature sat-nav, but can be connected to a smartphone via Apple CarPlay or MirrorLink to deliver a navigation solution, are all standard fare.

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Helping me on my commute is an adjustable centre armrest and a seating position with ample adjustability in the seat and steering column while, at a weekend, I can take advantage of a 587-litre boot when loading in the family.

At £19,260, I have to say that the Leon ST looks like something of a bargain, and even if it’s far from the freshest of hatchback-based estate cars on the market — there are the very new Ford Focus, Kia Ceed and Hyundai i30 to consider — it still looks pretty sharp.

Perhaps the only downside of buying the base trim model is the prospect of making-do with a onelitre, three-cylinder petrol engine.

While I’m not going to lie, this will not sate anyone’s appetite for highspeed thrills, the 115PS Volkswagen Group unit, which can be found in numerous SUVs, is all most people will ever need.

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Keep away from the appealing thrum of the engine’s higher revs and it will deliver impressive fuel economy.

On my very first drive in the car, a 130-mile round trip to Banbury, the on-board trip computer (another standard-fit feature) recorded over 60mpg against Seat’s official claims of an average of 45.6 to 50.4mpg and 109g/km CO2 emissions.

It isn’t the quickest of cars, but the turbocharged engine spools into life and feels good for its claimed 10.1-second claimed acceleration to 62mph and 122mph top speed.

If I sound overly enthusiastic about the Leon ST SE that’s because I have been genuinely impressed with the way it looks, the level of standard kit and the low running costs it looks set to deliver over the coming months.

And no, it’s not just the novelty of driving a “basic” spec car — the very concept of that seems to be lost on Seat.

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