Fancy A New X-PERIENCE? The Soft-Roader From SEAT

Early on a cold Spring morning I roused myself from the DriveWrite pit and set off to the dark depths of the Forest of Dean for the launch of the brand new SEAT X-PERIENCE. I was concerned about attacks from rabid, rogue wild boar that abound in this area of outstanding natural beauty but in fact all I encountered were some recalcitrant sheep who thought they owned the road.

But I digress. I was there to test-drive the X-PERIENCE, a four-wheel drive version of SEAT’s well regarded Leon ST, an estate version of the popular family car. The ST is itself an award-winning motor in that it has been voted – for its sector – the 2015 Towcar of the Year Award by the RAC. Additionally, it has garnered approval from the Caravan Club which has praised the ST thus: ‘the load-lugging Leon ST 2.0 TDI 184PS kept its torquey feel and produced punch whenever and wherever it was required.’ A great template then on which to base the X-PERIENCE.The Engine

There’s only one, a 2.0L TDI but it comes in two flavours. I was fortunate enough to drive both. With a beefy 148bhp, the SE trim version (shown in silver here) has plenty of power and is available with a six-speed manual gearbox offering just the right ratios to get this car up the road to 62mph in a lively 8.7 seconds. With 236lb.ft of torque it pulls very well in all gears. If however, you are thirsty for more oomph then opt for the 181bhp (280lb.ft) SE Technology alternative. It only comes with the now legendary six-speed DSG gearbox. As the old song says, like love and marriage, you can’t have one without the other.The latter engine would be my choice, powering the car to 62mph in just 7.1 seconds – which is quicker than some so-called hot hatches. The difference is that the X-PERIENCE (the name comes in capitals) does it without any drama. Either way, this is a very good engine that is commendably quiet, exhibiting a not unpleasant growl under heavy acceleration.

The 4Drive System

This isn’t a mud-plugger by any means but the extra traction provided by the 4Drive system works well. It’s the latest version of the now ubiquitous Haldex electronic on-demand set-up. On the road in normal conditions it’s a front-driver but when needed drive is switched to the other wheels by way of an intelligent EDS ‘dynamic control’ system.Not content with just telling us that, the very welcoming folk from SEAT had carefully laid on some well planned routes that including a stretch of unmade forest road with inclines, twists and turns that enabled the assembled jaundiced journos to pretend they were Chris Meeke for a day. That’s confidence in a product for you and I for one made the most of it. Driving the DSG version I took off down the track aiming for the muddiest sections and, it has to be said, the X-PERIENCE took it all in its stride. Only once, on a particularly tight gnarly corner was there any slippage and that was brought back under control instantly by the 4Drive system. As I said, not a mud-plugger but very competent none the less.The Steering And Drive

The whole Leon range uses an electro-mechanical steering system. It was a tad light for my preference but by tinkering with the SEAT Drive Profile in the SE Technology this can be weighted up (a bit) by choosing one of the options: ECO, Normal, Sport and Individual). The steering can be stiffer, the throttle more sensitive and dynamic chassis control alters the damping characteristics. Thus the car can be set up to suit driving style or for travelling under different road conditions.

The Rest

The X-PERIENCE follows the family style; it’s smart and sharp without being flashy, featuring roof rails as standard and body mouldings on the wheel arches for that chunky ‘off-road’ look. Ride height is raised from the regular ST estate by a couple of centimetres but that doesn’t make any difference to the on-road ride. Some say the SEAT is fine on smooth surfaces but a little unsettled on Britain’s ruined roads. I can see their point but I don’t like a car that’s too softly sprung anyway. The fault for the state of our roads lies elsewhere in any case but that’s a whole other article.The colour palette for the range, is, I have to say, subdued. The car looks good in white but personally I’d go for SEAT’s standard, no cost, house colour of ‘Emocion Red’. The X-PERIENCE rides on standard 17” alloys (seen on the ‘ice silver’ car in my images) but I preferred the attractive 18” wheels found on the SE technology model. They look good and made no appreciable difference to the quality of the ride.

Round the back, there’s a discreet twin tailpipe. Open the hatch and a goodly space of 587 litres is revealed, sufficient for a family holiday. Drop the back seats and there’s a cavernous 1470L available. The well-shaped boot has a false floor for extra storage and there’s a handy 12v socket available.The cabin, like the whole car, seems very built and there’s loads of technology on offer. The mix n’ match options available for this car, as is the trend these days, are legion (see fact sheets below). There simply isn’t room to list them all but do have a look here and all will be revealed. The seats are very supportive and covered with a mix of simulated leather and cloth or Alcantara, depending. Trim levels are good and there is a minimum of hard plastic. The problem, when trying the cars, is that potential buyers are always going to seduced by the Alcantara seats and linings over the cheaper cloth. There’s tons of kit available (Climate, Bluetooth, and all the other usual suspects) and many useful cubbies for storage.

I was disappointed with the standard fit sat-nav and the voice assistance which seemed overtly artificial. Certainly the navigation worked well enough without too much intrusive chatter but it lets the smart roomy interior down. Better then to reach for the options list and select the expensive but desirable larger screen and technology available via the ‘Navigation System High’.

This is a very practical family car with some nice touches. It is easy for a customer, running at showroom temperature, to ramp up the bill however, what with driver packs, safety packs, winter packs and the like. The SE version shown costs £24,915 including over £2000 worth of options. The SE Technology costs, including options, just over £30k and that doesn’t include the superior navigation. Rein in those impulses though because most drivers would be happy with a more or less basic SE trim version. It’s very good to drive, has plenty of power and space and, officially at least, will return 57.6mpg whilst only emitting 129g/km of the nasty stuff.

I am though but a weak man. The extra power of the DSG version coupled with a quality Alcantara clad interior, those smart wheels and all that extra tech would have me ticking boxes like there was no tomorrow. I would subsequently have to spend a lot of time placating Mrs DriveWrite but hey, there’s no such thing as a free lunch, is there? Except with SEAT, obviously.SEAT are a company that has been coming on in a measured fashion. Their sales figures show steady year on year improvements and the standard has risen consequently. This is largely thanks to the tie-up with parent company Volkswagen and it is paying dividends. This model distantly heralds the arrival of a SEAT SUV, possibly based on the new 20V20 Concept (shown below), for 2016.

The Spanish manufacturer has produced a very fine car. There are several possible rivals to this vehicle within the ‘soft-roader’ sector but I reckon the SEAT Leon X-PERIENCE has them beaten.Geoff Maxted