Peugeot 308 vs Seat Leon

The family car class is packed full of talented models. Seat's Leon is one of the best - can Peugeot's 308 rival it for space, practicality and low running costs? We put them to the test...

Peugeot 308 vs Seat Leon

Until now, our experience of petrol-powered Peugeot 308s was limited to the thirsty turbocharged 1.6-litre. Now we’re testing a more attractive option for private and company car buyers: a new 1.2-litre three-cylinder petrol. On paper, it has better fuel economy and CO2 emissions, and in Active
trim it comes with a long list of standard equipment.

The trouble is, it doesn’t come cheap. In fact, for similar money you can buy our other contender, the Seat Leon 1.4 TSI. It has more cylinders and more power, and comes well equipped in SE trim.

What are they like to drive?

The 308 has to watch the Leon pull away in an outright sprint; the Seat’s greater power and flexibility make it faster by some margin. It also pulls harder from around 1500rpm, over a wider band, meaning it feels the more sprightly in town.

That’s not to say the 308’s performance is poor. It might not have as much pulling power, but it arrives at around the same point in the rev range, so still feels eager at low speeds and doesn’t force you to make too many extra gearchanges. 

The 308’s engine is the noisier when pushed, though, and it sends more vibration through the pedals. The Leon’s more consistent pedal weights and more fluid gearchange make it the easier car to drive smoothly.

On meandering A-roads both cars control their bodies well and both have steering light enough to make tight manoeuvres in town a simple task. However, drive them on a fast B-road and it’s clear that the Leon is more fun. Its body remains better controlled where the 308’s leans in tight corners, and its steering is quicker, more precise and more evenly weighted. 

The 308’s softer suspension helps it soak up large bumps and crests pretty well, but the ride becomes decidedly unsettled over pockmarked urban roads. The Leon’s ride is firmer, so you’re certainly aware of bumps passing beneath the car. However, the Seat’s superior shock absorbers mean the Leon is actually more comfortable over uneven surfaces. There’s far less road and wind noise in the Seat at motorway speeds, too.

What are they like inside?

The driver’s seats in both cars have our preferred manual dial-adjustment for fine-tuning their backrests and levered adjustment for height. Both also get manual lumbar adjustment.

There’s enough head- and legroom for tall adults to feel comfortable up front in both cars, but unlike in the Seat, tall adults – even teenagers – will find their knees wedged into the seatbacks in the back of the 308. Our Peugeot test car came with a panoramic sunroof that made headroom tighter than in the Leon’s rear cabin. That said, even without one fitted, it will still feel more claustrophobic sitting in the back of the Peugeot. 

The 308’s rear legroom has clearly been traded for boot space. It’s one of the largest in the class, is a nice square shape and is wider and lower to the ground than the Leon’s. The Leon’s boot is longer and has a wider opening. Both boots will accept a couple of large pushchairs.

If you need to carry more than the weekly shop, both cars’ rear seats can be split 60/40 and folded. Neither backrest lies perfectly flat, and in both cases there’s a considerable step up in the boot floor to contend with when sliding in long items. Neither car comes with an adjustable boot floor to help 
it sit flush and solve this problem, either. 

The 308’s cabin looks the classier, but spend time interacting with both and the materials feel no more dense or sturdy than the Leon’s. Both cabins have soft-touch areas higher up on the dashboard, but cheaper plastics lower down.

The Leon’s infotainment system has smaller, more fiddly on-screen buttons on its 5.0-inch colour touch-screen, but has the more logically laid out menus and is more responsive. The fact that you access the 308’s air-con controls via its larger 9.7-inch colour touch-screen is frustrating, because it takes considerably longer than using the Leon’s physical dials.

What will they cost?

The Leon’s list price is slightly higher than the 308’s, but after dealer discounts you’ll pay around £200 less for the Seat. After three years, the Leon is predicted to be worth more, too, costing nearly £1500 less in depreciation. 

The 308 fights back with its fuel economy; our True MPG tests found it’ll cost you £600 less to fuel over the same period. Even so, the 308’s Three-Year Cost is ultimately more than £900 more expensive for the private buyer over three years. 

Buy on PCP, and it’s the same conclusion: the Peugeot costs around £240 a month compared with the Seat’s quote of £180. These prices are based on a three-year deal, a £5000 deposit and a limit of 10,000 miles a year. The Leon’s monthly payments are also cheaper by enough to offset its higher final balloon payment, and Seat will contribute more towards your deposit. 

Until at least the end of September 2014 Seat will throw in a free Technology Pack, giving buyers LED headlights, DAB radio and sat-nav. That’s on top of the Leon’s already-standard cruise control, 16-inch alloy wheels and Bluetooth. However, the 308 gets all of the above as standard, as well as automatic headlights and wipers, climate control and rear parking sensors.

Both cars achieved five-star Euro NCAP safety ratings, but the Leon has higher scores for adult, child and pedestrian safety.

Our verdict

The 308’s 1.2-litre three-cylinder engine is one of the sweetest in the range, with enough performance to feel comfortable in most situations, and impressive fuel economy and emissions. In Active trim, the 308 is seriously well equipped, too.

It’s hard to recommend it ahead of the Seat, though, which is sharper to drive, has a more comfortable ride, a more spacious cabin and will hold on to more of its value. The Leon remains one of the strongest family cars on the market, and it’s our winner. 

Seat Leon 1.4 TSI 140 SE 

For Strong engine; spacious cabin; handling

Against Misses out on some kit; drab cabin

Verdict One of the best family hatchbacks on the market

Peugeot 308 1.2 e-THP 130 Active 

For Large boot; good kit levels; fuel economy

Against Cramped rear seats; unsettled ride; frustrating infotainment

Verdict The best 308, but an average family car