Seat Leon X-PerienceNo volume car manufacturer can afford not to offer 4x4 versions of their cars, SUVs or Crossovers in their model range.

The growth of such vehicle has been huge, not just in the UK but Europe as a whole. A 4x4 is no longer a vehicle for winter – it’s for lifestyle use all the year round for work or leisure motoring.

The latest brand to join the 4x4 route is SEAT, the Spanish arm of the VW Group family. They have added the X-Perience model based on the sharply styled and roomy Leon ST estate to their line-up. Basically they have taken the Leon ST (Sports Tourer) estate, raised the suspension and added an on demand all wheel drive system to it. SEAT produced their first estate model over 60 years ago, based on a Fiat 1400 model. Their first wholly SEAT designed estate was the Cordoba Vario first seen in 1997 which was essentially an estate version of the Ibiza.

Today the Leon range of family sized five door hatchbacks, ST estates and Cupra sports versions thanks to their good driving manners and attractive prices has become the brand’s best selling model range overtaking the smaller Ibiza models. SEAT has enjoyed six record years of consecutive sales growth in the UK with 53,512 new cars sold last year, an 18% overall growth over 2013.

Neil Williamson, Managing Director of SEAT UK said, “Our sales growth last year saw an increase of 24% in retail customers and the new Leon X-Perience leads the way to our future SUV/4x4 portfolio of models. The brand will grow significantly in the next few years with additional models. This will include an SUV based on the Leon’s platform, appealing to existing retail and fleet customers and we will of course be attracting new owners to the brand.”

Nearly half of the brand’s UK sales can be attributed to the Leon family of models and the 

Seat Leon X-PerienceSeat Leon X-PerienceSeat Leon X-PerienceSeat Leon X-PerienceSeat Leon X-PerienceX-Perience 4x4 ‘lifestyle’ estate is expected to account for around 8% of all Leon ST sales this year. The Leon X-Perience comes with the choice of either 150 or 184hp, 2.0-litre turbodiesel engines with the 150hp versions having a six-speed manual gearbox and the 184hp version a six-speed DSG twin clutch automatic transmission. There is the choice of SE specification priced at £24,385 and SE Technology at £26,370 for the lower powered unit and SE Technology costing £28,870 for the 184hp engine with automatic transmission. 

The most popular version is expected to be the 2.0-litre 150hp SE Technology costing £26,370. The SE Technology specification adds around £3,000 in value of extra specification over SE but costs only an extra £1,985. Standard SE equipment includes the 4Drive 4x4 system, 17-inch alloy wheels, black roof rails, climate control, leather steering wheel, rear parking sensors and twin exhaust tailpipes. The SE Technology specification adds 18-inch alloy wheels and a spare wheel, a Technology Pack including DAB digital radio, sat/nav, full LED headlight system, folding door mirrors, front sports seats, SEAT Media Plus system with a 5.8-inch touchscreen and SEAT Drive Profile for the DSG model. 

Of course there is the usual wide range of extra cost options which include an electrically operated panoramic sunroof, full leather pack, upgraded entertainment and navigation systems as well as enhanced comfort features such as heated seats and adaptive cruise control. The cruise control is now radar operated to keep a safe distance from the vehicle in front. The top level DSG auto spec with its Drive Profile function controls the drivetrain, steering and damper responses to suit the driver or the load being carried in the estate. 

The X-Perience uses a fifth generation 4x4 intelligent system which gives the vehicle more grip when needed without the driver having to make a decision. It instantly switches from 100% front wheel drive to a 50/50 transfer of driving torque front to rear as sensors detect when more grip is needed. It is ideal for wintry roads, a spot of off-roading on tracks for sporty active owners and of course extra on-road adhesion during fast cornering. It allows optimum traction not just for all-seasons but for all motoring reasons. 

