Andrew Brady | December 2014
SEAT isn’t a brand you associate with rough and tough four-wheel drive vehicles. Its previous attempts include the lesser-spotted Alhambra 4×4, and the Altea Freetrack.
But that’s set to change in 2016, when it’ll launch a fully-grown, seven-seat SUV. It’ll be badged the ‘X-Perience’, which the Spanish manufacturer wants to turn into a halo marque for SEAT, in a similar way to its hot Cupra offshoot.
In a bid to kickstart its X-Perience sub-brand, SEAT’s launched an off-road version of its Leon ST estate. Along with the latest Haldex all-wheel drive system it boasts a 15mm increase in ride height, while the larger wheels and tyres account for a further 28mm in ground clearance.
What’s the 2015 SEAT Leon X-Perience like to drive?
We headed to snowy Austria to give the SEAT Leon X-Perience a full test. Buyers get a choice of two versions – a 150hp 2.0-litre turbodiesel with the six-speed manual gearbox, or the same engine with power turned up to 184hp and a DSG automatic ’box.
First impressions on driving down the motorway are how refined it is for a car that’s supposedly capable in the rough. It doesn’t feel a lot different to the regular SEAT Leon ST – the raised suspension absorbs bumps well, but there’s little extra road noise. With the optional lane assist and adaptive cruise control the X-Perience is close to being driverless, taking a lot of stress out of highway driving.
When the going gets twistier, the Leon feels confident through the bends, with little body roll. In normal conditions the X-Perience is entirely front-wheel drive, but the car’s electronic differential can transfer up to 50% of power to the rear wheels to help deliver extra grip when required.
This is particularly impressive in snow, where the four-wheel drive Leon really starts to make sense. With the Electronic Stability Control (ESC) switched on, the X-Perience does an impressive job of defying physics and keeping you in a straight line. Turn the ESC into ‘Sport’ mode (turning it off entirely isn’t possible), and the car will move about more with less power being cut when you get carried away, but it still draws the car in when you push it too far.
How efficient is the 2015 SEAT Leon X-Perience?
We’ve established that there’s a lot to like about the X-Perience, but what exactly is the point of it? Does the world need a slightly beefed up SEAT Leon with four-wheel drive?
The manufacturer isn’t claiming it will sell in big numbers. It’s expected to account for just 8% of all Leon ST estate sales – and approximately half of those will be from fleets and company car drivers.
This is where it starts to really make sense. Both versions offer combined fuel economy of 57.6mpg, meaning the X-Perience offers little sacrifice over the regular ST 2.0-litre diesel which returns 60.1mpg with the DSG transmission. But crucially, it emits just 129g/km CO2, making it one of the greenest 4x4s on the market – offering favorable tax rates for both private buyers and company car drivers.
Ignoring all the off-road gubbins, the X-Perience offers a number of features that’ll make it more desirable to some over the standard Leon. The inside of the SE Technology trim we tried (which starts at £26,370), was finished in fetching brown Alcantara. This, combined with the already impressive interior of the Leon, means the X-Perience is a genuinely premium product – something you may not expect from a SEAT Leon estate.
MR verdict: 2015 SEAT Leon X-Perience
While many of us don’t really need off-road ability in a car, there are some who have a genuine need for the Leon’s 587 litres of bootspace combined with surefootedness in cold or slippery conditions.
The SEAT Leon X-Perience does a near perfect job of combining refinement and driving dynamics with practicality and four-wheel drive ability.
Few of us will be able to justify the purchase price, but if you’ve got a genuine need for a car such as this, or can afford to splash out for those winter skiing holidays, the SEAT Leon X-Perience makes for a sensible purchase with little compromise.
Rivals: SEAT Leon X-Perience
1. Renault Scenic XMod
2. Skoda Octavia Scout
3. Vauxhall Insignia Country Tourer
4. Volkswagen Golf Alltrack
5. Volvo V40 Cross Country
The Renault Scenic XMod is more of a people carrier than the Leon, but with prices starting at £19,365 it’s arguably much better value, if not as nice to drive. The Skoda Octavia Scout is a rival within the Volkswagen Group, and is very similar to the Leon. It’s slightly more expensive than the SEAT, but pips it on practicality. It’s likely to hold its value better, too. The Vauxhall Insignia Country Tourer is marginally more expensive and not as polished or economical as the Leon, while the Volkswagen Golf Alltrack is going to be the closest rival to the SEAT, with a wider choice of engines. That leaves the Volvo V40 Cross Country which, like the X-Perience, offers increased ride height and extra body cladding. Surprisingly though, it’s not available with four-wheel drive.
Specification: SEAT Leon X-Perience
Engine: 2.0-litre turbodiesel
Gearbox: six-speed manual or six-speed DSG automatic
Price from: £24,385
Power: 150 – 184hp
Torque: 250 – 280lb ft
0-62mph: 7.1 – 8.7 seconds
Top speed: 139mph