What better opportunity could there be to try out Seat’s first venture into four-wheel-drive territory – the Seat Leon X-Perience? We were planning a trip to the far north of Scotland, heading along the north coast and back through the North West Highlands.
The extra 15 mm of ground clearance of the X-Perience would help if we encountered any rutted tracks, while the four-wheel-drive system would mean that the occasional grassy field won’t cause any issues.
Being based on the Seat Leon ST Wagon, the X-perience has the same ability to take all the boots, back packs, jackets and overnight bags we wanted for this long-weekend jaunt. Unlike some others, the big, flat load floor is not compromised by a raised floor for the four-wheel-drive system and, at 587 litres it is pretty generous.
We headed north on trunk roads, noting with pleasure that our test car came equipped with an adaptive cruise control that regulates the speed to maintain the gap with the car in front. I am becoming a real fan of these systems as they make for less fraught driving conditions when cars in front are constantly changing speed.
North of Inverness we joined the flowing roads over the Black Isle and Cromarty Firth, where under-utilised drilling rigs are “stacked” in the firth waiting for the price of oil to recover.
It was on the twisty B-road over by Struie to the Strath of Sutherland that we began to wish for a slightly tighter suspension set up – a little more body roll is the downside of that extra 15mm ride height. The steering proved light and precise on this twisty mountain section, but the enthusiast in me did crave a little more weight and feedback. That said it feels secure and tackled the crests and turns with no drama.
Fuel economy is excellent on the Seat Leon X-Perience SE 2.0 Tech TDI that we drove. On the trunk roads north, we had achieved over 50 mpg without any intent to economy drive – and that was also with ’sport’ selected in the vehicle set up.
As we headed north towards the dramatic Berriedale Braes and Dunbeath, where the dramatic white castle, perched on the clifftop, looks out on the Beatrice oil platforms, the Leon X-Perience was still easily returning very healthy economy at 46 mpg.
This economy is probably aided by the Leon normally putting its power out only through the front wheels (driving all four inevitably uses more fuel). But, when needed, up to 50% of the power can be switched almost instantly to the rear wheels to maintain grip and traction.
That two-litre diesel engine delivers a generous amount of torque and the Leon X-Perience would happily pick up speed on the Highland hills from even quite low speeds in a high gear, without protest.
Diesels don’t always excel in the 0-60 mph sprint. So as the official 8.7 seconds suggests, the performance will satisfy all but the most avid performance enthusiasts. That’s particularly creditable given the additional 120kg added by the four-wheel-drive system. If you still feel the need for more power, there is a 184 bhp version of the 2.0 diesel.
Our journey north took four hours. So, it is a credit to the Leon that we arrived in Castletown, close to the most northerly point on the British mainland at Dunnet Head, feeling fresh, comfortable and ready for the next leg of our long weekend drive. The Leon X-Perience had been easy to drive, relaxed and refined. Engine noise is effectively silenced and road and wind noise were never intrusive.
The driving position is good and the controls are well laid out and logical. The Seat shuns the electric parking brake of its Volkswagen Group siblings for a conventional handbrake.
The interior trim was perhaps not what I would have chosen from the brochure, with a brownish suede-like Alcantara finish on the door panels, which looked a bit 1980s to my eye (“other options are available”, as they say). Otherwise, the interior is given a nice upmarket lift with tasteful silvered highlights.
Passenger space is good, unless you try to sit behind a long-legged front seat passenger – in which case lanky rear seat passengers may wish to do some horse-trading over knee room.
After a stop at dramatic Smoo Cave and a visit to the John Lennon Memorial in Durness, we headed down the West Coast, through Rhiconich and Laxford to the dramatic, sweeping Kylesku Bridge – star of a myriad of TV commercials.
Despite still being in the holiday period, most of the traffic seemed to be German and Dutch motorhomes. I had almost forgotten the joys of quiet roads. But, they still exist here in the Highlands. It was most notable when you stopped at junctions expecting to do the repeated looks to left and right, like a demented Wimbledon spectator. Normally all that was needed on these roads was a double check that there was, indeed, no traffic before joining the main road.
In these parts, many of the roads are “floated” on peat bogs, something which results in the classic peat bog undulations. The Seat Leon X-Pression rode these crests and dips with ease, maintaining its composure and soaking up any bumps.
At the end of the weekend we had clocked up some 400 miles on roads ranging from 70 mph dual carriageways to some of the narrowest single track roads imaginable. We only had to refill the tank once, when we were well into the home stretch.
This was a good test of the Seat Leon X-Perience and one that confirmed this as a strong contender in the growing market for estate cars that offer a something of the off-road ability needed for lovers of our great outdoors. Seat Leon X-Perience SE Tech TDi
Carbon dioxide emissions: 129 g/km
VED band ??
Combined fuel economy 58.9 mpg
Top speed: 129 mph
0-62: 8.7 secs
Power 150 bhp
Engine size 1968cc petrol/diesel
Boot capacity 587/1470 (back seats up/folded)