X-Perience can be ordered with 150- or 184PS 2.0 TDI engines

X-Perience can be ordered with 150- or 184PS 2.0 TDI engines

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The Leon range continues to be SEAT's salvation, its multiple bodystyles successfully tempting ever more buyers to switch to the Spanish brand. The most recent addition, the X-Perience, means the line-up now includes a crossover too.

Buyers have been responding to the news of ever more choice, with Europe-wide sales outpacing the expansion of EU+EFTA markets by one percentage point. SEAT has 2.5% of the regional market according to ACEA's numbers for the first five months of 2015. Its 146,345 registrations represent an 8.0% YoY gain and were it not for the 30.0% surge for Porsche, this would be the Volkswagen Group's most improved division. To add some perspective, that's almost exactly 100,000 cars behind Škoda , 19,000 units behind Dacia, more than twice JLR's total and 14,000 behind Kia Motors Europe.

We’re still a year away from the arrival of the SE376, the project code for SEAT’s first SUV.  There have been several false starts with such a vehicle’s development but come 2016 and the as yet unnamed new model will enter production at Kvasiny in the Czech Republic. 

Why a Škoda plant rather than SEAT’s own Martorell manufacturing base? Pure economics. By building this Qashqai class model at a Skoda plant alongside the next Yeti, the Volkswagen Group should be able to make substantial savings. Next year will be a big one for Volkswagen brand SUVs too, with the much needed B segment model set to appear, supporting the (imminent) second generation Tiguan.

The X-Perience was a relatively cheap and quick way to give SEAT a presence in the European C-crossover class. It will remain in production after the arrival of SE376 and is meant to be a brand builder - at the moment buyers just don’t think of SEAT as a maker of 4x4s. The UK importer launched the X-Perience in January, offering the car with the choice of 150- or 184PS versions of a 1,968cc diesel engine. The lower power and 340Nm engine can be ordered in both SE and SE Technology model grades, while the 184PS/380Nm TDI comes only in top-spec SE Technology form with a six-speed DSG gearbox. Choose the 150PS engine and you instead have a six-speed manual transmission as standard.

Due to the bigger bumpers, the X-Perience measure 4,543mm end to end, making it 7mm longer than the ST with which it shares an estate body. The 4DRIVE system adds a fair bit of weight, the base car tipping the scales at 1,484kg versus 1,350kg for a front-wheel drive Leon ST with the same engine. Go for the 2.0-litre engine and weight rises to 1,529kg. Still, CO2 is a competitive 129g/kg for both 150 and 184 TDIs.

The press-spec car was a top of the range SE Technology 2.0 TDI 184 with DSG automatic transmission. Its GBP28,870 rose to GBP30,615 due to GBP530 worth of ‘Technic Grey’ paint, a GBP255 sound system, rear side airbags (GBP300), a divider net (GBP155) and Adaptive Cruise Control with Front Assist (GBP505). 

Marking the X-Perience out compared to the ordinary ST are items such as those extended bumpers and wheelarches, darkened rear windows, black roof rails, X-PERIENCE and 4DRIVE badges on the tailgate, XP on the steering wheel, aluminium front door sill trims embossed with the model name, and special 18” wheels on 225/45 R18 95 XLW tyres.

The interior is distinctive but perhaps not to the taste of everyone. SEAT won’t worry too much about that as this is a niche model and it does look and feel genuinely luxurious whatever you think of the colour and materials combination. This consists of leather seat bolsters with orange stitching surrounding chocolate brown alcantara-effect inserts. The theme is repeated on the head restraints and doors, while the headliner and roof pillars are covered by an off-white fabric. This lightens what would otherwise be a too-dark cabin.

There was a fault with the model on test, this being the second recent MQB architecture vehicle to have had false warnings concerning low tyre pressure. On the Audi TTS, the alleged ‘loss of pressure’ was for the left rear, and on the SEAT it was the back right. Even after checking and finding all was well, then adding a tiny bit of air for good measure, there continued to be both an illuminated bong upon starting and a flat tyre pictogram stayed illuminated. On both cars. Might there be an issue with the pressure sensors?

The other irritation with the X-Perience can also appear on other VAG cars: the DSG gearbox. It’s a lot better than it once was, but this transmission is not as smooth as a torque converter auto. Obviously it uses less fuel and therefore CO2 numbers are better than they would be with a fully automatic transmission but there are times when this is a truly awful gearbox. If you select reverse whilst stopped on a steep hill, the ratio will take a couple of seconds to engage and when it does, there will be a nasty shunt. It can make for anxious reverse parking too, should the car behind be close.

On the plus side of the ledger, it was a joy to find both an ignition key and a mechanical parking brake, there is a good sized cubby bin which serves also as a driver or passenger armrest (and its top slides back and forth), HVAC controls are of the fast and safe to use on the move rotary variety, while the Nav system was without fault. This also gives you a repeater display between the speedo and tacho for turn-by-turn guidance. The SatNav loaded way faster than the flashier system in the TTS too, though of course it doesn't look as sexy. 

The idle-stop system was keen to shut down the engine as often as it could, but the downside of this can be the shock of a steering wheel suddenly pulling heavily away from your grip should it be turned as you get ready to pull out of a junction. In the same conditions, there will have been a heart in the mouth moment as you cruise to said junction and then hit the right pedal but find you’ve no power for a second or two. Maximising the CO2 number is fine but not at the expense of regularly frightening or irritating the car's owner. I can see most people turning the stop-start system off, which is a shame.

Balancing out the low speed annoyances, on a long trip from the West Country to the Yorkshire Dales, this car was relaxing, a joy to throw in and out of the occasional B-road bend, left me with not even a hint of back pain and returned an average of 47mpg. The official Combined figure is 57.6mpg, while top speed is 139mph and 0-62mph takes 7.1 seconds.

I mentioned above that the X-Perience has been available at UK dealers since the start of the year but I didn’t see any others during my week with the car. In fact, that’s not true: I saw one, but it was on a stand at the Wilton Supercar & Classic Show and I was pleased to see the SEAT stand was fairly busy with potential buyers checking out the brand’s new-ish crossover.

Incidentally, Wilton turned out to be a terrific surprise to me: so much better than the Goodwood Festival of Speed, the latter having become way too pricey, (the WS&C Show was just GBP20), crowded, swamped by marquees which block the best views, dusty and of course sheer hell to get in and out of unless you're on two wheels or stump up hundreds of pounds for a helicopter landing. I have seen the future of relaxed and friendly pre-sale new car browsing - sorry Goodwood but your Moving Motor Show just doesn't even begin to compare (have a look at YouTube to see some vids of Wilton). Dates for next year's event? Can't see them on the website but there are other events coming up.

Back to SEAT, and the X-Perience. The question which remains is an important one: is there really a space in the market for this car? Neither Ford (Focus), nor Opel/Vauxhall (Astra) nor any other brand offers a crossover version of a C segment estate. And yet, Europe’s most successful brand will soon be making available an Alltrack version of the Golf Variant/estate. Perhaps the X-Perience will be a slow burn, and SEAT will turn out to have been first to spot a new segment-within-a-segment?

In his next Future models and vehicle review, Glenn Brooks will peer into Mazda's future models pipeline, after trying out the 2015 CX-5.