Not too long ago, SEATs Leon was generally perceived to be a best of the rest member of the mid-sized hatchback club: by no means a shabby car, but not exactly a class-leader either.
Things have changed, however, with the current incarnation of the Leon: judging by the cars impressive wowscore, SEATs flourishing hatchback is right up there at the top of the pile.
Likewise, Fords Focus has also been doing quite well for itself recently, having been the worlds best-selling car for the past two years, and it remains one of the most popular cars available with drivers and motoring critics alike.
Right from the first version of the Focusin the late nineties, the motoring press has consistently praised the way Fords family hatch steers. Althoughno one buys a car of this type to fuel fast car fantasies, it is at least refreshing to see a major car company put some emphasis on a sporting driving feel.
Judging by what the critics have to say, the Focus also seems to be pretty handy when youre not gunning it on country roads. A combination of direct steering and light, easy-to-use controls helps aid manoeuvrability at slower speeds especially when reversing into tight spots, which is made slightly tricky thanks to the cars compromised rear visibility. The supple suspension helps round off the rutted edges of our notoriously potholed road network (though the larger wheel options do firm up the ride somewhat).
Most of those positives also apply to the Leon. The SEATs steering, ride quality and view out the back are all eerily close to what can be found on the Ford. The lower-powered Leons have different rear suspension to more powerful ones, but the general consensus is that all Leons ride well.
If theres one area where the two do differ, its in terms of sound insulation: despite a little wind whistle from the Leons angular wing mirrors, the sharply styled SEAT is the most refined of the pair. That said, you wont be bombarded with a cacophony of road roar in the Ford on lengthy motorway hauls. Both are pleasant cars for long journeys.
Once again, the Fords and SEATs engine choices are similar. Like-for-like figures are hard to source, because ofdiffering engine capacities between the two brands. Youll wont find 1.2 or 1.4-litre petrol engines under the bonnet of a Focus, nor 1.0 or 1.6-litre petrol motors in a Leon but their claimed running costs do at least match up.
Most buyers of both cars are expected to plump for the smaller petrols and the most efficient diesels, and wed recommend you follow suit.
The aforementioned 1.0, 1.2 and 1.4-litre units have been summed up by the press as sweet, smooth, eager to rev and ideal around town, whereas the diesels have all been praised for their wallet-friendly running costs. For example, all the Focuss 1.6 TDCi and Leons TDI diesel units are allegedly able to return more than 65mpg on the combined cycle (though its worth pointing out that such figures may be hard to match out on the road).
That said, there are engine options that are more costly to buy and run than the others. Many critics believe the SEATs 1.8-litre petrol and the Fords two 2.0-litre diesels are simply too expensive to recommend (the Leons thirsty 1.8 petrol, for instance, retails for the same on-the-road price as the far more frugal 2.0-litre TDI).
Interior and practicality
As everyday family transport, the Leon and Focus are pretty capable cars, and each offers enough head and legroom inside to comfortably carry four people, or five at a slight push. However, this is where where their biggest differences between the Leon and Focus begin to emerge.
The largest discrepancy between the two is the boot space.Whereas the Leon offers a good 380 litres of stowage room, the Focuss 316-litre capacity seriously puts the Ford at a disadvantage. The shape of the boot itself is usable, and unlike the SEATs theres no annoying step on the floor once you fold the rear seats down, but its impossible to deny the Leons distinct advantage in this area.
Those who prefer a more minimalist aesthetic for their cars interior design will also be fans of the SEATs dashboard layout. The Focuss centre console is quite cluttered with buttons, but the simpler switchgear layout in the Leon is far easier and more intuitive to use, especially when youre on the move.
Things do start to even out once you get to overall build quality: surprisingly perhaps for a car built by the Volkswagen Group, theres very little between the Leon and its Ford rival when it comes to interior quality, especially when the cars in question are specified with higher trim level packages.
Value for money
If you only look at the official price-lists, then the Focus does undercut the like-for-like Leon competition by a fair margin. However, going down that route will leave you with a very basic Focus that as one critic put it feels a lot like the cheaper Fiesta, especially when you compare it to the Leons more lavish standard equipment line-up.
That equipment gap does close up once you apply the Zetec trim to the Focus, but doing so brings the price closer to the Leons. We recommend tinkering with the carwow configurator to see which car comes our cheaper in your desired specification.
Both cars have three-year/60,000-mile warranties, but there are differences if look at the finer details. For instance, Fords warranty also includes a years cover under Fords roadside repair and rescue scheme, whereas SEATs doesnt.
One thing can be said for certain, however: the value of both the Focus and Leon will drop considerably in comparison with other rivals (such as the Volkswagen Golf and Audi A3), so dont expect the Focus or Leon to have a huge chunk of residual value when you sell the car on.
Despite the pair being so closely matched to one another to the point where there isnt really a stand-out winner, an overall victor must be chosen, and by an incredibly close margin its the SEAT Leon that takes the laurels here.
Thats not to say the Focus is an inherently bad car in any way only the Fords smaller boot and ergonomic flaws elevate the Leon to first place in this comparison.A mid-life update for the Ford Focus is imminent, however, so it will be interesting to revisit the two and see how they compare in a rematch.