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…

What Car? - - Contents - Pho­tog­ra­phy: John Brad­shaw and Will Wil­liams

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

910mm 670mm

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

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