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The warm hatchback

By raccars Published

Seat Leon

Hot hatches are great fun but not always practical. How about a warm hatchback instead?

Admittedly the term 'warm hatchback' lacks pizazz... it doesn't trip nicely off the tongue like 'hot hatch' or evoke any sense of excitement, but a warm hatchback could be the ideal solution for your motoring needs.

The hot hatch was huge in the Eighties, offering enormous amounts of fun in an affordable and usable package. A couple of decades later the hot hatch is gaining ground again, in supremely modern and sophisticated form. However desirable the hot hatch may be, the fact is that the average morning commute doesn't involve racing changes around mountain pass hairpin bends - indeed it often offers very little opportunity to use your driving skills. Not only that but the effort of getting your head into gear for another day at the grindstone is rarely made easier by high revving and precision braking.

In reality, most people are looking for something a little more relaxing for their daily driver, and the warm hatchback is the ideal solution. The warm hatchback is smart, practical and comfortable but perky enough to bring a smile to your face and economical to boot.

There's a wide choice in the market fitting the title and here are four of the best: Vauxhall Astra 1.6 Turbo Sri Nav with 197bhp, Mazda 3 2.0 SkyActiv-G 165 Sport Nav with 163bhp, Ford Focus 1.5 EcoBoost Zetec S Red Edition with 180bhp, and the Seat Leon 1.4 EcoTSI FR with 148bhp. All feature rather long and cumbersome names and are priced between £20,525-£22,170.

Warm hatchback performance

While performance is not the main focus in these cars, they are all pleasantly sprightly. The Astra is the most powerful and thus the fastest, taking 6.6 seconds to go from 0-60mph. The other three all get there in less than nine seconds but can't match the Astra's torquey, strong pulling 1.6 turbo.

The only one not to be fitted with a turbo is the Mazda and you can feel the difference; it's still a great drive but offers less pull in the mid-range than its rivals. Surprisingly, the Ford Focus is the slowest of the bunch even though the Seat Leon has a smaller motor and less power to propel it. All four use a six speed manual transmission.

Performance versus handling

On the other hand, if you judge them by handling, the Ford Focus is easily at the head of the pack. It's stable and confident even taking a hard corner, with superbly responsive steering, while the Astra's punchy engine overwhelms the chassis at times. The Vauxhall would probably benefit from slightly stronger settings on the dampers and springs. The Mazda shows a nice match between engine and chassis but it's the Seat Leon that comes second to the Focus for precise, sharp and entertaining driving dynamics.

Economics

With its smaller engine and the lightest kerb weight of the four, the Seat Leon is also by far the most economical and efficient of the lot, posting a combined fuel consumption figure of 60.1mph and 114g/km in CO2 emissions - according to official statistics anyway. The Astra's pace also makes it the thirstiest car in this group, managing a poorer 47.1mpg and 139g/km in CO2 emissions.

In terms of ownership costs, the Mazda is the most expensive to insure while the Seat Leon, once again thanks to its relative lack of power, is the cheapest.

All four are good looking cars, if unexciting. Red stitching in the Ford and the Seat give the cabins a racier feel compared to the subtle Mazda and relatively bland Astra. In some ways there's little to choose between the four and a test drive of each would be necessary to identify your own personal favourite.

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