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Seat Leon X-perience (2016) long-term test review

Published: 06 April 2016

► It's the Audi Allroad from Spain
► Bulked-up, raised-up Leon estate
► The conclusion to our long-term test

Month 8 running a Seat Leon X-Perience: two-thirds of a year living with the soft-roader estate

When it comes down to it, when the lycra-clad X-perience name has been gladly forgotten, the Adventure Brown paint is just a muddy brown and the protective cladding has repelled nothing more than a runaway shopping trolley, our Seat Leon X-perience is in fact just a pretty straightforward estate car.

It is though, a bloody good one. There are a number of things that make it so, principal of which is the packaging, allowing a lower-medium-sized car to easily deal with everything needed by a family. At no point, whether it was heading to deepest, wettest France on holiday, transporting chickens and dogs or mowers or rubbish to the tip, did it ever feel like we were hampered by a lack of space, and that a larger Mondeo or Superb would be a better option. I might not waffle on about its expeditionary capabilities (or lack of) to people, but I can turn every one of them glassy-eyed about the triumph of engineering that is the MQB platform.

The result is that I would happily have this car over a taller, less nimble crossover, of which the Qashqai is the ubiquitous choice, because it does exactly the same job but without looking like we really wanted a Range Rover, but were too poor. 

There are other things to like a lot about the Leon too. The extra height in the suspension makes it ride very comfortably and I’m glad we went for the lower-powered 150 engine rather than the 184, because there’s no need for any more power in a car like this. It also feels well screwed together and had the sort of workmanlike cabin you felt could take a pasting yet be returned to ship-shape condition with liberal use of baby wipes.

The interior of our Seat Leon X-perience

But. There’s always a but. As I sit here looking out of my office window, herds of Qashqais, Kugas and the like mill about in the street, munching contentedly on families. If I sat here for a week, I’d never see a Leon X-perience. I haven’t seen another on my travels either. So what’s the problem?

The bloody Skoda Octavia Scout, that’s what. If you’re in the market for an estate with cladding and a dependable four-wheel-drive system, strong engine and decent build quality, the Octavia has the market sewn up. 

Here we go again, with Seat getting the crappy deal. The Octavia uses the same platform, yet has a 5cm longer wheelbase for more cabin space. With the seats up, the Skoda has 23 more litres of already ample bootspace, and with them down a vast 270 more. And it is cheaper too, but will make you look like a wind turbine repair man or somebody who squeezes sperm up cattle. The Leon does all that, and looks sharper and funkier too. It would be my choice.

By Steve Moody


Month 7 running a Seat Leon X-Perience: the all-important Quite Wet Field test

I feel as if I’ve been giving our Leon X-Perience an easy ride, lobbing gentle half volleys down for it to smash back over the net: take the kids to school, wander off to Cornwall for a holiday, stick a dog in the boot to go on a nice walk.

Hardly the spirit of adventure and exploration for which this car was clearly conceived. Where’s the crawl up some Patagonian mountain trail in search of a lost tribe of poison-dart-wielding pygmy hermaphrodites? Or inching to the top of Mount Kinabalu in darkest Borneo with my wingsuit in the boot, ready to thence step off the edge and feel the earth rush up as I skirt the rainforest treetops, soaring among rhinoceros hornbills and mountain serpent eagles? 

Because, to be honest, any old car which didn’t have extra ground clearance, four-wheel drive and plastic shoulder pads could do what I have subjected the Leon to and it’s made me feel like I’ve let it down a bit.

Unfortunately, CAR’s budget doesn’t seem to stretch to a wingsuit or a six-month expedition in deepest South America so I was a bit stumped as to what to do. Therefore, in what some might call an anti-climax, but others might term a usefully short, sharp test that ensured the office Friday sticky bun budget was left intact, I found myself spending a Sunday afternoon tackling a journey so fiendish that many a wannabe 4x4 has failed to complete it: the infamous Field of Wet Grass.

Handily a farmer friend of mine owns about a third of Lincolnshire and had a spare corner of it lying dormant, and so he let me have a chug round it.

This, it might seem to you, is hardly redolent of an epic CAR drive, but in actual fact, this is probably about as testing as anything most Leons of this ilk will encounter, and I’ve been in some wet grassy fields in stuff claiming far greater pedigree than Seat and found myself in need of assistance from a tractor and a cider-swigging local.

My friend wasn’t overly convinced I’d survive it, especially having discovered that the promising-sounding Goodyear Efficient Grip tyres are good at reducing fuel consumption, and not much else, the ‘Grip’ bit having nothing to do with off -roading. 

We need not have worried. There was a huge deep bowl of mud to get through to enter the field. I thought it might end before it began, but the Leon cruised through with not a flicker from the traction control. I charged about the field, trying to get it stuck in all manner of muddy pools, or slide it off grassy slopes, but it cruised them all.

