Reviews | 09 June 2018

Volkswagen Golf versus Ford Focus and Seat Leon

  • One Euro
    1 / 24 One Euro

    Thirty years ago, a car with a 1-litre engine was an affordable little runabout with tiny performance.

    Three decades on, a 1-litre car is far from being just a weedy runabout. Thanks to turbocharging, today’s single-litre engines are powerful enough to drive everything from hatchbacks to crossovers.

    The oldest of the three contenders is the Ford Focus, which was introduced in 2011. But thanks to a timely update, which gave it a bolder exterior and enhanced cabin, the Focus still isn’t showing its age. Its biggest improvement is its new turbocharged 1-litre 3-pot motor, which is punchier than the naturally aspirated 1.6-litre 4-cylinder it replaces.

    Hoping for continued success in this segment is the Volkswagen Golf. Like its rivals, it also boasts enhancements to its exterior (albeit subtle ones), and further refinements to its interior. And with more torque coming from the Golf’s turbocharged 1-litre 3-cylinder engine, which replaces the turbocharged 1.2-litre inline-4 in its predecessor, it promises to be a sprightlier drive, too.

    Looking to put the Golf in the shade is its Spanish cousin, the Seat Leon. Although both cars are mechanically similar, the Leon has two advantages: better looks and more power.

    Which of these 1-litre hatches ultimately offers the most value for money? Continue reading and find out what we think.

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  • Volkswagen Golf – Engine
    2 / 24 Volkswagen Golf – Engine

    Volkswagen’s turbocharged 999cc 3-cylinder with 109hp and 200Nm has the smoothest power delivery.

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  • Ford Focus – Engine
    3 / 24 Ford Focus – Engine

    Ford’s turbocharged 999cc 3-pot with 123hp and 170Nm is the most powerful, but ironically, also the most relaxed performer of the group.

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  • Seat Leon – Engine
    4 / 24 Seat Leon – Engine

    Seat’s turbocharged 999cc 3-cylinder with 113hp and 200Nm is the most responsive and efficient motor. The car’s power-to-weight ratio of 100bhp per tonne is the best, too.

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  • Volkswagen Golf – Gearbox
    5 / 24 Volkswagen Golf – Gearbox

    Golf’s 7-speed dual-clutch transmission is slicker than the Leon’s, but less responsive.

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  • Ford Focus – Gearbox
    6 / 24 Ford Focus – Gearbox

    Focus’ 6-speed automatic is the creamiest gearbox here, but its manual override could be quicker, and the buttons for doing so aren’t the easiest to use.

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  • Seat Leon – Gearbox
    7 / 24 Seat Leon – Gearbox

    Leon’s 7-speed dual-clutch gearbox is the quickest of the trio, making its manual override function the most fun to use.

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  • Volkswagen Golf – Ride & Handling
    8 / 24 Volkswagen Golf – Ride & Handling

    Golf’s ride quality is the best in this test, as it is the quietest and most pliant.

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  • Ford Focus – Ride & Handling
    9 / 24 Ford Focus – Ride & Handling

    The Focus is the most agile and has the sharpest steering, too. It is the most fun to drive in this company.

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  • Seat Leon – Ride & Handling
    10 / 24 Seat Leon – Ride & Handling

    Feels lighter and nimbler than the Golf, but the Leon’s ride quality, which is the firmest of the three cars, won’t be to everyone’s liking.

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  • Volkswagen Golf – Cockpit
    11 / 24 Volkswagen Golf – Cockpit

    Most practical cockpit has the largest storage points of the group. Overall fit-and-finish is the best, but the Golf’s upmarket feel is lessened by the manual air-con controls and lack of keyless entry/ignition.

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  • Ford Focus – Cockpit
    12 / 24 Ford Focus – Cockpit

    Keener drivers will love the Focus’ higher dashboard and lower seating position, which give it the most coupe-like feel. Steering wheel is the nicest to hold, but the small storage points make this area the least practical.

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  • Seat Leon – Cockpit
    13 / 24 Seat Leon – Cockpit

    Leon’s layout is as functional and intuitive as the Golf’s. The Spanish-German infotainment system is the snazziest-looking and most useful, as it’s the only one connected to a reversing-camera.

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  • Volkswagen Golf – Backseat
    14 / 24 Volkswagen Golf – Backseat

    Golf has the shortest wheelbase, but its well-packaged interior means its backseat is still the roomiest. The bench is also the most supportive, offering the tallest backrests in this company.

