New Volkswagen Golf and Seat Leon vs Ford Focus: interiors

We pit the all-new Volkswagen Golf and Seat Leon against the big-selling Ford Focus to see which is the best family hatchback on sale today...

2020 Volkswagen Golf dashboard

Behind the wheel

Driving position, visibility, build quality

All three have neatly aligned pedals, steering wheels and driver’s seats, allowing you to sit in a natural position – albeit farther from the road in the Focus than the other two. And each has a centre armrest to lean on and a comfy seat with oodles of adjustment, including for height and lumbar support. The main difference is that, in the Leon and Golf, it’s all done manually, whereas the Focus’s seat is powered.

So, chances are you’ll be sitting comfortably when you come to operate the controls. The Focus makes this easy by taking an old-school approach, with big, easy-to-find buttons, plus real knobs for the climate control and headlights – and it works well.

2020 Seat Leon dashboard

For more contemporary glamour, the Leon and Golf eschew physical buttons in favour of small, touch-sensitive pads, including for the temperature settings. There are a few proper buttons on the steering wheel, but only for controlling things like the cruise control, trip computer and sound system’s volume.

<What’s the problem with touch-sensitive buttons? You can’t find them by feel, so you have to look away from the road to check you’re not just pressing a random bit of the dashboard. That’s distracting at 30mph, let alone 70mph, and even then they don’t always register inputs. Compounding matters, the rest of their climate controls are buried in the infotainment touchscreens (see more on those in the panel section below).

All three have reasonably thin windscreen pillars, so forward visibility is fine – but the Golf is easiest to reverse in, because it has slimmer rear pillars than its rivals. What you can’t see will be announced audibly by front and rear parking sensors, which are standard on all three cars. You’ll need to fork out extra if you want a reversing camera on the Focus and Golf, and you can’t have one on the Leon.

2020 Ford Focus dashboard

Interior quality is something that, once upon a time, the Golf would’ve walked in a test against a Focus or a Leon – but not any more. And not just because its two rivals have stepped up their games. It’s also because the latest Golf has gone backwards, feeling slightly less plush than its predecessor. It does just about enough to be the best of this trinity – it has some nice metal trim highlights and decent fit and finish – but next to a BMW 1 Series it would be embarrassed.

All three have soft-touch surfaces on the tops of their dashboards and front doors, and the Focus has stitched pads on its centre console, where your knee naturally rests. It feels the least robust inside, though, and its plastics feel the least upmarket. The Leon drops points to the Golf with its slightly low-rent door pulls, but it’s a close-run thing.

Infotainment systems

Volkswagen Golf

2020 Volkswagen Golf touchscreen

The screen is really clear and, like the Leon’s, is one of the largest in the class. However, the software seems to have been designed primarily to look good, with fancy images of the car that rotate as you swipe. Yet it doesn’t work very well. As you swipe, it chugs at times, occasionally crashing and rebooting. Some of the menus are confusing, with features buried in nonsensical places. Unlike in the Leon, you have to pay (a lot) for natural speech recognition.

Seat Leon

2020 Seat Leon touchscreen

The Leon’s screen is the same size as the Golf’s but doesn’t look quite as sharp. Its software is completely different, and we much prefer it. The unconventional menus seem a tad confusing at first, but within 15 minutes they make sense, and the screen is more responsive to inputs than the Golf’s. You also get natural voice recognition as standard; this understands you most of the time, although it does take a while to digest what you’ve requested.

Ford Focus

2020 Ford Focus touchscreen

The Focus has the smallest screen and the least detailed graphics of the bunch. Some of the icons are also quite small, but the menus are mainly easy to understand. It matches its rivals for kit, and the screen sits in a prominent position, so it’s easy to see and reach. Voice activation is standard, but unlike in the Leon it’s not ‘natural speech’, so you have to read out set commands. A B&O stereo upgrade is available that sounds warm and punchy.

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