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Used test: Seat Leon vs Skoda Octavia

At two years old, these class-leading family cars are around £5000 cheaper than if you were to buy them new. Should you go with the Seat Leon or Skoda Octavia, though? We have the answer...

Seat Leon and Skoda Octavia fronts

The contenders

Seat Leon 1.5 TSI Evo 130 FR

List price when new £23,515
Price today £17,000*
Available from 2020-present

The Leon is good to drive, plus it comes with a well-equipped interior

Skoda Octavia 1.5 TSI 150 SE Technology

List price when new £22,640
Price today £17,000*
Available from 2020-present

Like its previous generation, the Octavia is practical and great value 

*Price today is based on a 2020 model with average mileage and full service history, correct at time of writing

The Seat Leon and Skoda Octavia not only share a mechanical basis with each other, but also share it with 10 other cars. In other words, they're part of large family, one with DNA that could make or break all that share it. 

Seat Leon 2021 rear

However, you'll be glad to hear that it's good news, particularly in terms of said Octavia and Leon. Both of these family cars are great all-rounders, scoring well in a variety of areas, from interior space to ride comfort.

So, you can't go wrong with either car, but which one is the best? Well, it's a question worth exploring, perhaps in a twin test. Fortunately, we have just such a thing right here, with a pair of two-year-old petrol examples as competitors. Read on to find out which fantastic family car comes out on top. 


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.

Skoda Octavia 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.

Seat Leon 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 adaptive suspension (a £925 option from new) enables you to stiffen or soften the ride and is worth considering, but it can’t combat the thwack you’ll feel as the Octavia 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.

Skoda Octavia 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.