Ford Focus vs Seat Leon
A used warm hatch is a great way to have some fun without breaking the bank or sacri cing practicality.the hard task is choosing between these ne examples from Ford and Seat…
These warmed-up hatches are great for families and to drive
THERE MUST BE many people who want all the driving pleasure of a hot hatch but don’t want to lumber themselves with the high running costs often associated with such performance machines. Well, you can think of these two cars as halfway-house hot hatches. The Ford Focus Black Edition and Seat Leon FR have enough handling and performance zing to create ripples on the edge of the hot hatch pool, but both are considerably cheaper to buy and run than the faster Focus ST and Leon Cupra.
The flamboyant-looking Focus is powered by a 180bhp 1.5-litre turbocharged petrol engine, whereas the more understated Leon comes with a 1.8-litre turbo unit engine producing 178bhp. Claimed straight-line pace is similar.
Here, we’re testing both cars at two years old, where there’s been enough of a drop from the new price to make them considerably more attractive and affordable to a great many more people. But which one makes the most sense at this age? Read on as we uncover the answer.
DRIVING Performance, ride, handling, re nement
Despite having virtually the same power outputs, there’s a big difference in the way these cars deliver their performance. The Focus’s engine is smooth but feels flat unless you rev it hard, and even then it isn’t as nippy as you might expect.
The Leon, in comparison, picks up keenly from low revs and delivers a strong, consistent surge of acceleration that makes it substantially faster and more exciting. In
our tests, the Leon got from 0-60mph in an impressive 7.9sec, whereas the Focus took a relatively lethargic 9.3sec.
You can feel the Leon’s extra pace in its medium-rev response, as well as during hard acceleration. So, while the Focus is punchy enough for swift progress, the Leon is by far the better option if you want a car that feels like an aspiring hot hatch.
Both cars handle extremely well, with tight body control and poised cornering grip. The Focus is well established as one of the besthandling cars in the class, and the slightly firmer Zetec S chassis that underpins the Black Edition only makes it feel keener and better suited to hard driving.
The Leon is even more impressive, though, providing an involving drive that’s never
intimidating. In fact, it has more front end grip than the Focus and feels more playful and alive when you corner hard. The Leon also has the more predictable, natural-feeling steering – the Focus’s is overly keen to self-centre – but both cars are easy to manoeuvre at low speeds and are stable on the motorway.
You won’t be disappointed with the ride comfort in either car. Unsurprisingly, both are firmer than less sporty versions, but they remain settled most of the time and don’t thud too harshly over potholes. The Focus displays particularly impressive damping that keeps it feeling planted even over high-speed, midcorner bumps or compressions.
Refinement is also a close-run thing. Both have smooth-revving engines that are hushed at a cruise. The Leon’s sounds rortier when it’s worked hard, but that’s something many buyers will appreciate. However, there’s also a touch more wind and road noise in the Leon, and its gearshift is slightly notchy compared with the Focus’s light, slick-feeling shift.
BEHIND THE WHEEL
Driving position, visibility, infotainment, quality
In most respects, neither car differs much from its more humdrum counterparts. The Focus Black Edition gets red stitching on its carpet mats and leather steering wheel. Both also have more heavily bolstered sports seats up front, complete with adjustable lumbar support. The Focus’s driver’s seat provides more support, though, holding you in place more securely than the Leon’s flatter seat when cornering quickly.
Although the Focus has a larger touchscreen, the Leon’s infotainment system is more intuitive and easier to operate while driving. Neither touchscreen is particularly quick to respond, though, and neither car will wow you with the quality of its interior – although the Leon feels fractionally better screwed together than the Focus.
Both cars provide a decent forward view, but over-the-shoulder visibility isn’t great in the Focus. It’s also a bit harder to judge the Ford’s extremities when manoeuvring in a car park.
SPACE AND PRACTICALITY
Front space, rear space, seating exibility, boot
Other than its superior front seats, the Focus trails the Leon in virtually every aspect of its interior. The Leon is fractionally bigger inside. There’s a little more leg and head room in the front and back, and the interior is a touch longer than the Focus’s. However, two tall adults will be comfortable in the back of the Focus and there’s enough room for a tall driver.
Both cars have 60/40 split rear seats, but in the Focus you have to flip up the seat bases before folding down the seatbacks, while the whole process is much simpler in the Leon. The Leon also has a deeper, longer boot, making it better if you carry bulky items on a regular basis. It’s just a pity there’s a hefty lip at the boot entrance.
BUYING AND OWNING
Costs, equipment, reliability, safety and security
New, the Focus was the more expensive car by roughly £1000, although discounts would have brought that difference down to around £200. Today, at two years old, the Focus is actually the cheaper car, with more examples on the market and prices roughly £1000 less than you’d need for a similar Leon.
However, both cars are predicted to depreciate at similar rates going forwards. The
‘Other than its superior front seats, the Focus trails the Leon in every aspect of its interior’
Focus also has lower CO2 emissions, at 127g/km, as opposed to 138g/km for the Leon; that will make it slightly cheaper to tax, although there will be only £10 a year in it. The Focus is likely to be more economical, too, albeit not by much.
Both cars come with multifunction steering wheels, four electric windows, USB sockets and Bluetooth connectivity as standard. Equipment is more generous in the Leon, though. A Technology Pack was included for free when the car was new, adding a 6.5in touchscreen (up from the standard 5.0in display), a DAB radio, sat-nav and LED headlights. This trumps the Focus, because it can’t be had with LED lights and sat-nav costs £250 extra – although a DAB radio is standard. The Leon also comes with dual-zone climate control, cruise control and front and rear parking sensors, while the Focus has manual air-con only.
Safety falls in the Leon’s favour. It comes with a driver’s knee airbag, and while both cars were awarded the maximum five stars from Euro NCAP for their crash protection, the Leon was rated slightly better for adult and child crash protection. Automatic emergency braking was available on both – in the Leon’s case, coming with adaptive cruise control that can maintain a set distance from the car in front. Thatcham rates both cars equally highly for resisting theft and break-ins.
970mm 1080mm Focus has a smaller lip at its boot entrance that makes loading heavy items easier; there’s enough room even for tall adults to get comfortable, both in the front and rear seats
Focus has superb body control, remaining poised even over big mid-corner bumps
With better steering and more front end grip, the Leon can be quite entertaining
780-1450mm 1030mm 490-760mm
980mm 1100mm Leon is better for space and practicality, with a bigger boot, slightly more leg and head room throughout and simpler seat folding; it’s just a shame its front seats are quite at
SEAT LEON 830-1540mm 1020-1180mm BEST BOOT SPACE 560-790mm
930mm 680mm BEST REAR SPACE