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SEAT Leon 1.2 TSI

Established hatch still looks good and offers great value

On the face of it, the SEAT Leon should be on a hiding to nothing in this test. It’s nearing its seventh birthday, which makes it something of an old-timer in the fast-moving family hatchback sector.

But don’t discount the Leon just yet. A recent facelift delivered improved cabin quality and extra kit, plus a range of more efficient engines. Factor in the brand’s value-for-money pricing, and the Leon represents a tough test for any opponent.

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The years haven’t diminished the car’s kerb appeal. With its sleek, coupe-like profile and soft curves, the Leon looks a lot less fussy than the Ford. Neat features include the rear door handles hidden in the C-pillars and the boot-mounted SEAT badge that doubles as a tailgate release.

Unfortunately, the Leon struggles to hide its age inside. The upright dashboard looks a little dated, while the plastics don’t have the same quality look and feel as the Ford’s. At least the driving position is comfortable, while the SEAT’s sporty credentials are reinforced by having the rev counter directly in front of the driver. There’s stacks of standard kit, too.

Our Copa SE test car came overflowing with gadgets and gizmos, including sat-nav, cruise control and parking sensors. Add this little lot to the Focus and you’ll be forced to fork out an extra £1,175.

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There’s little to choose between our contenders for space, with adults in the back of both getting a decent amount of head and legroom – although the SEAT’s shallow side windows give the interior a slightly claustrophobic feel. But the Leon’s 341-litre boot is 25 litres larger than its rival’s.

The SEAT also boasts more capacity under the bonnet. The Leon’s 104bhp 1.2-litre has less power than the Focus’ engine, despite its size advantage, although the SEAT was four-tenths quicker than the Ford from 0-60mph, requiring only 9.9 seconds.

However, the Leon doesn’t feel quite as smooth or responsive as the Focus on the road, meaning you have to work the slightly gruff-sounding engine and slick six-speed gearbox harder. This has an impact on fuel economy, with the SEAT returning a disappointing 36.8mpg on test, which was nearly 8mpg less than the Ford.

The Leon falls further behind when it comes to driving fun. Accurate steering and decent grip mean it feels planted in corners, but it lacks the Ford’s feedback and agility. And while there’s little to separate our two contenders for ride comfort, the Leon generates slightly more wind and road noise on the motorway.

It’s not all bad news for the SEAT, though. At £17,225, it undercuts the less well equipped Ford by a hefty £720, plus it boasts stronger residuals. Will this help to offset the Leon’s greater thirst for fuel, lower-rent cabin and less engaging driving dynamics?

Details

Chart position: 2
WHY: Eye-catching looks, plenty of kit and great-value price mark out revised SEAT, while 1.2-litre turbo engine promises good economy and strong performance.

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