Overall rating: 4/5
With a much-needed SUV still more than a year away, the introduction of the Leon X-Perience by SEAT could be seen as a stop-gap, but underneath it is a genuinely useful four-wheel drive estate that will make a lot of sense to some.
In the Metal:
The give credit where credit is due, the SEAT Leon ST (that's estate to you and me) is already a very handsome car, so giving it the off-road styling treatment could have raised concern over the risk of ruining an already good-looking car. Thankfully SEAT's style gurus took a rather conservative approach with the X-Perience and applied only subtle additions in the form of hard-wearing plastic trim around the wheelarches, lower sills and around the front and rear bumpers, which feature an aluminium-effect scuff plate and diffuser respectively.
Physically the car sits 28mm taller thanks to new springs that help to give the car more ground clearance for the occasions when it does actually venture off-road. The underpinnings also include the latest Haldex four-wheel drive hardware, which, although having a front-wheel bias, can instantly transfer more drive towards the rear, which is especially useful if you're towing heavier loads. It does this via the system's EDS dynamic control and an electronic differential lock (XDS), which greatly improves traction when cornering. The latter has already featured on several high performance models within the Volkswagen Group.
The new car wears its 'X-Perience' name proudly and climbing inside you are again reminded of it by the unique door sill plates and badging on the multi-function steering wheel, while the interior features contrasting orange stitching - highlighting that this is more than just a trim level. In fact, SEAT says that this is the start of a new sub-brand within the marque in a similar vein to Cupra.
Given that the car now sits that bit taller SEAT has made the ride a little firmer, but it remains a supple one and in the case of the more powerful 184hp engine gives it plenty of stability, especially when cornering. Should you opt for this 2.0 TDI engine you will only have the option of that automatic DSG gearbox, but as we have stated many times before it is a very well-engineered transmission and in this latest application works very well with the four-wheel drive system.
The car's steering is light to the touch and although it might not have high levels of direct feedback through the wheel the amount of front-end grip, backed up in this case by the four-wheel drive system, gives plenty of confidence to push the car through a series of corners more than you might in a conventional SUV. Power from the turbocharged engine is near-instantaneous and it is still one of the best diesel engines out there. On the whole it is pretty refined, only becoming quite noisy when pushed close to its redline.
What you get for your Money:
Like any halo car the Leon X-Perience does come with a sizeable price tag, especially when you compare it to the rest of the Leon ST range. But when you look through the levels of standard specification that includes 17-inch twin-spoke alloy wheels, unique X-Perience interior upholstery, dual-zone climate control and cruise control, in addition to the enhanced exterior styling, and of course the four-wheel drive system, it begins to look like a good value package.
Taking the €32,495 starting price and then looking around at some of its direct competition the Leon X-Perience quickly looks like an even more sensible purchase, with the likes of the Skoda Octavia Scout (which is mechanically a virtually identical car) coming in €1,300 more expensive, while the equivalent all-wheel drive Insignia Country Tourer commands a €5,500 premium (admittedly the Opel is quite a bit larger).
If you want all of the style of the Leon X-Perience but don't necessarily need the four-wheel drive system then sit tight, as later next year SEAT intends to introduce a front-wheel drive version of the Leon X-Perience that will have all of the chunky features but should have a lower price tag.
The SEAT Leon X-Perience was also going to be a niche seller and the Spanish company makes no bones about it. For that very small portion of the market though, the X-Perience will tick an awful lot of boxes and given the very keen product offering, it would be a hard one to pass by were you in the market for something along those lines.