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The new Mazda3 Hatchback and Seat Leon looks to dethrone the Volkswagen Golf as the clear choice for a premium and accessible family hatchback.

27 Aug 2019


If you were in the market for a reasonably affordable and premium hatchback, the choice used to be incredibly simple - you buy a Volkswagen Golf. With more than 33 million units sold across seven generations, the Golf has established itself as the class-defining hatchback.

Priced at $119,400 (as of 26 August 2019), the Golf delivers a pleasing combination of style, equipment, practicality, dynamism and classiness.

Now, two new hatchbacks want to stake their claim against this iconic model - the new Mazda3 Hatchback, and the new Seat Leon.

The new Mazda3 Hatchback and Seat Leon are both sub-$120k hatchbacks looking to take on the might of the Golf

How do you like it?

Visually, all three cars deliver something different. On one end of the spectrum, you have the Leon. With its crisp lines and acute angles, it's definitely the most athletic-looking of the bunch.

The Mazda3 slides to the other end of the spectrum. With its curvaceous surfaces defined by fewer lines, it's the softer and more mellow-looking hatchback, though in our minds no less distinctive.

The Mazda's curvaceous sheet metal and sculpted design lends it a softness that's rather striking

The Golf falls somewhere between the two. There's no denying its iconic design, but compared to the other two it just comes off as a little too 'normal'.

How do you want it?

When it comes to the interior, the Golf is the one that most immediately impresses. It's sleek and well-put together, and comes packed with equipment. The large 9.2-inch Discover Pro infotainment system and fully-digital Active Info Display immediately stand out - high-tech and high-quality.

The Golf's 9.2-inch Discover Pro infotainment system is the most high-tech amongst the three cars

The Leon clearly shares many parts with the Golf (shared platform, same parent company, etc), but there's no denying that it's the lesser car. The seats are fabric instead of leather, the equipment level not quite as good, and the cabin feels tackier and less premium than the Golf.

However, the Leon does feature wireless smartphone charging, something the other two do not have. It's also got the most spacious rear cabin among the three, though the differences are really not vast at all.

 
Premium materials, sensible design and clear craftsmanship elevates the Mazda3's cabin overall quality and refinement

The Mazda doesn't immediately strike you as being super modern, but spend some time in the car and the classiness and quality shine through. Materials are superior to the Golf, and there's a coziness that comes from the well-thought out design and craftsmanship. It packs plenty of equipment too, such as electric seats, a head-up display and a 360-degree reverse camera. 

The longer you drive all three cars, the more the Mazda impresses. It edges out the other two in terms of sheer quality and class.

How do you feel?

On paper, you may think that the three cars will be vastly different on the road. The Golf has a turbocharged 1.4-litre engine, the Leon a turbocharged 1.0-litre lump, and the Mazda a naturally aspirated 1.5-litre powerplant.

The Mazda3's powerplant impresses with its smoothness and refinement

In reality, the Golf and Leon feel quite similar. The 1.4-litre engine in the Golf is the lower output version, so the output figures of 123bhp and 200Nm of torque are pretty similar to the Leon's 114bhp and 200Nm of torque. Both are eager and perky engines, but the Golf has the slight edge in terms of refinement.

The Mazda's 1.5-litre engine undoubtedly has a power disadvantage (118bhp and 153Nm of torque), and does not have the surge of torque you get from a turbocharger, but we reckon it's actually the best powertrain of the lot. Assuming you are somewhat light-footed, the Mazda's drivetrain smoothness and refinement really stand out.

The Leon's sharp and light steering makes it thoroughly fun to pilot

If it's driving comfort you are after, the Mazda is the clear winner. The Leon and Golf are slightly stiffer sprung, and have a slight edge when it comes to cornering and agility. The Mazda is also the quietest on the move, assuming you keep the engine under 3,000rpm.

The Leon (above) and Golf both have large 380-litre boots

How should I know?

For the longest time, the Golf has been the template hatchback. Even now, it still delivers of what a hatchback buyer wants - practicality, comfort, and quality. The Leon offers a slightly different take on that formula - sharper and more lightfooted, while also being significantly less expensive ($95,900 is hard to beat, but there's less equipment on board).

Cheaper than the Golf, yet arguably more premium-feeling, the new Mazda3 Hatchback edges its way into first place

But, the Mazda's leap forward and upward is just downright impressive. With its emotive design, classy cabin, ample equipment and refined drive, it outshines the Golf in a few departments, and is easily an on-par competitor. And, it costs slightly less than the Golf ($114,888 for this Astina variant).

Our money? We'd have the Mazda. 

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Car Information

spacer

Price

: $118,888

Engine Type

:

4-cylinder in-line 16-valve DOHC SKYACTIV-G

Engine Cap

:

1496cc

Horsepower

:

88kW (118 bhp) / 6000 rpm

Torque

:

153 Nm / 4000 rpm

Transmission

:

6-speed (A)

Acceleration (0-100 km/h)

:

12.1sec

Top Speed

:

193km/h

Fuel consumption

:

18.1 km/L

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Promotion
There's a promotion for SEAT Leon

Price

: $96,900

Engine Type

:

3-cylinder 12-valve

Engine Cap

:

999cc

Horsepower

:

85kW (114 bhp) / 5500 rpm

Torque

:

200 Nm / 3500 rpm

Transmission

:

7-speed (A) DSG

Acceleration (0-100 km/h)

:

9.6sec

Top Speed

:

202km/h

Fuel consumption

:

22.7 km/L

spacer
Promotion
There's a promotion for Volkswagen Golf

Price

: $119,400

Engine Type

:

4-cylinder 16-valve TSI Turbocharged

Engine Cap

:

1395cc

Horsepower

:

92kW (123 bhp) / 6000 rpm

Torque

:

200 Nm / 4000 rpm

Transmission

:

7-speed (A) DSG

Acceleration (0-100 km/h)

:

9.1sec

Top Speed

:

204km/h

Fuel consumption

:

18 km/L

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