Seat Leon X-perience vs Skoda Octavia Scout
Want all-weather practicality but not the weight and unwieldiness of an SUV? These two used estates are compact and relatively ef cient, yet still offer huge boots, lots of ground clearance and four-wheel drive
Which rugged 4x4 estate is better?
SUPPOSE FOR A moment that you’re after a used car that has to combine masses of practicality with the ability to be used off road occasionally, but you don’t want to go the whole hog and buy a full-blown SUV. What do you do? You take a look at rugged four-wheel-drive estates, that’s what.
Here are two prime examples of the breed, both offering true driver appeal, some off-road capabilities and plenty of space and flexibility, all wrapped up in a package that still promises reasonable running costs and easy-to-manage dimensions. The Seat Leon X-perience and Skoda Octavia Scout are sisters in mechanical terms, so we’ve brought these two 2015 examples together to find out which has the edge and makes the best alternative to a used SUV.
DRIVING Performance, ride, handling, re nement
There are greater differences between these two cars than their similarities suggest. For starters, the fact that you can vary the weight of the Octavia’s steering by pressing a button gives you extra confidence on twisting roads. Both cars corner gamely enough but don’t grip any harder than front-wheel-drive models; the four-wheel drive is there to provide extra traction when crossing a muddy yard or a field.
In both cars, all of the power is sent to the front wheels in normal conditions with the aim of conserving fuel, but up to 50% of power can be diverted to the rear if any slip is detected.
The extra ground clearance over the regular estate versions of these cars comes in handy
when negotiating rocky terrain, but those who go off road regularly may be swayed by the Octavia’s standard Rough Road Package, which adds tougher underbody protection.
The compromise for the higher ride height over these cars’ standard counterparts is sloppier body control. It’s not as noticeable as in most high-rise 4x4s, but the longer suspension travel does result in more pitch under braking, lean through bends and body bounce over dips and crests – all of which are fractionally more pronounced in the Octavia.
However, the Octavia’s softer set-up gives it a more comfortable ride. It disguises imperfections that bit more effectively, whereas the Leon feels unsettled over scruffy roads and can thump harshly over mid-corner ruts. It’s comfortable the rest of the time,
though, and our Leon’s optional 18in alloys were likely a key factor in its choppier ride. Finding a car with the standard 17in alloys (as fitted to our Octavia) would be a wise decision.
If these cars’ shared engineering shows anywhere, it’s in their performance. Both engines provide near-identical acceleration and are gutsy enough to serve up decent pace, even when the cars are fully loaded. The only difference is that the Octavia’s engine performs marginally better at low revs, although you’ll only really notice this around town.
Refinement is acceptable, if not outstanding, in both cars. The Leon lets more engine noise inside at a steady cruise, so it’s the noisier car on the motorway, despite the Octavia’s door mirrors whipping up more wind noise. However, the Octavia’s noisier suspension is irritating along pockmarked urban roads.
Both cars have light and accurate manual gearshifts and positive clutch pedals that make it easy to pull away and change gear smoothly.
BEHIND THE WHEEL
Driving position, visibility, infotainment, quality
Each car has a sensible dashboard layout with straightforward switches and controls. Skoda’s use of gloss plastics and more streamlined air vent design make the Octavia’s interior look and feel a fraction more upmarket, but neither car feels remotely cheap inside, with mostly high-quality materials.
Both have similarly simple-to-use touchscreen infotainment systems with logical menus. However, while the Leon’s screen is more conveniently positioned higher up the dashboard, it’s smaller (5.0in to 5.8in) and has frustratingly small icons that are sometimes placed right at the edge of the screen, making them tricky to hit accurately while driving.
SPACE AND PRACTICALITY
Front space, rear space, seating exibility, boot
If space is a priority, the Octavia is the better bet; while both cars are impressively roomy in the front, it provides a touch more leg and elbow room in the back.
Two six-footers will be comfortable in the back of either car and the standard central armrests are a welcome touch. Carrying five people is possible in both, although the middle rear passenger is forced to straddle a tunnel running along the centre of the floor and has to put up with a hard seat base.
While the Octavia has the bigger boot – it’s deeper and the more upright rear screen eats up less of the load area – the Leon’s is in some ways more useful. Both cars have levers on the wall of their boots that drop the 60/40-split seats, but in the Octavia, this leaves you with an annoying step in the floor of the extended load area. The Leon’s variable-height boot floor irons out that step to leave a flat floor. You also get recessed storage cubbyholes around the wheel arches in the Leon, whereas the Octavia makes do with a few elastic straps.
BUYING AND OWNING
Costs, equipment, reliability, safety and security
When new, the Leon had a slight edge in purchase price over the Octavia, even taking into account any Target Price discounts. Now, the two cars, of a similar age and in the same condition, are available to buy second-hand for roughly the same price. Both offer a lot of practicality and flexibility at this price point.
Both of our test cars were registered before the major road tax band changes in April 2017 and, as a result, the Leon will cost you slightly
‘Both engines are gutsy enough to serve up good pace, even with the cars fully loaded’
less per year. However, these two cars should still cost a very similar amount to run and both have good reputations for reliability.
The Leon will require servicing every 12 months or 10,000 miles, with costs alternating between £160 and £270. You also need to factor in a new cambelt every five years or 80,000 miles, costing in the region of £500, allowing for a new water pump at the same time. Servicing the Octavia is cheaper than many rivals and Skoda has a fixed-price used car scheme, under which you’ll currently pay £149 for a minor service (10,000 miles or every 12 months) and £269 for a major one (every 20,000 miles or 24 months).
It’s worth noting that while both cars came with USB, Bluetooth, steering wheel-mounted controls and climate control, the Octavia added to that sat-nav, a DAB radio, automatic lights and wipers and lane-keeping assist.