IAIN ROBERTSON

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While niche models may be all the rage in today’s motor industry, there is one major player that comprehends the cocktail significantly better than the others, suggests Iain Robertson, even if getting it right is sometimes wrong.

 

Infamous rock musician and arch-polemicist of the Hippie generation, Jimi Hendrix, wanted to know if you recognised the impact of his debut album, when he asked in its title: “Are You Experienced?”. His stellar support band was known as ‘The Experience’ and, if you were around during that period, the word will have engendered all of the mind-altering colour, spectacle and aural immorality that he wished to impart.

 

I wish that X-Perience in Seat-speak could be something more than moving in an automotive sense but, sadly, it is both named unfortunately, perhaps even slightly desperately, and has priced itself out of the game of car buying, pitched in test guise at a whopping £32,355. To be fair, that figure also includes the Lux Pack (£1,250; leather upholstery, with simulated hide bolsters, a ‘winter pack’, electrically adjustable driver’s seat and chrome roof rails), the Park Assistance Pack (£500; front and rear sensors, rear-view camera and Optical Parking System display) and the Full Link at £150, which incorporates ‘Mirrorlink’, Apple CarPlay and Android Auto.

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However, the base price for the SE Technology 2.0TDi 184ps, with 6-speed DSG transmission, is still a mind-warping £29,880, plus £575 for the Nevada White metallic paint finish. Sorry, Seat, but you have got it wrong. Actually, it is its parent Volkswagen Group that clearly does not have the measure of the UK car buying market, because it sets the parameters, within which Seat must operate and, frankly, the bar has been set unrealistically. It is a factor that clearly effects the sales of Seat products in the UK, which, to put it simply, are not as good as they ought to be and even sorely overpriced Skoda is giving the notionally Spanish brand a run for consumers’ money these days.

 

If the pictures do not convey what exactly a Seat X-Perience is all about, then allow me to explain. Based on the relatively popular Leon model, albeit in ST (Sport Tourer) guise, the X-Perience is Seat’s equivalent to Skoda’s Octavia Scout. Volkswagen is the ‘master manipulator’ on the chassis engineering front and there are several models across the entire Group’s range that share the ‘MQB’ platform, among them the Golf, Audi TT, Audi A3 and Beetle. For a long time, I have been full of praise for VW and the manner by which it manages to imbue quite different characteristics and behavioural patterns into each of these cars and, while there are inevitable carry-overs, in terms of switchgear and core technology, they all embody unique appeal. Therefore, it is appropriate to state that I comprehend the direction of the Group, in this respect.

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Of course, the higher the level of share options, technically, the lesser should be the cost implications and shared technology equates to higher Group profits potential, all without hiking up the price tags of fairly rudimentary motorcars to unattainable levels. Perhaps you might now start to understand my logic about value for money. The problem that exists lies in what is commonly termed ‘market pricing’, in other words, a level at which the manufacturer believes an acceptable price tag ought to be placed, which takes into account ‘competitive offerings’ and other perceptions…but not aspects related to ‘monopolising’. However, it would seem that the Volkswagen ‘bubble’, within which its marketing personnel reside, might be about to burst and not for the exhaust emissions’ reasons that you might think.

 

Wise money will go to Skoda, because it is roomier than the Leon ST, is just as durable and well built and is every bit as zesty in the form tested. Yet, taken on its own merits, there is nothing at all wrong with the Seat. It is a handsome model, enhanced with its slightly hiked-up stance, partly to accommodate but mainly to highlight the 4WD system, and the additional plastic body addenda expected on a multi-surface car.

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As the top model in the Leon line-up, it is equipped to a high standard. The much vaunted but actually not that great full-LED headlamps array is the Leon calling card, backed up with tail-lamps of a similar technological order. The SE aspect of the trim designation includes one inch greater diameter alloy wheels (up from 17-inches), clad in 225/45×18 tyres. As the estate car model, the full-width tailgate opens by flipping the neat electric switch in the ‘S’ logo to reveal a practically-shaped boot of 380-litres that can be expanded to 587-litres, when the 60:40 split rear seats are folded. If extra space is required, optional cost roof bars will create a means for bike carriers and top-boxes to be fitted.

 

Although you would be fairly hard pushed to tell the difference between the real leather and faux-hide, the interior will carry up to five adults in comfort up front and moderate comfort behind. The fact that the upholstery can be wiped clean is of benefit to the adventurous X-Perience owner, after whisking across broken ground. To be fair, the 4Drive system is geared more towards on-road stability than mud-plugging but the Seat is not averse to heading off-road, aided by its electronic differential lock, although the ground clearance is not at SUV levels.

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The standard-fit, five-inch touch screen is common to a large number of VW models and its functions are eminently accessible, with Post Code search for the sat-nav, a read-out for several other functions, including the five adjustable drive modes, and an excellent DAB stereo system that provides first-rate sound reproduction. While the rest of the trim is a bit bleak and dark grey, it is of exceedingly high quality, lifted slightly by the application of red stitching for the steering wheel, parking brake lever and DSG transmission selector gaiter.

 

Powering the X-Perience is the latest 2.0-litre turbo-diesel engine. In this form it develops 181bhp (184ps) and a substantial 280lbs ft of torque. Renowned for its range of pulling potency, the maximum is attained across a surprisingly narrow 1,750-3,000rpm rev band, although the feeling at the controls is of strident punch available for all driving situations. A stop-start facility is said to aid fuel economy but its almost imperceptible operation is actually more beneficial from cutting idling engine noise, when at a standstill. Its Official Combined fuel return is given as 57.6mpg but, in typical VW form, it is a figure that most drivers should be able to attain and, even punting the car around town, it was difficult to drop the overall consumption below 54mpg, which means in excess of 600-miles range from a full tank (55-litres) of diesel, a factor that can be useful for one’s back pocket. Tipping the scales at 1,529kgs, the X-Perience is not exactly lightweight but it can tow a braked trailer of up to 1,600kgs, which makes it a useful workhorse.

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Bearing in mind that all four wheels can be driven during normal motoring, I think that the Seat’s top speed of 139mph is competitive, while its 0-60mph acceleration time of 6.8 seconds is plentifully swift. The mid-range figures are also good for making speedy progress, when you want to and the CO2 emissions rating of 129g/km equates to an annual VED payment of just £110.

 

The twin-clutch automated gearbox is a typical delight to use, in either Drive or Manual settings. While shifts can be made using the gearstick, the up and down paddles are located behind the steering wheel cross-spokes as usual, which allow for the expected additional control that a lot of drivers enjoy. The electro-hydraulic power steering is fantastic, providing an ideal combination of meaty balance and feedback to the driver’s fingers. However, the excellent spoke-located minor controls can be activated sometimes, if you are twirling the tiller a lot in car park manoeuvres.

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The Seat’s brakes provide steadfast stability and fade-free stopping performance, even from quite high speeds. Overall, the driving X-Perience, sorry, experience is actually most rewarding. The ride quality is fluent, while the handling envelope is very engaging for most types of driver.

 

Conclusion:   As the Seat Leon X-Perience is such a good driving machine, it is a pity that Seat cannot sort out its list prices somewhat better. When I asked anybody prepared to aid my thought processes about its pricing, nobody believed the actual level at which it is pegged, the majority guessing in the £23-£25,000 bracket, which highlights the disconnect that Seat may have with its potential customer base. I like the car. I do not like its cost.

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About Iain P W Robertson

Frequently being told to 'go forth and multiply', Iain P W Robertson's automotive wisdom is based on almost forty years in the business, across all aspects from sport to production, at the highest levels. He likes dogs and drives a Suzuki (not related).