VW Golf: Leon in battle royale

Golf battles Leon in battle royal

The small family hatchback segment is a crowded market and if you are looking for a decent five-door there's a dizzying selection to choose from.

And since, in our opinion, our Golf 1.2 TSI S is among the best in class, we thought it would be a good idea to pitch it against its cheaper cousin - the SEAT Leon. We knew it would be close-run thing: the engines are identical - the 103bhp 1.2-litre TSI - and so is the running gear. So we booked a Leon in and by chance, got a black one. So in our ahem, black-to-black test (I'll be here all week) find out which car came out on top.

Fuel economy and emissions

SEAT claims the Leon will return 52.3mpg while Volkswagen claims the Golf will return 49.6mpg on average. These two cars may have the same engine but the Golf is tweaked for a little more performance whereas the Leon is that little bit cleaner on emissions and more frugal. So far in our test the Golf is returning 41.7mpg and although we don't expect the Leon to hit its official figure in real-world driving we do expect the Leon to fare slightly better.

The Golf may be quicker by a less than half a second but the Leon's cleaner, emitting 124g/km of CO2 while my Golf emits 134g/km. I'm surprised by that stat but I guess if you want a little more oomph then you have to pay for it and I did plump for alloys over steel. Ultimately, that means the Leon wins on both fuel economy and emissions.

SEAT 1 VW 0

Company car choice?

The Leon is the choice for the company car driver because the SEAT sits in the 15% company car band while the Golf's in the 17% company car band thanks to higher CO2 emissions. The Golf has a slightly more expensive P11D value at £16,965 against the SEAT Leon at £16,885. At 40% the Golf costs £106 per month while the Leon costs £94 per month.

SEAT 2 VW 0

Practicality

Boot space is identical to the previous model with 350 litres available with the rear seats in place and 1,305 litres with them folded down. Compared with the old model, the boot opening is wider making it easier to load bulky items. With 341 litres the Leon's boot is slightly smaller than the Golf but the space is still a good size even if the rather high bootlip hampers unloading. The rear seats split and fold 60/40 boosting space to 1,305 litres.

SEAT 2 VW 1

Value

VW - The Golf S 1.2-litre TSI we are running costs £17,135 but if you want to listen to your MP3 player, you'll need to shell out £350 extra for an MP3 connection. Front and rear carpet mats cost £75 while 15-inch alloys are £405, front fog lights cost £230 and pearl effect paint comes in at £465.

SEAT - The Leon SE 1.2 TSI costs £16,940. As standard the car has dual-zone climate control, MP3 compatibility with steering wheel controls, 16-inch alloys, front, side and curtain airbags. If you want the Bluetooth Communication pack it's an extra £355 but it's well worth it as the system is very good and enables you to speak on the phone handsfree. The Leon is packed with equipment and has a cheaper staring price.

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Resale 

The VW badge holds so much sway and when it is time to sell on so the Golf is the best bet for retaining its value. After one year or 10,000 miles the Golf retains 62% while the Leon retains 51%.

SEAT 3 VW 2 

Performance

We picked the SEAT Leon in SE spec with the 103bhp 1.2-litre TSI engine. This is the identical engine that's in the Golf. It is a cracking unit, with 129Nm of pulling power. The Leon can complete the benchmark sprint to 62mph in 11.0s and has a top speed of 115mph, whereas the Golf is a little quicker. It pips the Leon by 0.4s to 62mph and it also has a top speed of 115mph.

SEAT 3 VW 3

Ride and handling

The Golf pips the Leon. There's loads of grip, it's a joy on turn-in and you never tire of throwing it into corners. The ride is perfect and even though this is an economy car, you don't feel that the handling has been compromised at all. When in the Leon the first thing most potential buyers will notice is that the ride is quite firm especially compared with the Golf on which it's based, but the trade-off is a more focused feel through corners with little body roll. The steering is nicely weighted too. It's too close to call.

SEAT 3 VW 3

Comfort

This Leon is longer, wider and taller than its predecessor, resulting in improved interior space. While there's no shortage of headroom, three six-footers would be fighting for shoulder and legroom in the rear, but two adults or three kids fit easily. The Golf feels great on the motorway and its pretty comfortable.

SEAT 3 VW 4

Desirability

It's got to be the VW, take a straw poll of people on the street and they will pick the Germen brand over the Spanish outfit.  To be honest I'm still swayed by my Golf. Both are very good cars but you will have to seriously consider what you want from your wagon - it really is that close a call between these two family hatchbacks.

RESULT:

SEAT 3, VW 5

Current mileage: 5,627

Average mpg: 41.7