Another core element is the roomy boot space of 587-litres which grows to 1,470-litres with the rear seat backs folded down but be warned the seat backs do not fold completely flat so loading long items can be an uphill task. The braked towing weights are 2,000kg for the 150hp manual versions and 1,600kg for the 184hp DSG auto model. Will it fit the family or work requirements? It will seat up to five persons and their luggage or sports equipment in its overall length of 4,543mm. It is not quite as roomy as the Skoda Octavia Estate or the Octavia Scout 4x4 version which uses the same platform, engine and drivetrains and both are a little cheaper as well. 

The UK media’s X-Perience test driving programme took place on and off- road in the Forest of Dean situated between the River Wye and River Severn. Staying overnight in holiday log cabins got us media types into the mood for holiday life-style use of this vehicle. The vehicle’s ride height is raised by 15mm over the standard Leon ST estate but there is a 28mm improvement in ground clearance which gives the X-Perience useful off-road ability for dealing with muddy tracks, slippery grass covered car parks and coping with greasy slipways for nautical duties. Away from the tarmac the new model appeared to be encouragingly sure-footed. For higher speed on-road driving, due to the increase in ride-height, there was a little more cornering body-roll than that experienced with the sharp handling Leon ST estate, but the handling response was progressive and the steering weighted up nicely at higher speeds. During fast on-road driving there was some ‘body float’ over undulations but again it is nothing to detract from the overall performance. 

The suspension, built to handle the rough and the smooth, gave a firmer and more unsettled ride on country roads than on standard ST versions. There was marginally more road noise intrusion than the standard ST but on motorways the X-Perience settled nicely into its load-lugger role in family life. A high sixth gear ratio reduced engine noise at cruising speeds and helps to improve fuel economy. 

The main selling VW Group 150hp version of the 2.0-litre TDI turbodiesel engine gets a little more torque in the X-Perience, now at 340Nm delivered from 1,750rpm. This not only gives more ‘grunt’ for towing or dealing with off-road obstacles but it gives better response in the mid-range when driving on-road. Top speed is 129mph and zero to 62mph takes just 8.7-second which is a little slower than the two wheel drive Leon ST models with the 150hp engine. The fuel economy suffers as well with the official Combined Cycle figure being 57.6mpg for the X-Perience and 68.8mpg for the Leon ST. During my on and off-road test driving experience with the X-Perience the real-life figure was 40.1mpg. 

With CO2 emissions of 129g/km VED road tax is £0 for the First Year rate and then £110 for Year Two onwards. Company car drivers will from April 2015 pay 23% Benefit-in-Kind tax.

As a comparison the Leon ST 150hp TDI front wheel drive estate CO2 figure is 106g/km so VED is £0 and then £20 and BIK 19%. The X-Perience version is also around £3,500 more expensive to buy than the 150hp front wheel drive Leon ST. 

If a two wheel drive Leon ST really isn’t up to the job and a 4x4 version is more suited to an owner’s ‘lifestyle’ needs, the X-Perience is a good option but a more expensive one in terms of purchase and running costs. So the consideration will be how much do I really need 4x4 traction – it’s a head or heart decision? 

MILESTONES: SEAT Leon X-Perience 4x4, SE Technology, 2.0-litre TDI 150hp, 5-door estate (Best selling model). Price: £26,370. Engine/transmission: 2.0-litre, 4-cylinder turbodiesel, 150hp, 340Nm of torque from 1,750rpm, 6-speed manual, on demand 4x4 system. Performance: 129mph, 0-62mph 8.7-seconds, 57.6mpg Combined Cycle (40.1mpg on test), CO2 129g/km, VED road tax £0 First Year rate followed by £110 per annum thereafter, BIK company car tax 23%. Insurance group: 20E. Warranty: 3-years/60,000-miles. Dimensions/capacities: L 4,543mm, W 1,816mm, H 1,481mm, braked towing weight, 2,000kg, boot/load space 587 to 1,470-litres. For: Rugged good looks, high specification, strong engine, added 4x4 traction. Against: Customers must really need the 4x4 traction to justify this costly model over the standard cheaper to buy and run Leon ST 2.0 TDI 150hp estate.   Miles Better News Agency

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