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Used test: Ford Focus Zetec S vs Seat Leon 180 FR
These family cars both dip their toes into hot hatch territory, and both are great value bought used, but which should you choose?...
Ford Focus 1.5 Ecoboost 182 Zetec S Black Edition
List price when new £22,520
Price today £12,000*
Available from 2012-2018
This sporty trim is designed to offer this previous generation version of the Focus some hot hatch fun without the high running costs
Seat Leon 1.8 TSI 180 FR
List price when new £21,565
Price today £13,000*
Available from 2013-2020
Maybe not as extravagant to look at as the Focus, but this recently replaced version of the Leon is still good value, well equipped and superb to drive
*Price today is based on a 2016 model with average mileage and a full service history, correct at time of writing.
Some purchases are guided by the heart, others by the head. Buying a practical, economical, reasonably priced used family car can often sway towards the latter – but it doesn't have to be this way.
The Ford Focus Zetec S Black Edition, for example, fits that description, while also injecting a healthy dose of performance and fun into the mix. It's a form of halfway-house hot hatch. You get more oomph than the standard model, with buying and running costs that are easier to stomach when compared to its even faster sibling, the Focus ST.
It's a very intriguing recipe, and it's one that also applies to the Seat Leon 1.8 TSI 180 FR – a car offering great practicality and modest running costs and driving thrills without the range-topping Leon Cupra's heftier bills.
Here, we’re testing both cars at five years old, where there’s been enough of a drop from the new price to make them considerably more attractive and affordable to a great many more people. But which one makes the most sense at this age? Read on as we uncover the answer.
Performance, ride, handling, refinement
Despite having virtually the same power outputs – the Focus has 180bhp, while the Leon has 178bhp – there’s a big difference in the way these cars deliver their performance. The Ford’s engine is smooth, but feels flat unless you rev it hard, and even then the Focus isn’t as nippy as you might expect.
The Leon, in comparison, picks up keenly from low revs and delivers a strong, consistent surge of acceleration that makes it substantially faster and more exciting. In our tests, the Seat got from 0-60mph in an impressive 7.9sec, while the Focus took a relatively lethargic 9.3sec.
You can feel the Leon’s extra pace in its mid-rev response, as well as during hard acceleration. So, while the Focus is punchy enough for swift progress, the Seat is by far the better option if you want a car that feels like an aspiring hot hatch.
Both cars handle extremely well, with tight body control and poised cornering grip. The Focus is well established as one of the best handling cars in the class, and the slightly firmer Zetec S chassis that underpins the Black Edition makes it feel even keener and better suited to hard driving.
The Seat is even more impressive, providing an involving drive that’s never intimidating. In fact, it has more front-end grip than the Focus and feels more playful and alive when you corner hard.
The Seat also has more predictable, natural-feeling steering – the Ford’s is overly keen to self-centre – but both cars are easy to manoeuvre at low speeds and stable on the motorway.
You won’t be disappointed with the ride comfort in either car. Both remain settled most of the time and don’t thud too harshly over potholes. The Focus displays particularly impressive damping that keeps it feeling planted even over high-speed, mid-corner bumps or compressions. Unsurprisingly, both cars are firmer than less sporty versions in their respective ranges, but neither ever borders on being uncomfortable.
Refinement is also a close-run thing. Both have smooth-revving engines that are hushed at a steady cruise. The Seat’s sounds rortier when worked hard, but that’s something many buyers will appreciate. However, there’s also a touch more wind and road noise in the Leon, and its gearshift is slightly notchy compared with the light, slick-feeling shift of the Focus.
Next: What are they like inside? >>
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