Family hatchback mega-test 2018: meet the contenders

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But none of that will prevent you from noting the distinctly unlovely rental-car vibe conjured by the car’s cheaper cabin materials (of which there are plenty), or the relative lack of dynamic finish that’s evident in the way it drives. The clutch pedal action feels woolly and imprecise, ride quality is slightly hollow and excitable in its shortage of wheel control, and steering is light and can be pendulous as you add lock, giving you very little impression at all of how hard the car’s front wheels are working.

The Astra’s 1.4-litre engine is quiet at cruising crankspeeds and makes decent torque, but it doesn’t feel like the most potent or vigorous motor here due to its gathering coarseness and breathlessness at high revs.

But for a shortness of footspace in the second row, there are few reasons to complain about practicality. Yet overall, having been presented with at least a glimmer of visual interest by the car’s exterior styling, you’re left with very few reasons to really want this Astra when all is said and done. And meat and potatoes, however competently cooked, can only take Vauxhall so far.

7th Seat Leon: Wondering if a bottom-half ranking looks a bit tough on the Seat Leon, a car that we’ve consistently rated highly in this model generation?

It was an unavoidable quirk of timing that this test had to happen just after Seat switched production of its hatchback into 2019-model-year specification – and from the Volkswagen Group’s 1.4-litre turbocharged petrol engines to its newer, WLTP-emissions-compliant 1.5s.

The 1.5-litre motors powering the Golf and Octavia in this test only got added at Seat’s Martorell factory on 31 July; not soon enough, regrettably, for demonstrators to have arrived at Seat UK in time to be included here. So this slightly lowly ranking for the Leon is as much about the engine as the car.

This was an opportunity, however, to directly compare the 1.0-litre and 1.5-litre TSI petrol options available in the Leon, Octavia and Golf ranges – and the conclusion must be, if your budget allows, to plump for the full-fat, 148bhp 1.5-litre TSI Evo from the line-up of whichever model you’re considering it in.

The Leon’s 113bhp 1.0-litre felt every bit as relatively weedy as its vital statistics might suggest, but also quite rough at idle, and considerably less free-revving than some of the other downsized three-pots we tested. Meanwhile, our real-world fuel economy testing exercise revealed that it returns very creditable efficiency, but perhaps not significantly better than you might reasonably expect from the bigger VW Group engine in the same car.

There is much to recommend the rest of the Leon’s package: it rides and handles well, and would have done so even better on the bigger wheels and less economy-biased tyres that might have been included on a variant in like-for-like specification with most of the rest of our field. A more eye-catching exterior design still does plenty to add appeal too.

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