New Skoda Octavia vs Seat Leon

We’re putting the new Skoda Octavia and Seat Leon under the microscope to see which of them makes the most of their shared DNA...

Seat Leon and Skoda Octavia fronts

The contenders

NEW Skoda Octavia 1.5 TSI 150 SE Technology

List price £22,640
Target Price £22,640

This new Octavia promises the practicality and value of its predecessor in a smarter package.


Seat Leon 1.5 TSI Evo 130 FR

List price £23,515
Target Price £21,176

Great to drive and with a roomy, well-equipped interior, the Leon is our reigning family car champion.


The Skoda Octavia has long been a What Car? favourite. Sure, it’s never been the most thrilling car to look at or even to drive, but with so much space inside its classy interior and a broad range of engines to choose from, it’s always been incredibly compelling – and that was even before you factored in its keen pricing. So, the arrival of an all-new model is something of a big deal.

The cavernous new estate version has already seen off the Toyota Corolla Touring Sports, but now it’s the turn of the cheaper Octavia hatchback to show what it’s made of. To find out, we're putting it up against the current family car benchmark, the Seat Leon.

Despite that car hailing from Spain and the Octavia from the Czech Republic, both are actually very similar underneath to the latest Volkswagen Golf. Indeed, both have fundamentally the same 1.5-litre turbocharged petrol engine under their bonnets, albeit with this producing 128bhp in our favourite Leon compared with 148bhp in the Octavia.

Skoda Octavia 2021 rear

You can opt to have the punchier engine in the Leon, and that combination has impressed previously, but you’ll have to dig surprisingly deep into your pockets for the additional 20bhp, whereas Skoda offers it as standard.

So, with its brawnier engine, the Octavia should have a significant performance edge, but can it match the sharp-driving Leon’s all-round talents?


Driving

Performance, ride, handling, refinement

On our dry test day, the Leon scooted from 0-60mph in a perfectly respectable 8.8sec. However, the Octavia was a whole second quicker, and more importantly to those who don’t leave the lights like Lewis Hamilton, it is noticeably quicker when accelerating up through the gears from 30-70mph, as you would when joining a busy motorway.

Seat Leon 2021 rear

It isn’t just in foot-to-the-floor performance that the Octavia has the upper hand, either. Its engine also pulls harder from low revs, as evidenced by its swifter in-gear acceleration. The upshot is that the Octavia’s six-speed manual gearbox (shared with the Leon) needs stirring far less often when you want an uplift in pace or if you need to climb a particularly steep hill, making for more relaxed progress.

It also makes life quieter; the engine doesn’t have to spin as hard in order to deliver useful performance. Regardless of revs, though, the Octavia’s motor sounds smoother than the Leon’s.

As for other audible intrusions, there’s little to separate the two cars overall; the Leon is a bit worse for road noise and the Octavia generates more wind noise.

Skoda Octavia 2021 nose

Despite sharing much beneath their very different skins, the Leon and Octavia have their own specific characteristics when it comes to ride and handling.

The Octavia’s soft suspension allows the car to waft along, munching motorway miles effortlessly, but point it at an undulating country road and you’ll find that the waft turns into a floatiness that could leave passengers feeling rather queasy. The optional adaptive suspension (£925) allows you to stiffen or soften the ride and is worth considering, but it can’t combat the thwack you’ll feel in the Octavia as it passes over expansion joints and potholes.

As for the Leon, sports suspension is standard with FR trim; other versions are appreciably softer. As a result, you’re far more aware of scruffy road surfaces than in the Octavia, albeit without these ever being jarring. However, the upside is that body control is far tighter, so the car never wallows even over particularly challenging undulations, and it’s better at taking the sting out of potholes. For many, we suspect that’ll make the Leon a more agreeable companion overall.

Seat Leon 2021 nose

The firmer suspension also helps the Leon to feel more agile in corners. It changes direction with impressive eagerness, gripping neutrally and steering fluently with minimal body lean, so you can really enjoy your favourite bit of B-road.

By contrast, with plenty of body lean, the Octavia feels lazier when sweeping through bends and its lighter steering doesn’t instil quite as much confidence. Although it hangs on almost as tenaciously, with grip evenly spread between the front and rear tyres, it never feels quite as composed through unevenly surfaced bends.

Both cars have slick-shifting gearboxes with clutch pedals that are smooth and easy to operate, although the Octavia’s brake pedal feels more reassuring when you press it than the Leon’s slightly spongy one. Despite this, the Leon stopped in a usefully shorter distance than the Octavia, no doubt helped by the former’s wider tyres.

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