Welcome to crossover central. It’s a busy place, this. Alight here for: heinously overpriced 4x4 superminis, weirdo halfbreed hatchbacks, softened-up SUVs, ruggedised seven-seaters - and pretty well every daft, unpronounceable, meaningless new model name that the car business has conceived in the past decade.
The sheer choice on offer here for people with money to spend, ‘something a bit different’ in mind, and no descriptor more specific than the word ‘crossover’ with which to identify it, is… well, it’s a bit much. What’s needed is a touchstone - something simple. So step forward the oldest and best-established exponent of the crossover art: the jacked-up family estate car.
From early Audi Allroads and Volvo Cross Countrys to Volkswagen Alltracks, Skoda Scouts and Vauxhall Country Tourers, these do-it-all wagons seem to occupy the centre ground of the crossover market by bridging the gap between traditional and avant-garde design idioms.
Among myriad alien concepts, they are somehow knowable quantities. And today we’ve got two of them competing for one final recommendation. Although they are similarly priced, each represents a very different brand, philosophy and route to the delivery of that little bit more capability and convenience than average.
In the old-school corner, welcome a crossover with two decades and some four previous model generations behind it – not to mention the 4x4 cache conferred by a hatful of WRC championships and a catalogue full of all-wheel-drive models: the Subaru Outback. If it’s authenticity you’re after, the Outback is as blue-chip as crossovers get - and yet this latest version is no throwback.
Opposing it is a brand new player in this part of the market, one that answers the Subaru’s authenticity with starkly contrasting freshness: the Seat Leon X-Perience. All right, it’s got another daft model name – but experience teaches us that, where crossovers come in, that doesn’t necessarily make it a daft car. In fact, on the face of it, the Leon looks leaner, richer and more athletic than any utility car has a right to.
It may seem funny, to start with, that these two should come into direct competition. Formerly known as the Legacy Outback, the Subaru is, in effect, a derivative of a model designed in the early 1990s, to take on mid-sized German, Japanese and American saloons primarily in the North American market.
A decade or so ago, it wouldn’t have been strange to see higher-order Legacies compared with sporting BMW 5 Series and Jaguar S-Types on the pages of Autocar – and for them to do okay. And now here’s one priced head to head with a top-of-the-range Golf rival.
It’s an illustration, perhaps, of the difficulties suffered by the Japanese export industry in general over the past 10 years, as well as the more recent sudden improvement in the value of sterling against the yen. And it stands to reason, therefore, that the Outback would be the bigger car of our duo – and it is, by approaching a foot on length and four inches on height.
But despite its descent from loftier market territory, the Outback doesn’t trump the Leon on outright power. Both cars offer 2.0-litre turbodiesel engines; both start this exercise with 148bhp to call their own. But it’s the Seat that scores the early lead in the brochure-borne contest – by a full second on 0-62mph acceleration, 10mph on maximum speed, nearly 10mpg on combined fuel economy and 16g/km on CO2.
It’s debatable if such things actually sell crossovers, of course. In real-world, everyday use out on the road – and over mud, gravel and grass – these two cars are separated by some predictable differences.
The Leon is not just smaller, but lighter, leaner and lower. Its dynamic virtues are predominantly those we associate with normal, modern, compact road cars. The Subaru is much more car for the money, as we’ve touched on already - a bigger and more traditional means of family transport. But which covers the other’s territory more consummately?