New Seat Leon vs Vauxhall Astra
No longer is diesel the de facto option – both the Leon and Astra are available with efficient petrol engines, but which one is the best family hatchback?...
Seat Leon 1.0 TSI 115 Ecomotive SE Technology
List price £19,095
Target Price £16,667
Facelifted Leon gets a new entry-level 1.0-litre engine. Is the motor strong enough to make sense?
Vauxhall Astra 1.4 Turbo 150 SRi
List price £19,515
Target Price £17,920
The 1.4-litre-engined Astra packs a bigger punch than the Leon, but for a similar price.
It's a question more and more car buyers are asking: petrol or diesel? Traditionally it’s asked because of uncertainty about running costs – tax and fuel efficiency – but more recently, question marks surrounding the environment are just as pertinent.
Today, there are plenty of superbly efficient petrol-engined cars. Take Seat’s new turbocharged 1.0-litre petrol Leon, which offers a compelling mix of stout performance and impressive efficiency for an eye-catching price.
Meanwhile, Vauxhall’s 1.4-litre turbocharged petrol Astra provides even more bang for similar buck, and comparable space. So, which makes the better family car?
What are they like to drive?
With its smaller engine and 35bhp power deficit, the Leon struggles to keep pace with the Astra when both are thrashed hard from a standstill; ultimately, the Leon reaches 60mph 1.8sec later. The disparity in pulling power at low revs between the two is smaller, but there’s no question that the Astra pulls harder and accelerates quicker.
In addition, the fact that the Astra doesn’t rely on its turbocharger quite so heavily means its engine responds more quickly to you putting your foot down, helping it to feel even faster than it actually is.
An extra cylinder (four vs three) also means the Astra is the smoother car when revved hard, although the Leon still has one of the best three-cylinder engines we’ve tried, with some pedal vibration at high revs its only weakness. The Leon also has the slicker gearshift.
Seat has done a fine job in the handling department, with the Leon’s more naturally weighted steering and good body control making it predictable yet fun to drive on twisty country roads. The Astra’s quicker steering and even tauter body control make it feel more agile, but also mean it feels more nervous at motorway speeds and doesn’t flow quite as well through sweeping bends.
Enhancing the Leon’s driving experience further is its comfy ride. Softly-sprung suspension, smaller 16in alloy wheels and more forgiving tyres allow it to soak up large bumps extremely well, and while sharper edged potholes and ruts cause some noise, they never bring discomfort. In the name of sharper looks and extra agility, the Astra’s 17in wheels and stiffer suspension mean a harsher ride over potholes and less settled progress at low speeds around town.
The Astra’s engine makes more noise at a steady cruise on the motorway – partly due to its slightly shorter sixth gear – and its front pillars generate more wind noise. The Astra’s bigger wheels and tyres also create more road roar at speed, and slam over imperfections in the road more noticeably.