Seat Leon SC vs Volkswagen Scirocco

These coupes need to be as fun to drive as they are sleek to look at. A healthy dose of practicality and attractive running costs are also important...

Seat Leon SC vs Volkswagen Scirocco

Can looks stand the test of time? Well, put it this way, while this generation of Volkswagen’s sleek Scirocco has been around, there have been three different Golfs.  

Now, some six years after its launch the Scirocco is getting a face-lift: refreshed looks, cleaner, more frugal engines, and a revamped interior. Underneath, however, there’s no hiding the fact it’s still a two-generation-old Golf.  

For around £750 less than the entry-level Scirocco we’re testing you can have Seat’s sleek Leon SC. Not just any Leon SC, either, because for that money it’s possible to buy the sporty, well-equipped FR model, complete with a more powerful engine and the latest cylinder shut-off technology.

What are they like to drive?

Both cars are fitted with the same basic 1.4-litre turbo petrol engine and six-speed manual gearbox, but as well as its added cylinder shut-off technology, the Leon’s engine has been boosted to give an extra 25bhp and 37lb ft of torque.

Both engines start pulling hard from around 1400rpm, helping them to feel urgent from low revs around town, and both deliver their power cleanly. However, the Seat’s extra grunt means it’s considerably quicker when you really put your foot down.

The Leon’s engine flicks between two- and four-cylinder mode to save fuel depending on speed, revs and throttle input, but a light on the dash is the only way you’ll know this is happening – there’s no noticeable change in noise or vibration.

In fact, the Leon feels the more refined car full stop, with its slicker gearchange, and smoother, quieter engine. Road noise is more of an issue in the Scirocco, too, especially on coarse surfaces, although both cars suffer from wind noise at motorway speeds.

The Seat also has the edge when it comes to handling. The Scirocco doesn’t disgrace itself, feeling agile and secure through a series of bends, but the Leon’s steering is more accurate and feels more natural, and its front tyres grip harder through tight corners. It manages to keep it body flatter than the Scirocco through those bends, too.

FR-spec Leons come with lower, stiffer sports suspension as standard, helping to combat body lean, but also making the ride firmer than that of models farther down the range. That said, it’s perfectly acceptable, and never becomes too harsh or crashy, whether in town or at higher motorway speeds. The Scirocco, meanwhile, is less impressive because it never manages to settle over scrappy surfaces at low speed and constantly jostles its passengers on motorways and fast A-roads.

What are they like inside?

Although tall adults are unlikely to complain about the amount of front space in either car, the Leon has more head-, leg- and shoulder-room.

Access to the rear seats is easier in the VW, and once inside, adults will find they have more legroom. However, the Scirocco has just two rear seats (versus the Leon’s three) and it also has considerably less rear head- and shoulder-room than the Leon.

Many coupe buyers won’t be expecting a huge boot, but the Leon’s 380-litre boot will take two large suitcases or set of golf clubs with ease. Its rear seats also split 60/40 and fold almost flat to open up a large extended load bay.

The Scirocco’s boot is nearly 70 litres smaller in outright capacity and isn’t as wide or as long as the Leon’s. What’s more, its aperture is much narrower, making it even more awkward to slot bulky luggage inside.

Both cars’ dashboards are logical and clearly laid out, and feature a touch-screen flanked by chunky shortcut buttons. Neither is the most responsive system we’ve tried, but the Seat’s is slicker, with crisper graphics and slightly more user-friendly menus.

The Scirocco’s dashboard hasn’t changed much over the past six years, but it’s well constructed from solid plastics, which give it an appealing sturdiness. The Leon’s dash looks more modern, and the cabin materials feel just as classy as those in the VW.

Both cars come with alloys, air-conditioning, electric front windows, a DAB radio, Bluetooth and a USB socket. The Leon’s list goes on: it gets a more advanced climate control system, along with cruise control, and front and rear parking sensors. Seat is also offering its Technology pack free of charge on Leon FR models, which adds LED headlights and sat-nav until at least December 31, 2014.

Six airbags, tyre pressure monitoring, an alarm and immobiliser are also standard on both cars, although only Seat offers emergency city braking as an option (£505).

Thatcham security tests found the cars did equally well resisting break-ins and theft, with both scoring above average marks.

What will they cost?

The Scirocco is around £750 more expensive to start with, but you can expect a discount on both cars. After these are applied, the gap narrows, but the VW still costs some £530 more to buy.

Buying on a PCP deal doesn’t change things. Based on a three-year agreement, with a £3000 deposit, limited to 10,000 miles a year, the Scirocco will set you back £36 more every month than the Leon. True, VW will offer you a bigger deposit contribution to begin with (£1500 versus Seat’s £1000) but you’ll still save nearly £800 over three years by going for the Seat – assuming you hand it back at the end of the term, rather than paying the outstanding balloon payment.

Private buyers will like the fact that both cars are predicted to hold on to their value well over the first three years, although the VW’s badge helps it hold on to a higher percentage of its original value.

Insurance and servicing costs are comparable, but because the Scirocco’s engine emits a higher amount of CO2, it’s more expensive to tax.

The VW’s higher CO2 output is also bad news for company car drivers, because it attracts a higher rate of Benefit in Kind (BIK) tax than the Leon. In fact, over three years the VW will cost a 40% taxpayer around £1100 more in salary sacrifices.

Our True MPG tests revealed that despite the Leon’s ability to save fuel by running on two cylinders when cruising, it was only marginally more fuel-efficient than the Scirocco in real-world driving, managing 43.1mpg compared with the Scirocco’s 42.5mpg. Still, that’s not bad when you consider the Leon is quite a bit more powerful.

Our verdict

The Scirocco might still have the looks, but the coupe class has moved on a long way since it was launched all those years ago. It remains decent fun to drive, but its refinement is disappointing and its cabin and infotainment system remain decidedly old-school.

The Leon is more practical, faster, sharper to drive and comes loaded with equipment, yet it costs less to buy. Considering it’s also cheaper in the long run for every type of buyer, and more comfortable, it thoroughly deserves the win.

Seat Leon SC 1.4 TSI 150 FR

Stronger engine; more spacious interior; sharper handling

Against: More wind noise; dull dashboard

Verdict: Brilliant to drive; one of the best coupés on sale now

Volkswagen Scirocco 1.4 TSI 125

Secure handling; slow depreciation

Against: Cramped rear cabin; awkward boot; choppy ride

Verdict: Good in some areas, but needs more than a face-lift to compete