Both our contenders prove that small really can be beautiful. By ditching their larger and less efficient engines in favour of tiny turbos, the familiar Ford and SEAT models have been transformed. But which one is our winner?
The Leon certainly leads the way for showroom appeal. It still looks great and Copa SE trim is stuffed to the gills with standard kit. Plus, its 1.2-litre engine is a keen performer, while the composed chassis makes the car surprisingly fun to drive. It’s also spacious, reasonably refined and boasts the strongest residual values here. Yet it’s let down by disappointing fuel economy returns and a gloomy, low-rent interior.
That’s not a criticism you can level at the Ford’s high-quality cabin. It feels a cut above the SEAT – even if it doesn’t have the same impressive amount of standard equipment or such a spacious boot. The Focus also leads the way for driving fun, thanks to its poised, agile and grippy handling. But it’s the car’s new 1.0-litre engine that steals the show.
Punchy and refined, it delivers the kind of performance you’d expect from an engine twice the size. Better still, the Ford offers excellent fuel economy and lower CO2 emissions than the SEAT, which means it should cost less to run. We reckon this is the best Focus money can buy right now.
Ford Focus 1.0 Zetec ★★★★
If nobody told you that the latest Focus had a 1.0-litre engine, then you’d be none the wiser. Effortless performance and impressive refinement make it feel like a much bigger engine. Only excellent economy and low CO2 emissions give it away. The Ford costs more to buy, but lower running costs help offset the extra outlay.
SEAT Leon 1.2 Copa SE ★★★★
This is probably the sweet spot in the stylish SEAT Leon range. Copa SE has loads of kit at an attractive price, while the 1.2-litre TSI engine is keen. Better still, this model doesn’t have the bone-jarring ride of the FR and ECOmotive trims. Yet it needs a better cabin, lower running costs and improved refinement.