The potential of such vehicles for Seat becomes clear on our short drive from Barcelona airport to the Castellolí race track, where we’re due to sample the one-of-a-kind 20V20. The motorway is filled with battered Toledos, shiny Exeos and enthusiastically driven Leons, but almost as numerous as the homegrown fare are Nissan Qashqais and Volkswagen Tiguans.
What an opportunity. To bring their own version to market as quickly as possible, Seat’s bean counters at Martorell must be tempted to roll up their suit sleeves, scurry down to the shop floor and screw together a crossover themselves.
“When you analyse the market, you notice that customers are going away from MPVs to crossover-SUVs because they can combine a little bit more personality with high functionality,” says Sádek.
At Castellolí, I set eyes on the burnt orange concept. First thought? It’s even more muscular and sharply styled than it looks in the pictures. At 4.7m, it’s 40cm longer than a Leon hatchback and has a 2.79m-long wheelbase with a 1.65m-wide front track. A jacked-up ground clearance of 228mm and 20in alloys enhance its road presence.
The first real SUV we’ll see from Seat won’t be as grand as this Audi Q5-sized concept, however. Instead, it’ll be something to rival a Qashqai. That’s not to say the company won’t make one as big as the 20V20 at some point, but for the moment we’re likely to see design cues drawn from it for the next Ibiza supermini.
“There are three key words we use to define our future design DNA: tensional, characterful and sculptural,” says Sádek.
The 20V20 is aimed squarely at the young at heart and will help to reinforce Seat’s positioning as the hip and happening VW Group brand. Seat’s designers set out specifically with a crossover-SUV in mind. “The proportions have evolved, but this kind of concept car was clear from the beginning,” says Sádek. “It’s a new segment for Seat and it’s refreshing to have the opportunity to develop our future DNA in such ways.”
The design team spent a lot of time perfecting the 20V20’s side profile, particularly, says Sádek, the “proportion of the glasshouse compared with the body”. The ‘cab back’ profile and negative angles at the concept’s rear add to its dynamic stance, giving the impression of “an arrow that is ready to be launched from a bow” and evokinga sense of power.
As bold as the exterior is, the interior steals the show. The aggressively angled A-pillar means you have to duck low to get in. The concept’s seats have a striking design with, in another nod to Seat’s favourite superhero, the backrests mimicking the design of the ribs on Iron Man’s body armour. However, you tend to perch rather than sit on them, prompting a rather awkward driving position.
To start the 20V20, you place your Iron Man-style PDD onto the circular magnetic cradle in the centre tunnel, just behind the gear selector. A ‘start-stop’ message is illuminated. Pressing the PDD switches on the ignition.
You hear a start-up tone, familiar to anyone who has switched on a computer in the past decade, and a personalised message. I get “Welcome Alejandro!”, a salutation configured for Seat’s design boss, Alejandro Mesonero-Romanos. If you want, the friendly voice can also tell you about your upcoming agenda.
Personalisation is key. “You can have your own settings stored in the cloud,” says Sádek. “So you have your music and your agenda, but also settings for the car: the colour of the ambient lighting, the different displays on the screens and so on.”
While the PDD is currently too big to wear on your wrist, it’s not hard to envisage a version that could be incorporated into a smartwatch, bringing together our cars and our personal devices.
“Connectivity is key,” says Sádek. “Twenty years ago, radio or air-con was optional in a car; today you wouldn’t believe it isn’t there. In the future, you won’t need to ask to have your car connected. It’s a part of technology we cannot deny.”
Rotating the PDD left and right calls up all manner of menus that can be displayed on the three TFT screens that dominate the dashboard. There’s a small screen to the left of the steering wheel in this left-hand-drive vehicle, the main dashboard display behind the wheel and the infotainment screen at the top of the centre stack.
With most of the functionality incorporated into the PDD and displayed on the screens, there’s a minimalist feel to the interior. A floating centre console has space behind it for two sunglasses cases. The console itself carries the buttons for start-stop, hill descent control and parking assist; above them are the climate controls. Behind the steering wheel are paddle shifters and slender stalks for the indicators and lights.
Press the brake pedal and the PDD simultaneously and the engine fires into life. Shift the gearstick into Drive and you’re away. The 20V20 is four-wheel drive, with a petrol engine hooked up to a dual-clutch automatic gearbox. Seat says a real-life 20V20 could accommodate petrol, diesel or plug-in hybrid powertrains.
I’m told it has a Leon Cupra powerplant under the bonnet, but it’s academic because the 20V20 also has concept-spec cooling (not very effective, in other words), so our drive around Castellolí is restricted to 40km/h.
Still, it’s sufficient to get a feel for the car’s powerful stance, if not its dynamic qualities. Inside and out, it has a broad-shouldered feel. The doors, unrestricted by the need to add crash protection and insulation, have a scalloped design that means there’s huge amounts of elbow room.
Head room, by contrast, is snug – the trade-off for that aggressively swooping roofline. With its cavernous 500-litre-plus luggage space when the large tailgate is opened, I’m put in mind of a shooting brake. Should the 20V20 reach production, expect to find an extra pair of seats back there, making it a seven-seater.
Right now, though, the interior puts the ‘fun’ into ‘functionality’. In the boot, there’s a torch stowed on the wheel arch cover for those late-night sorties to Barcelona’s beach bars, a pair of suitcases installed in the boot floor for weekends away and even an electric hoverboard where you might expect to find a spare wheel. The idea is that you can park up your 20V20, extract your PDD and use it to navigate the remainder of your journey on the hoverboard.
The idea of a production-spec hoverboard may be a flight of fancy, but will the 20V20 ever roll down the Martorell production line? Sádek says that the vehicle has “believable packaging and proportions, not crazy ones. It’s a show car, but we wanted to stay true to the principles of the brand and show what we are capable of doing with our design in a more product-oriented way”.
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