16/12/2013 13:45 | By CJ Hubbard, contributor, MSN Cars

SEAT’s future model plans

How SEAT hopes to expand with plans for a Qashqai-rivalling SUV and more


SEAT Tribu concept (© SEAT)

Last week MSN Cars went to visit SEAT at its major base of operations – the Martorell factory in Spain. Here we spoke to CEO Juergen Stackmann and executive vice president for research and design Dr. Matthias Rabe about the brand’s future model plans.

Chief amongst these plans is SEAT’s desire to build an SUV – following on from the Tribu concept of 2007 (pictured above), this much touted project has suffered numerous delays and production ‘freezes’ and still isn’t signed off at this stage. But we were shown a brand new full-scale model during our visit, completed just two weeks ago.

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Alongside the SUV, we were also shown preview versions of the SEAT Leon Cupra five-door hot hatch that will debut at the Geneva Motor Show 2014, and the SEAT Lean ST X-perience, an off-road orientated version of the Leon estate that will debut at the Paris Motor Show 2014.

Sadly, such was the hush-hush nature of the meeting we weren’t allow to take any pictures – but we can report what we were shown and told, and you can expect to see the first details of the new cars in the new year.


Is SEAT going to build an SUV?

It’s clear that SEAT really, really wants to build an SUV. Stackmann and Rabe believe that a 4x4 is a perfect fit for the company, and will help drive its expansion. SEAT is already the most youthful brand in the Volkswagen Group portfolio, and a fun-to-drive off-roader would only enhance this image.

However, it is also clear that at this stage the SEAT SUV project still hasn’t been given the green light – though a decision is imminent.


What will the SEAT SUV be called?

There’s no word on an official name for the SEAT SUV yet, which is hardly surprising given that the project is still in limbo at present. The two-week-old full-size styling model shown to us was labelled Tribu and SE376 (an internal reference designation), with PR2 W50 in smaller text.

But we are assured it won’t be called the Tribu in production, and in truth the model looks closer (though nowhere near identical) to the IBX concept of 2011, rather than the Tribu of 2007. Nor will it make any kind of reference to the Leon name, even though the off-roader will be based on the same underlying VW Group ‘MQB’ platform as the hatchback.

SEAT IBX SUV concept (© SEAT)

 

What does the SEAT SUV concept look like?

That the SUV would be built on the same platform as the Leon demonstrates the MQB architecture’s flexibility, because it is a much bigger car – not just taller but longer and chunkier, too.

The length is emphasised on the latest design model by a striking horizontal swage line, which alongside the flattened top edge of the wheel arches also helps the roofline seem lower. We’re told SEAT’s car is actually taller than the latest Nissan Qashqai, but it looks sleek and sporty – and very much in keeping with the brand.

However, some of the detailing is a little more Audi than SEAT at this stage. The headlights, for example, aren’t as angular as those of the latest Leon. And that swage line may be striking, but it is in contrast to the diverging lines of current SEAT models. As a result it does seem rather more Germanic than Spanish, but tweaks remain on going.

It’s a similar story with the interior styling model. The main controls are angled towards the driver, and separated into two zones in the usual SEAT fashion, with the central touchscreen lined-up with the main instrument cluster, and secondary items such as the air conditioning controls below.

This mock-up also reveals a rotary driving mode selector, much like the one installed in Range Rovers. But over on the passenger side, the dashboard area is rather plain, and almost a little bit Skoda. Again, SEAT is aware of the issues, and still refining its ideas.

 
What will the SEAT SUV be like to drive and will it be a 4x4?

The driving mode selector appears to control various traction settings, so the SEAT SUV will very much be offered as a proper four-wheel drive. Whether that’s the same as saying it will be good off-road is another matter, and the increased efficiency of two-wheel drive means this too will be available.

According to Stackmann, the five-door Leon FR “describes the [SEAT] brand”, and as the SUV has been conceived as a “brother” to the Leon – albeit one with its own distinct identity – we can expect the on-road driving experience to be engaging, but balanced.

Rabe further explains that this means it is “not a sports car, but playful to drive… We want people who drive the car to feel young.” So it will be fun, but not too firm – as feeling young isn’t the same as being young. Engineering prototypes are already being tested.


What are the SEAT SUV’s main rivals?

The SEAT SUV has been conceived as a five-seater only, so it’s not going to replace the Alhambra MPV. But it will take on cars like the Nissan Qashqai, Kia Sportage and Mitsubishi ASX more than larger SUVs, such as the Honda CR-V and Ford Kuga.

Another key competitor will come from inside the Volkswagen Group, in the form of the follow up to the current Skoda Yeti, which is likely to be based on a very similar model and built on the same factory line.

SEAT Tribu concept (© SEAT)

Why is an SUV so important to the SEAT brand?

It’s no secret that SEAT has been struggling for sales in recent years, following the global financial crisis and the collapse of the car market across Europe – especially since Spain was amongst the worst affected. So in order to return to success, the firm is focusing on mainstream models with an individual twist.

The latest Leon is proving a huge success on this basis, being a car that is clearly like a Golf – SEAT sensibly makes no secret of its German connection, this was the subtext of the ‘Enjoyneering’ slogan – but more interesting to look at, better value and, arguably, more fun to drive.

For Stackmann and Rabe, an SUV is the natural next step from here, being a lifestyle-orientated vehicle that appeals to the kind of young-minded buyers that are typically attracted to the SEAT brand. Especially since the Qashqai-sized SUV-crossover segment is still expanding and there are many new buyers to be captured here.


Will there be other SEAT SUVs?

This suggests that a whole family of SEAT SUVs could be on the cards, particularly in reference to the car that eventually replaces the current Ibiza (which will also be based on the MQB platform).

While cautiously optimistic about such possibilities, Rabe and Stackmann both underline that new Ibiza models are too far away to entertain serious considerations about Nissan Juke-rivalling crossover variants at this stage. After all, the main SUV isn’t even signed-off yet.


When will the SEAT SUV go on sale?

Given this, we’re a long way from knowing exactly when any SEAT SUV would go on sale, let alone how much it would cost. However, even if SEAT gets the green light before Christmas – and there’s a major VW Group board meeting taking place this week – don’t expect to see the SUV in production before 2015.


What is the SEAT Leon ST X-perience?

Moving on, one thing we definitely can confirm is that SEAT is working on an ‘off-road’ version of the Leon ST estate. Called the X-perience, we’ve seen the concept already, well ahead of its debut at the Paris Motor Show in September 2014. Yes, car companies really do plan things this far out.

The SEAT X-perience is exactly what you’re imagining: a Spanish take on the likes of the Audi A4 allroad, VW Passat Alltrack and Skoda Octavia Scout – in other words, an estate car with raised suspension and additional body-cladding.

The X-perience is being readied for production, and will come with four-wheel drive as standard – though two-wheel drive versions are also being considered. If given the go-ahead for the UK, expect to see it in showrooms in 2015.

To read about the new 2014 SEAT Leon Cupra please see our separate story by clicking here.

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