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Best small family car: New Car Awards 2014

The SEAT Leon is the 2014 Auto Express Small Family Car of the Year, with the Mazda 3 and Volkswagen Golf commended

SEAT’s success in last year’s awards was clearly no flash in the pan, because the SEAT Leon has scooped our compact family car crown once again. Over the past 12 months, this sleek hatch has seen off a host of talented newcomers to maintain its grip on the top spot. So why is it still our number one?

For starters, it looks great, with the versatile five-door, rakish SC and spacious ST estate each featuring the same distinctive blend of curves and creases. It’s just as good inside, where the combination of slick design and superb build quality helps create an upmarket ambience.

Best hatchbacks

It’s spacious, too. There’s easily enough room for five adults, while the 380-litre boot matches the class leaders’. And as with all the best family hatches, the interior is packed with handy and helpful features.

The Leon’s good looks and smart cabin are backed up by a driving experience that effortlessly blends agility, comfort and refinement. It doesn’t matter whether you go for the entry-level S or firebreathing Cupra, the SEAT is fun to drive, while the wide range of petrol and diesel engines offers energetic performance.

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Best of the bunch is the smooth and eager 1.2 TSI, which delivers hefty punch despite its small size. Of course, all this would count for nothing if the SEAT wasn’t easy on your wallet. Happily, the Leon stays true to the brand’s great-value roots with its attractive prices and low running costs. The frugal Ecomotive model claims an incredible 85.7mpg and emits only 87g/km, while the 1.2-litre TSI returns nearly 60mpg. Put simply, the excellent Leon is a car you can buy with your heart and your head.

Our choice:

SEAT Leon 1.2 TSI SE (£17,235)

It’s hard to fault the Leon’s engine line-up, but the punchy and frugal 1.2-litre TSI petrol stands out. SE spec comes with all the kit you’ll need, while the free Technology Pack upgrade brings sat-nav and LED lights.

Commended small family cars

Mazda 3 Fastback

With the four-door Mazda 3 Fastback, Mazda’s bucked the family car trend for hatches. The desirable 3’s sleek looks, low running costs and a big boot prove there’s still life in the traditional saloon format. It’s great to drive, too, while the SkyActiv diesels are smooth and frugal.

Volkswagen Golf

The classy Volkswagen Golf still sets the standard for quality and refinement, plus it’s good to drive and well equipped. Roomy cabin will accommodate most growing families, while there’s an engine to suit all tastes. Only the brilliance of the Leon keeps the VW off top spot.

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