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, Britains 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.
Thats one of the reasons why I like the Seat Leon X-Perience so much. Its 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. Its so un-ostentatious that it practically stands out more.
Ive inherited this long-term test car from Matt Kimberley, who seemed to like the car and even expressed affection for its colour. Im 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. Its torquey enough (340Nm) to feel like quite a powerful car at relatively low revs, though Id 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-Periences performance is more than adequate for a family wagon.
And in real life, it certainly isnt sluggish. Accelerating from a standing start is slightly more rewarding than performing a similar feat in a big, blancmangey crossover, but its 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 Im sure Ill get used to.)
Its a £25,000 car without any add-ons, and this model has about a grands 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 Im driving, making it very good value Im 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 wouldnt 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 Ive encountered already, ones which might make potential buyers think twice before spending £26,000 on a Seat estate. But theres 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.