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  • Ford Focus – Backseat
    15 / 24 Ford Focus – Backseat

    Focus has the longest wheelbase, but the least legroom due to relatively inefficient packaging. The minimal floor protrusion, however, allows this backseat to accommodate three adults (and their six ankles) more easily.

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  • Seat Leon – Backseat
    16 / 24 Seat Leon – Backseat

    Matches the Golf for roominess and supportiveness, but strangely, the Seat’s rear air-con vents are smaller than its VW cousin’s and therefore less effective.

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  • Volkswagen Golf – Meters
    17 / 24 Volkswagen Golf – Meters

    Golf’s gauges look the most pedestrian, but like the Leon, accessing and adjusting the functions in the secondary display is very intuitive.

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  • Ford Focus – Meters
    18 / 24 Ford Focus – Meters

    The hardest to focus on as the digit sizes are the smallest, but the Ford’s centre LCD is the most attractive and the only one with a seatbelt indicator for all occupants.

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  • Seat Leon – Meters
    19 / 24 Seat Leon – Meters

    Motorcycle-inspired dials of the Leon are the sportiest of the three instrument clusters, and their large markings make them the easiest to read as well.

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  • Ford Focus – Boot
    20 / 24 Ford Focus – Boot

    Focus’ 316-litre cargo hold is the most flexible, as it has the most anchoring points, along with elastic and Velcro straps for securing items such as bottles and cleaning cloths.

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  • Seat Leon – Boot
    21 / 24 Seat Leon – Boot

    Leon’s 380-litre capacity has the highest loading point, which is more suited to smaller and lighter cargo. The (tiniest) boot light also makes it trickier to load/unload/organise the boot’s contents in dark conditions.

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  • Volkswagen Golf – Boot
    22 / 24 Volkswagen Golf – Boot

    Golf’s 380-litre boot is best for active families, who will appreciate the standard waterproof liner, which is great for storing muddy football gear. The relatively low loading point makes it great for hauling heavy luggage, too.

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  • Volkswagen Golf, Ford Focus and Seat Leon – Keys
    23 / 24 Volkswagen Golf, Ford Focus and Seat Leon – Keys

    (Left & right) Golf and Leon fobs have the widest buttons which are also the nicest to press, but their keys have an annoying tendency to flip open in bags and pockets. Focus device (centre) is not only lighter and slimmer than the others, but also shaped to fit easily inside a pocket or in your palm.

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  • Last Word
    24 / 24 Last Word

    As enthusiasts, we cannot get enough of the Ford Focus. It has the most power and the best handling of the three 1-litre hatchbacks. We also love its accurate steering and coupe-like cockpit.

    Indeed, the Focus is so fun to punt around corners that we’re willing to forgive its cabin, which is smaller and less practical than its two rivals’. What we can’t overlook, though, is the Ford’s slower performance.With a century sprint time of 12 seconds versus the Golf’s 9.9 seconds and the Leon’s 9.6 seconds, it dampens the excitement felt by a keen driver.

    Another dampener is the $10,000 VES surcharge levied on the Focus, which inflates its selling price. Without the surcharge, the Ford would have offered even better value for money, as its OMV of $19.3k is about $800 more than the Golf’s.

    The most expensive car in this story is also, arguably, the most impressive. The 1-litre Seat Leon successfully marries form and function to offer a cabin that’s not only cool-looking, but driver-friendly, too.

    We also like how the Spaniard has keener responses and more oomph than its German cousin. Interested buyers, however, will have to deal with the Leon’s stiff ride and even stiffer price, which is due to its surprisingly high OMV of $22k.

    The Volkswagen Golf may not have the Leon’s sportiness or the Focus’ handling qualities, but it remains our pick of this litter.

    The Golf’s strengths, which include a quiet cabin, well-sorted ride and smooth power delivery, manage to outweigh weaknesses such as the “missing” keyless functions and manual air-con controls.

    For just under $113,000, the Golf is a good choice for buyers who want a 1-litre hatchback that offers maximum bang for their buck.

    Check out the Volkswagen Golf
    Check out the Ford Focus
    Check out the Seat Leon

    Volkswagen Golf 1.0 review

    Ford Focus 1.0 review

    Seat Leon ST review

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