Overall rating: 4/5
Simple and effective, the Leon X-Perience might not be the 'proper' SEAT crossover we're waiting for but it's an attractive car for country types all the same.
In the Metal:
Well, it's a Leon. In estate form. With some stick on plastic panels and higher ride height. So we're not exactly talking the best work of Giugiaro or Pininfarina, but it's handsome enough and looks suitably rugged - an estate car that's been on a shopping binge in Timberland.
Inside, aside from an extra X-Perience badge on the gear lever, there's little else to distinguish the all-wheel drive Leon from the regular ST estate. Not that there's a huge amount wrong with that - you get comfy seats, a high quality cabin, a neat and effective touch screen and plenty of space. Subjectively it feels a little less roomy than the rival (and mechanically identical) Skoda Octavia Scout but there's not much in it according to the tape measure.
There's a really, lovely, positive feel to the way the standard Leon drives and the X-Perience hasn't lost that. It's somewhat hard to quantify in words, but it's a sensation of tension and solidity to the suspension and the steering that just makes the car really nice to set off in. It nails the 'first 50 metres' feel that people rabbit on about being so important for a new customer.
In spite of the extra 27mm of ride height, the chunky tyres and the extra weight of the four-wheel drive system, there's not much difference to how the car actually feels. So the ride remains firm-ish but soft enough to be comfy while the steering is still noticeably sharper in terms of palm-feel to that fitted to its Volkswagen, Skoda and Audi relations.
The Haldex four-wheel drive system is the latest, third-generation version, which works effectively and almost entirely in the background. There is an argument that says you don't really need it but on badly made roads crackling at the edges with frost and un-melted snow on our test drive, it felt really rather reassuring to have it.
Performance from the 150hp 2.0-litre TDI diesel engine is as good as it's ever been and the Leon pulls strongly but without excessive diesel rattle and clatter. We didn't get the chance to try the X-Perience off-road on this brief test, but it tackled rough and poorly maintained Wicklow backroads without any complaint and to be honest, there are few tougher tests of any car. The Octavia Scout can do remarkable things in proper off-roading situations, so there's no reason to doubt that the Leon can do the same. Better yet, the XDS electronic differential can help not just with off-roady traction stuff but can help keep you sure-footed on tarmac too.
What you get for your Money:
The most significant fact is that the Leon X-Perience is cheaper than the Octavia Scout. This 150hp 2.0 TDI model is actually around €1,200 less than the equivalent Skoda, which is not to be sniffed at, especially when all you're sacrificing is a few litres of boot space. There's a similar €1,500 gap between the 184hp TDI models and there will be a sub-€30k 1.6-litre TDI front-wheel drive version arriving soon. All models come as standard with 17-inch X-Perience alloy wheels, rear park distance control, cruise control, a five-inch colour touch screen with USB/SD/Bluetooth phone and audio streaming. Sport seats with unique X-Perience upholstery, leather steering wheel, gear knob and handbrake are available as options along with dual-zone climate control. The 184bhp DSG model also has SEAT Drive Profile, which provides the option of different steering and throttle response settings.
It's not the full-on Qashqai rival that SEAT really needs right now to start creating a proper beach-head for itself in the European car market, but the Leon X-Perience is useful, practical, good to drive and excellent value for money. It's also rather more capable in terms of the terrain that it will tackle than most owners would ever believe.