Most impressive was the suspension. On a rough field, the damping and suspension travel are excellent, keeping all four wheels stocially in contact with the surface, levelling the car off beautifully, while the Haldex system transfers power pretty snappily to wherever it is needed. You could drive at quite a pace across it without bouncing into the roof lining and the extra inch of clearance ensured it could hop over most things.

Clearly this is not a full off-roader, but I reckon with some mud and snow tyres it would be surprisingly effective in tough conditions, with only steep approach angles causing that long nose bother. Perhaps I’ll pitch the Patagonia trip after all.

By Steve Moody


Seat Leon X-Perience

Month 6 running a Seat Leon X-perience: the Diesel Particulate Filter strikes terror into our hearts

Slap bang in the middle of the Volkswagen Group emissions crisis, I had one of my own. The Diesel Particulate Filter warning light flashed up on the dashboard of the Leon.

Panic stricken, and with my neighbours diving for gas masks and the safety of their Anderson shelters as my pox and NOx riven car arrived home from the school run (yes, dear reader, my children have been exposed to its deadly emissions, but at the moment, they live), I took drastic measures commensurate with such a dire emergency: I consulted the manual.

How could this have happened? Usually it’s the sort of thing that occurs if you live in big cities doing lots of short runs that don’t allow the filter system to get up to temperature and burn the particulates off. Admittedly I’d spent three days tootling about town, but only the Sunday before we’d had a particularly satisfying run down the A1 to see Inside Out at the Peterborough Showcase. Great film, good filter temperatures.

Nevertheless, back to the current crisis. It seems the Leon needed a run of at least 15 minutes at an average of 60mph to get the filter to operate fully. I didn’t have a lot of time, certainly not enough to call DEFRA or COBRA to clear the vicinity and it was still rush hour, but out I ventured. No good. Traffic was too heavy and I had a deadline. I returned back through empty streets like Charlton Heston as the last man alive in a 1960s disaster movie. 

Not in zombie limp-home mode though, which meant we had not yet reached the denouement of the situation, entailing the rescue services of a SEAT dealer. Later that day, I bravely tried again, heading north towards Newark, whose occupants blithely went about their day, blissfully unaware of the pestilential package of particulates heading their way. And then, just five miles south of the sleepy little market town, it happened: the light went off.

A close shave. I returned home, vowing never again to go more than two days without driving to Peterborough. It’s a heavy price, but one worth paying.

By Steve Moody


Seat Leon X-Perience

Month 5 in the long-term Seat Leon X-perience: wipe-clean wonder

Speaking for myself, I’d never spec alcantara, the pleather of the suede world, as I figure it to be a wholly unsuitable canvas for the life of travelling children. It would be disfigured in no time by assorted fluids and melted objects.

The poo-brown central panels of the Leon’s seats are made of the stuff, but are proving immensely wipe-clean and resistant to the kids’ attacks, like the rest of the car. Sums the Leon up really: not made of the finest materials, but impressively hardy.

By Steve Moody


Seat Leon X-Perience

Month 4 running a Seat Leon X-perience: all the family car you need?

I knew there was a reason why I should always have a car equipped with four-wheel drive. It’s because torrential, biblical rain follows me wherever I go. Just ask any CAR snapper lumbered on a shoot with me – anywhere in the world and I’ll drag precipitation along for the ride. So for our holiday this year, the Moody family decided to escape to the south of France because it hardly ever rains there. 

It rained solidly for three days. Fortunately, the Leon’s trusty 4wd system ensured grip and traction on country roads that hadn’t seen water in months, and ended up pretty slippery as a result. And as I sailed past endless fields of sunflowers, sending vast plumes of spray into them like a speedboat on the Med, another thought occurred: this Leon has all the space of a Qashqai or similar, but handles better, is more economical, and less in your face.

Despite easily swallowing the vast amount of stuff needed for such a trip into its cavernous interior I had initially thought the 150bhp Leon might struggle. Not a bit of it. It has lots of grunt and happily cruised the autoroutes, doing nearly 50mpg. Even when being tailgated by holidaying Belgians in Audis (quite simply the planet’s worst combination for motoring standards), I still had enough poke without dropping a gear to create another metre of space for a half a km before they locked on to our bumper again.

Not everything is perfect though. In sixth at 2100rpm, around about 70mph, a drone emanates from under the bonnet, sounding like a really depressed whale has got its fin trapped in the air filter. Fortunately in France the cruise is at 80mph, so Willy is set free, but in the UK he’s ever present, and mightily nauseous. And the sat-nav is so dim-witted and archaic it makes Fred Flintstone look like Bill Gates.

Also, the cabin plastics are at the lower end of the VW Group quality spectrum, and by the end of the trip my elbows hurt. So rain, annoying Belgians and sore extremities. A typical holiday.

