Good: rugged, practical and cheaper than main rivals
Not so good: limited engine choice, towing capacity of more powerful version not great
Let's clear something up about the SEAT Leon X-Perience from the get-go: it is not, as some suggest, SEAT's first off-roader. It is not even the first SEAT to feature four-wheel drive. Anyone remember the Altea Freetrack? Probably not as it was pretty forgettable, but the Freetrack had the same jacked up suspension and protective cladding combo as the Leon X-Perience and it had four-wheel drive. However, while the Freetrack was seemingly pointless (and quite ugly to my eyes) the X-Perience actually makes quite a bit of sense. Bear with me for a moment.
Graduating from the same finishing school as the likes of the Audi A6 allroad quattro, Volkswagen Passat Alltrack and Skoda Octavia Scout, it has a bit of provenance. That once elite school, which was only home to quasi-off-road Audis, has been doing the whole turn-an-estate-into-an-off-roader thing for quite some time now, something the Altea never quite managed. The models that came before the X-Perience have shown there is enough demand for a vehicle with 'go anywhere' appeal but without the SUV looks for the X-Perience to exist. In fact, the Octavia Scout has already built itself something of a cult following in that way left of centre Skodas do.
And it is to Skoda that we have to look for the X-Perience's closest rival. Both are based on the same modular MQB architecture, both use a Haldex four-wheel drive system (that sends most of the power to the front during normal driving conditions but can send it all to the back should conditions demand it) and both feature raised suspension and the protective plastic cladding necessary of this type of car. Where the X-Perience and Scout differ is in the styling; while the Scout could be described as functional, but staid the X-Perience, based on the handsome SEAT Leon ST, is a much better looking car to begin with. Better looking and nigh on as practical with circa 30 litres load space between the two cars.
Where the X-Perience separates itself from the Scout is in the usual SEAT way - its character. Whatever magic the engineers do in Martorell the Spanish cars always 'feel' that little bit sportier than their cousins from Germany or the Czech Republic. A sporty character may seem strange when we are talking about a faux off-roader, but the simple fact is that this, and every other car like it, will spend the vast majority of its time on the tarmac - and that is where the X-Perience excels. Despite the 28mm higher ground clearance the X-Perience grips well through bends with little in the way of body roll. It will even venture off-road with aplomb - it is no Land Rover Defender but the extra height does mean you do not have to steer clear of rutted mud, while the four-wheel drive system will make mincemeat of steep inclines and declines.
Two 2.0-litre TDI engine options are available: the entry-level 150hp unit that comes mated to a six-speed manual gearbox and the 184hp engine from the likes of the Leon FR and Octavia RS that is joined by a DSG automatic transmission. The extra power and smoothness of the latter makes for a comfortable drive but the DSG gearbox does have one weakness - the manual car can tow 400kg more, which is important information if you regularly tow a horsebox, caravan or similar.
Prices for the X-Perience start at €32,495 for the 150hp model rising to €35,495 for the 184hp version. This puts the off-road Leon alongside the scorching hot Cupra model as the joint range topper of the line-up, but it also comes with the equipment levels to justify it. Seventeen-inch alloy wheels, parking sensors out back, tow bar prep and a five-inch colour touchscreen are all included as standard. This (as close as makes no difference) matches the standard specification of the Skoda Octavia Scout, but crucially the SEAT is €1,300 cheaper. That is a sizeable saving over a car that has proved successful thus far and should set the template for SEAT to follow.
The real question is whether buyers will look at the Leon X-Perience or hold out for SEAT's first proper SUV, which is due to arrive next year...