Car group tests

Ford Focus vs Nissan Pulsar & SEAT Leon

Can the updated Ford Focus see off the Nissan Pulsar and SEAT Leon in its first test?

The Ford Focus has been a front-runner in the compact hatch class since it first arrived in 1998, and while the third-generation model has held its own, a wave of talented new rivals has given Ford the impetus to update the car with fresh looks and a revised interior.

To put this latest Focus through its paces, we’ve lined up an all-new contender in the shape of the Nissan Pulsar. It marks the maker’s first entry in the class since the Almera was dropped in favour of the Qashqai in 2006, and it brings some of the crossover’s style and practicality to the sector.

Both newcomers face a strong challenge from our current class favourite – the SEAT Leon. The Spanish hatch has seen off all-comers since its launch, thanks to its winning blend of quality, kit, performance and running costs.

Has the Focus been given the edge it needs in order to reclaim its compact hatchback crown? Can the new Nissan cause an upset on its debut? Or is the SEAT still top of the class?

Ford Focus review

Nissan Pulsar review

SEAT Leon review

Read individual reviews by clicking the links above, and scroll down for the verdict of this family hatch showdown!


Running costs

The SEAT Leon has a lower list price than its rivals, and the savings continue behind the wheel. We managed 41mpg on test, which was slightly ahead of the other cars here, although the Ford does have a better claimed economy figure.

Fixed-price servicing of £480 over three years is better value than for either competitor, while business users face smaller tax bills in the SEAT, with higher-rate earners saving nearly £100 a year.

Rear space

If you often carry rear passengers, the Pulsar holds a slight advantage as it has the biggest back doors. It offers the same space as the Leon, although the middle seat occupant has the benefit of extra foot room. 

Access to the Focus is easy and its seats are comfortable, but legroom trails the other models’.

What about the VW Golf?

The Focus is similarly priced to the VW Golf, with our £18,795 Zetec only £155 more than a Golf 1.2 TSI S – although the Ford has more kit. Spend another £200, and the Pulsar 1.2 DIG-T n-tec adds everything from LED lights to sat-nav; it just lacks the VW’s premium feel and grown-up driving experience.


1st place: SEAT Leon

The Leon has seen off two more challengers to retain its crown as king of the compact hatchbacks. While the Focus comes close to its combination of style, quality, everyday performance and usability, the SEAT has the upper hand thanks to its great-value price, especially when you add the free Tech Pack upgrade. Our only minor niggle is the slightly firm ride, but it’s no deal-breaker.

2nd place: Ford Focus

The updates to the Focus are a change for the better, because it looks a lot smarter on the outside and is more user-friendly inside. Build quality is as good as ever, while the driving experience delivers a great balance between comfort and handling, too. The running costs are low, but the Focus has to settle for second place in this test due to its higher list price.

3rd place: Nissan Pulsar

The Pulsar has its good points, but it lacks that last degree of cabin quality and driving sparkle that would make it a real contender here. It’s well built and rear passenger space is good, but the hard plastics are a letdown and the awkward driving position takes some getting used to. It’s a disappointing performer on the road, too, while running costs could be better.

Ford Focus vs rivals: key specs

 SEAT Leon 1.2 TSI (110) SEFord Focus 1.0T (125) Zetec Nissan Pulsar 1.2 DIG-T (115) Acenta
On the road price/total as tested£17,235/£18,330£18,795/£18,795£17,645/£17,645
Residual value (after 3yrs/36,000)£7,859/45.6%TBC£6,352/36.0%
Annual tax liability std/higher rate£515/£1,031£525/£1,049£563/£1,126
Annual fuel cost (12k/20k miles)£1,662/£2,770£1,682/£2,804£1,674/£2,790
Ins. group/quote/road tax band/cost13/£304/C/£3014/£314/B/£2010/£430/C/£30
Cost of 1st/2nd/3rd service£480 (3yrs/30k)£350 (2yrs/25k)£149/£219/£149
Engine4cyl in-line/1,197cc3cyl in-line/998cc4cyl in-line/1,197cc
Peak power/revs108/4,600 bhp/rpm123/6,000 bhp/rpm113/4,500 bhp/rpm
Peak torque/revs175/1,400 Nm/rpm170/1,400 Nm/rpm190/2,000 Nm/rpm
Transmission6-spd man/fwd6-spd man/fwd6-spd man/fwd
Fuel tank capacity/spare wheel50 litres/repair kit53 litres/repair kit46 litres/repair kit
Boot capacity380/1,210 litres363/1,148 litres385/1,395 litres
Kerbweight/payload/towing weight1,198/502/1,300kg1,306/594/1,200kg1,258/492/1,200kg
Turning circle10.1 metres11.0 metres10.2 metres
Basic warranty (miles)/recovery3yrs (60,000)/1yr3yrs (60,000)/1yr3yrs (60,000)/3yrs
Service intervals/UK dealersVariable/12812,500 (1yr)/78112,500 (1yr)/225
Driver Power manufacturer/dealer pos.25th/32nd25th/27th22nd/25th
NCAP: Adult/child/ped./assist/stars94/92/70/71/5N/AN/A
0-60/30-70mph10.1/9.7 secs10.7/10.6 secs10.3/10.1 secs
30-50mph in 3rd/4th4.9/6.3 secs5.6/7.5 secs4.8/6.9 secs
50-70mph in 5th/6th9.9/13.1 secs10.3/11.5 secs10.2/14.1 secs
Top speed/rpm at 70mph121mph/2,400rpm121mph/2,400rpm118mph/2,250rpm
Braking 70-0/60-0/30-0mph53.7/39.0/11.0m (wet)52.2/38.6/9.5m (damp)55.8/41.2/10.3m (wet)
Noise outside/idle/30/70mph63/41/59/64dB65/42/59/69dB63/42/61/65dB
Auto Express econ. (mpg/mpl)/range41.0/9.0/451 miles40.5/8.9/472 miles40.7/9.0/412 miles
Govt urban/extra-urban/combined46.3/67.3/57.6mpg49.6/68.9/60.1mpg44.8/65.7/56.5mpg
Govt urban/extra-urban/combined10.2/14.8/12.7mpl10.9/15.2/13.2mpl9.9/14.5/12.4mpl
Actual/claimed CO2/tax bracket159/114g/km/15%161/108g/km/14%160/117g/km/16%
Airbags/Isofix/parking sensors/cameraSeven/yes/£270/noSix/yes/£225/£165Six/yes/no/no
Automatic box/stability/cruise control£1,250/yes/yesNo/yes/£250£1,350/yes/yes
Climate control/leather/heated seats£355/£1,520/£355*No/no/noYes/no/no
Metallic paint/LED lights/keyless go£530/£1,000/no£525/no/no£550/no/yes
Sat-nav/USB/DAB radio/Bluetooth£1,525/yes/£405*/yes£500/yes/yes/yesNo/yes/no/yes

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