By Steve Moody


Month 3 running a Seat Leon X-perience: sweep it under the boot carpet

Three things irritate me more than anything: Nicola Sturgeon, musicals and the mess my wife and kids leave the car in.

In the Leon, the ability to trail half their life around with us is enhanced because they can bung stuff under the boot floor and leave it there. With varying levels, on the highest setting there’s space for all their crap below, and room for the dog to sit on top so I can’t see it. A brilliantly useful – and calming – thing.

By Steve Moody

Seat Leon X-Perience boot


Month 2 running a Seat Leon X-perience: mowers, chickens and surfboards

Right, now that I have a brown four-wheel- drive estate, car it’s been pitched right into the pastoral, rural life that is the Moody family existence – which is pretty much like The Archers, but with better acting.

The cricket club’s mower broke down and to get it to old Malcolm in the village to fix I threw it in the Leon. Then we needed to buy some chickens (because two small kids, a large stupid labrador and a large stupid husband aren’t enough things for my wife to look after), so off we went to Leicestershire where we picked three up. In the boot they went too.

During half term it was decided the Moodys should go on holiday. Adhering strictly to the middle-class stereotype, we headed to North Cornwall, listening to improving radio, with the kids in their Boden summer gear.

At the end of all of this, and probably before she runs off with the lord of the manor or the cow shed burns down or the bus shelter is destroyed by vandals from Borchester, I said to my wife what a remarkable amount of space the MQB platform affords the X-perience, happily swallowing dogs, chickens, mowers, surfboards and kids, and that in the old days nobody bought these Ford Focus-sized estate cars, but with the Leon, they might well do now.

‘It’s not the same size as a Focus!’ she exclaimed. ‘Gosh, it seems much bigger than that!’

And there another fascinating episode of The Moodys ends. Now, it’s time for Front Row here on Radio 4.

By Steve Moody

CAR magazine's Seat Leon X-Perience


Month 1 running a Seat Leon X-perience: the introduction to our long-term test

Well, this is more like it. After 18 months of banging about in hot hatches like some kind of unreconstructed chav who never grew up, that secretive, nefarious selection panel in charge of dishing out long-termers have placed me in far more familiar territory. A brown four-wheel-drive diesel estate.

Round my part of Middle England it seems everybody has something in this line, whether it be old Subarus or new Audis, often with a dog’s nose pressed up against the rear window and a ‘I like hunting, so bugger off you lefty’ sticker. None, though, has the new Seat Leon X-PERIENCE – yet.

I write it with all those capitals because this is the official form, and I think we should get this particular issue out of the way before all that stuff about ride heights, Haldexes and plastic bumpers. 

It’s a stupid name, and I’m not going to change my view on this during its time on the Moody drive. ‘Experience’ I could just about deal with, but X-PERIENCE is painfully constructed. You can see the creatives’ cogs whirring and clanking: the X redolent of extreme sports, just the sort of thing a buffed young go-getter throwing themselves off something rocky needs in a car like this, while adding PERIENCE hints at brave adventures to come, possibly in Patagonia or up a wheezing volcano. To back this up, our car’s paint colour is ‘Adventure Brown’, which sounds like the name of a dashing English explorer from a 1930s novel set in deepest, darkest Africa.

Well, unfortunately I have a more mundane existence, and the most extreme activity this car is likely to aid in is getting me to a particularly tough golf course. As for adventures, well, if you’ve ever tried taking a screaming, bored gaggle of small kids and one smelly Labrador on the bank holiday M5 run to Cornwall, then you’ll reckon that Livingstone’s search for the source of the Nile qualifies as a light jaunt in comparison. I’m hoping the Leon will be faithful transportation for such an expedition. 

We opted for the lower-power six-speed manual 150 rather than the auto 184 because it appears to be a car that is going to be more everyday family workhorse than high-performance motorway glider. The top-of-the-range version though, SE Technology, adds LED headlights, slicker sat-nav, cranked 18-inch alloys, foglights and part-alcantara seats to an already heavily-ticked standard spec.

In line with the other countrified cars in the Volkswagen Group stable, the X-PERIENCE is girded with aluminium scuff plates, extra plastic bumpers and wheelarches, an increased ride height of 28mm and the trusty Haldex four-wheel-drive system that generally feeds everything to the front wheels unless it detects slippage, in which case up to 50% can be slung over the shoulder to the rears, adding more grunt.

So there are a number of questions this car has to answer during its time with us: can a Seat really be worth nearly 30 grand? Is this a useful stop-gap for that crossover-sized hole in the Seat range? Are C-sector cars genuine family estates now, and not just transport for photocopier repairmen and their spares? And will we find the source of the Nile in it? Adventure awaits…

By Steve Moody

Click here to read CAR's first drive of the Seat Leon X-perience

CAR magazine's long-term Seat Leon X-perience

By CAR's road test team

Our reviewers: fresh perspectives for inquisitive minds

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