2014 Seat Leon ST X-Perience review
We drive the rugged new Seat Leon ST X-Perience, which gets tougher styling, raised suspension and four-wheel drive to help the Leon estate appeal to SUV buyers...
The Seat Leon X-Perience is intended as a new flagship offshoot model in the highly successful Leon range, and also lays the groundwork for the planned arrival of Seat’s first-ever SUV, due in 2016.
As the name suggests, the Leon X-Perience gets an electronic four-wheel-drive system, and taller ground clearance compared with the Leon ST, plus exterior cladding for the bodywork, and a mild interior makeover.
The UK range comprises two trim levels (SE and SE Technology), a 2.0-litre diesel engine in two states of tune (148bhp and 181bhp) and either a six-speed manual or a twin-clutch DSG automatic.
What's the 2014 Seat Leon ST X-Perience 2.0 TDI 184 DSG like to drive?
On the road, the Leon X-Perience feels much like the standard Leon ST, which is a positive. The driving position remains very estate-like, so you don't look down on other traffic like you would in an SUV.
Despite the subtly raised ride height the car rides and handles comfortably on most surfaces, while retaining its poise through corners, even in tight and tricky bends. There’s a smidgen of body roll during tight cornering, but nothing that feels uncomfortable. The onus is on sure-footedness rather than precision, but the X-Perience never feels ponderous.
A short drive off-road proved that there's some merit in Seat’s claims of a modicum of countryside rambling ability, with the Leon X-Perience competently dealing with the usual obstacles of rutted tracks, slippery grass and steep hills, but it still isn’t as adept in the rough as some SUVs; think of it as a versatile estate rather than anything more.
Regardless of whether it's in 148bhp or 181bhp tune, the 2.0-litre turbodiesel engine offers more than enough shove from low revs all the way through the range. There’s a hint of diesel clatter on start-up, and under heavy acceleration, but for the most part the motor is acceptably refined, and never overly intrusive.
The six-speed DSG transmission has an occasional tendency to hold a gear for longer than you’d desire at low speeds, but is unobtrusive for the most part; the manual has a perfectly acceptable shift that's slick enough for you to keep up with the prodigious low-end torque.
The most potent Leon X-Perience is currently only available with the DSG auto gearbox, while the less powerful model is manual only, which might be a deciding factor for buyers looking to use theirs for hauling a caravan or a trailer. Incidentally, the 181bhp Leon can tow up to 1600kg, although a tow-bar preparation is an option, not standard.
Another useful selling point is that the Leon X-Perience is one of few four-wheel-drive models on the market to dip below the 130g/km of CO2 banding regardless of engine choice; it consequently carries a 21% benefit-in-kind rate for company car tax. Seat anticipates that this rugged variant will be popular with fleet buyers too, with a straight 50:50 split between retail and fleet sales.
What's the 2014 Seat Leon ST X-Perience 2.0 TDI 184 DSG like inside?
Most of the cabin is carried over from the standard Leon ST, so you get decent interior space for four adults, a well-laid-out if slightly plain dashboard and decent-quality materials throughout. The high transmission tunnel in the back does mean foot space is a bit limited for a third passenger though.
The addition of extra mechanicals for the four-wheel drive system hasn’t impinged on boot space, which remains the same as the Leon ST at an impressive 587 litres with the rear seats in place, expanding to 1470 litres with the bench folded, which can be achieved with just one pull of a lever in the luggage bay.
Trouble is, its VW Group stablemate the Skoda Octavia Scout is usefully more practical, with a larger boot, and it's also cheaper when equipped with the higher-powered engine and DSG gearbox, with prices starting at £27,990.
To set this Leon apart from other STs, there are a selection of bespoke interior colour combinations, including some brown Alcantara seats with contrasting orange stitching (which works better than it sounds) and some bespoke badges that are befitting of the plushest model in the range.
Equipment levels are competitive: the top SE Technology specification includes Seat’s enhanced media system with a 5.8in colour touch-screen that now has easier to read maps, DAB and satellite-navigation, plus auto headlights, wipers and dimming rear view mirror.
Lesser SE models have to do without the Alcantara seats, 18-inch wheels and nav system of the flagship but still come with all the essentials, including a decent infotainment system, cruise and climate control, and rear parking sensors.
Should I buy one?
The X-perience is a worthy addition to the Leon range, because unlike the Skoda Octavia, this is the only Leon ST you can buy with four-wheel drive.
That said, we wouldn't choose one with the range-topping engine and DSG gearbox combination; Seat itself thinks the smart money will go on the lower-powered SE Technology model, which strikes a sweeter balance between generous kit levels and an attractive sticker price.
In fact, we'd say the 148bhp SE Technology is worth four stars, one more than the 184bhp DSG auto. It beats the all-wheel-drive Vauxhall Insignia Country Tourer and the front-wheel-drive Volvo V40 Cross Country on price and practicality, and is more frugal.
Despite the lure of all-wheel-drive, it’s also worth thinking hard about the compelling necessity for the extra traction. If you don’t plan to ever venture off road, a regular Leon ST shod with winter tyres may do the job as winter-proof family transport just as well, offering better fuel economy and a lower price.
What Car? says...
Seat Leon X-Perience 2.0 TDI 184 DSG
Engine size 2.0-litre diesel
Price from £28,870
Torque 280b ft
0-62mph 7.1 seconds
Top speed 139mph
Fuel economy 57.6mpg
Seat Leon X-Perience 2.0 TDI 150
Engine size 2.0-litre diesel
Price from £24,385
Torque 251lb ft
0-62mph 8.7 seconds
Top speed 129mph
Fuel economy 58.9mpg