Brown to business (Seat Leon X-Perience long-term test month five)

Reviews

The four-wheel-drive estate used to be the vehicle of choice for rural families and those with intrepid aspirations. A grubby Audi A4 Allroad with a roof box and bike rack would be a common sight ten years ago, while the Subaru Forester was the chariot of choice for horsey types and the rural well-to-do.

Since the introduction of the Qashqai in 2006, though, Britain’s automotive landscape changed. UK buyers increasingly opted for bloated soft-roaders, some with more four-wheel-drive credibility than others. The fashionable body shape became, and still is, the SUV or SUV-alike.

That’s one of the reasons why I like the Seat Leon X-Perience so much. It’s an understated car, with small styling tweaks to differentiate it from a vanilla Leon estate – chunkier plastic trim and a subtly taller ride height, for example. It looks good in brown but would be even stealthier in a dark metallic grey. It’s so un-ostentatious that it practically stands out more.

I’ve inherited this long-term test car from Matt Kimberley, who seemed to like the car and even expressed affection for its colour. I’m still not sold on the “Adventure Brown” – a name which gets funnier every time you read it – or the X-perience trim on the interior (yet more brown, including suede-style soft door linings). But I could warm to it over the next few months, like everyone else seems to have done.

The X-Perience is technically commendable. The 148bhp 2.0-litre diesel engine is sweet, quiet and powerful. It’s torquey enough (340Nm) to feel like quite a powerful car at relatively low revs, though I’d like to find out how it handles a horsebox. And with a top speed of 129mph and a 0-62 time of 8.7 seconds, I feel as though the Leon X-Perience’s performance is more than adequate for a family wagon.

And in real life, it certainly isn’t sluggish. Accelerating from a standing start is slightly more rewarding than performing a similar feat in a big, blancmangey crossover, but it’s the 55mph-to-70mph jump that impresses more. The six-speed manual is perfect for UK roads – composed and relaxing on the motorways, but just enough fun on B-roads. (My only gripe so far is that reverse gear is very close to first, so changing direction can take a couple of tries – something I’m sure I’ll get used to.)

It’s a £25,000 car without any add-ons, and this model has about a grand’s worth of extras bolted on. That makes it a pricey car, especially considering the badge. The vanilla Leon hatch starts at around £10,000 less than the car I’m driving, making it very good value – I’m not sure I can say the same of the X-Perience, considering the better-value Octavia Scout from Skoda, and the premium Passat Alltrack for not a great deal more.

That said, the Seat Leon X-Perience certainly wouldn’t be a foolish buy. The sat-nav is the only feature that noticeably lets this car down. I tried to find Heathrow Airport Terminal 3 a few days ago and it gave me a list of half a dozen “Heathrow Airp…” entries, which was very unhelpful. Efforts to find a nearby restaurant the other night were also fruitless, with the screen suggesting a KFC in Canterbury.

Every so often the navigation will stop working entirely, and (rather forlornly) display a map of Wolfsburg.

A Seat estate has never been, and probably never will be, the most desirable car on your street. And there are a few minor problems that I’ve encountered already, ones which might make potential buyers think twice before spending £26,000 on a Seat estate. But there’s a certain je ne sais quoi – or should that be ‘no se que’ – about this oft-overlooked brand, which has never enjoyed the limelight that its German and Czech cousins have, but which continues to churn out decent little cars anyway.

It seems to me – after only a few hundred miles of ownership – that the Seat Leon X-Perience meets all the standards set by a larger 4x4 SUV but with all the road manners of an estate car. The sacrifies you make are the badge, the model name, and – subjectively – the colour.

Seat

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