SEAT has unveiled its plans for a new five-seat SUV - and given Auto Express exclusive access to the latest design concept of the new 4x4 model at its technical R&D centre in Martorell, Spain. No pictures were allowed to be taken, hence the image of the 2011 IBX concept shown here.
Based on the same MQB platform as the Leon, the newcomer is 4.35 metres in length - roughly the same size as the Nissan Qashqai and Kia Sportage - and will share its four-cylinder engine range with the five-door hatch back. Although not currently green lit for production, sources from within SEAT told us that the project could get the go ahead from VW as early as next week.
Speaking to us in Spain, Vice President for R&D Matthais Rabe told us: "We strongly believe that an SUV fits perfectly with the DNA of the SEAT brand - but it has to have the right mix of technical development, be fun to drive, with an attractive design, and all at the right price." If the project is allowed to move forward then it could go on sale early in 2016.
Although the Spanish brand has been considering a high-riding SUV for several years now (first previewed by the IBX concept back in 2011) this time around they are confident that the project will get the go ahead. "We see this market becoming the second biggest in the C-segment, after the traditional hatchback." Raab said.
We were shown the latest design concept of the car - currently called "Tribu" but we were told this name will not be carried over into production. The design carries over a strong family look from the Leon, with bigger full LED headlights, a more sculpted bonnet, and strong crease line running from the front wheel all the way back to the boot lid. Plastic cladding around the body work, squared off wheel arches and silver roof rails all complete the more rugged look.
Also on display was an early interior treatment, which showed a terrain response dial with different driving modes, and a large touchscreen in the dash, just like the Leon. The driving position is high, but the seat is mounted quite low, with a started button mounted high on the dash and the centre console tilted towards the driver.
Raab confirmed that the SUV would be five-seat only, but also acknowledged that SEAT was also examining the possibility of eventually producing a whole SUV family. "We are carefully analysing all the options we are given, and looking at cars that are both smaller and bigger than this first SUV, but nothing is decided on yet." he said. However Raab also told us that the SUV would be a "core pillar" of the brand going forward - as opposed to a shared badge model like the Mii city car.
Another source within the company told us that as yet it is not decided where this new car will be built, with several different possibilities including a joint production with a similarly-sized Skoda SUV one of the ideas currently on the table. In the mean time, Raab revealed that next year it will launch a specialised 4x4 version of the Leon ST - badged as the ST 'X-perience' - its billed as a high-spec Audi allroad variant that will have a big impact in Alpine countries in Central Europe, with a significantly raised ride height, plastic underbody protection and a luxuriously trimmed interior.
"We expect the 2.0-litre TDI with 184ps to be in the highest demand in this car" Raab said. It's not due for official release until next summer, with an official debut pencilled in for the Paris show in September 2014. Another new addition to the range - the hot hatch Leon Cupra - will also arrive next year, with Raab promising that it will be "the sportiest front-wheel drive car, and one of the quickest around a racetrack too." Full details of the new Cupra are expected to appear soon, with an official release due well ahead of its unveiling at the Geneva motor show in March.