You can’t blame SEAT for launching an estate model of the Leon.

The company’s version of the Golf is a great success, both as a runaround hatch and in sporting guise.

So to build another derivative makes sense, especially when you consider that estate cars are suddenly fashionable again.

They were old hat not so long ago when they only really appealed to older, sensible types for whom cars had to be functional more than stylish. But now, thanks to sporty models with sexier names such as sports tourer and fastback, estates are in vogue.

And trust SEAT, a relatively small company but one which is nimble enough to bring stylish cars out quickly, the Leon ST (sports tourer) is enjoying considerable popularity.

I had the pleasure of driving the SEAT after a couple of weeks with expensive Audi models. That might have made the SEATs seem, well, a little flimsy by comparison?

Not at all. What struck me was how SEAT has closed the gap on its expensive, well-attired sibling. Audis are great cars but SEATs aren’t quite as far behind as you might have thought.

Leon ST is a neat looking motor with strong, stylish lines and a clean, uncluttered cabin which is similar in style and quality to its Volkswagen, Skoda and Audi siblings. Being an estate car, space in the boot is crucial and this car doesn’t disappoint. The boot holds 587 litres with the seats up which is better than some of its big-selling rivals. Fold the seats down and you have 1,470 litres of space. Fantastic. The Leon is a successful model which serves as both a performance car and an affordable hatchback. The SC (three-door model) went down a storm and this ST estate version has been well received too.

Some might see the term estate as a byword for unglamorous practicality but those days are long gone for the Leon ST is slick, sharp and thoroughly modern.

With a modest length increase of 27cm over the five door the Leon ST hasn’t be turned into a parking nightmare, but it is still big enough to impress.

All versions regardless of spec also have a moveable boot floor, giving you a useful separated storage area beneath or the one giant area, plus a 12v power socket and a through hatch, useful for long loads.

An option is a folding front passenger seat too for serious load carriers. SE models and above get a handy release in the boot for dropping the rear seats, the kind of detail that makes it so easy to live with.

You might expect that the transformation into an estate means compromises in the way the Leon drives, but in reality it’s easy to forget you’re in the ST once behind the wheel.

The same refreshingly simple and well-specified cabin greets you as you climb in, and you and your fellow passengers enjoy as much room as in other Leon models.

The layout is easy to get to grips with, while the finish and the standard of materials is significantly better than the previous model. The Leon is a quality item, regardless of the bodystyle.

The engine choice is usefully broad too. Petrol engines start with a surprisingly flexible 1.2-litre TSI unit, with a 1.4-litre TSI and powerful 1.8-litre version at the top. Diesel engines include the 1.6-litre TDI including in super-frugal Ecomotive guise (capable of 85.6mpg combined) rising to the full-house 184PS 2.0-litre TDI.

It may be the most expensive choice but that top diesel engine also gives you the most impressive overall package. It’s as quick and response as the figures suggest, with more torque than you could possibly need yet the possibility of over 65 miles per gallon. It's smooth and powerful, making life very easy for the driver.

The Leon should be on your shopping list anyway, but if you don't think the hatch is quite big enough then the ST solves all your problems. Don’t think about buying a compact estate without taking a close look.

l SEAT UK has posted its best March registrations ever, with 9,429 sales during this key month representing a 38.1 per cent improvement on March 2013 – and 2,178 more registrations than the company’s previous best March, in 2011. This has helped SEAT UK achieve a record first quarter in 2014.

Globally, SEAT has increased sales by 7.3 per cent during the first quarter of the year. The brand has delivered a total of 93,400 vehicles, 6,300 more than the same period in 2013. The Leon has boosted SEAT sales with a 60.1 per cent increase; during the first three months of the year, 34,600 Leon models have been delivered – 13,000 more than in the first quarter of 2013 (21,600).

Sales of the Leon ST, on the market since the end of last year, totalled 8,000.

SEAT says that 2013 was ‘positive’ and that the company has momentum for 2014.

SEAT Leon ST FR 1.8 TDI 180PS PRICE: £21,595. The Leon ST starts at £16,675 ENGINE: 1.8-litre diesel producing 180ps via six-speed manual gearbox driving the front wheels PERFORMANCE: Top speed 142mph, 0-62mph in 7.8 seconds INSURANCE: Group 25 COSTS: urban 37.7mpg; country 57.6mpg; combined 47.9mpg EMISSIONS: 137g/km WARRANTY: Three years, 60,000 miles