The updated Ford Focus is going to have a tough fight on its hands to make an impact in the compact family car class. We found out exactly how difficult that would be when the EcoBoost-powered hatchback took on our class favourite, the SEAT Leon, and was narrowly beaten here. Now, it’s the turn of the Focus Estate to prove its mettle.

For this test, we’re going for diesel power, and in the Focus, it’s the new 1.5-litre TDCi that’s making its debut. This new engine promises a decent combination of efficiency and performance. However, the Focus will need to be something special to have the measure of its two rivals here.

• Best estate cars on the market

First up is the SEAT Leon ST. It doesn’t have the biggest boot around, but it makes up for it with practical touches. Plus, the Leon’s sharp handling remains, even in the guise of the fuel-efficient Ecomotive model tested here.

Then there’s the Peugeot 308 SW. It has the largest boot in the class and the lowest CO2 emissions from its 1.6 BlueHDi diesel, while the cabin has a premium feel that will be hard for the Focus to match. So, for the second time of asking, can the new Ford take top honours?

• Ford Focus Estate review

• SEAT Leon ST review

• Peugeot 308 SW review

Click on the links above to read full reviews of the cars in this test, and scroll down to see which load-lugger takes the win in this test...

Head-to-head

Boot space

The 308 SW leads the space race: it has a boot capacity of 660 litres with the rear seats up and 1,775 litres when they’re folded. Plus, the bases collapse as you fold the seats in one move.

There’s 587 litres available in the SEAT, and 1,470 litres when the seats are down. The Ford only has 476 litres with the seats in place, but this jumps ahead of the Leon with them folded, as there’s a 1,502-litre maximum capacity.

LED headlights

LED headlamps are standard on the Peugeot, while SEAT’s free Technology Pack upgrade means the Leon gets the glitzy lights, too. You can add LED daytime running lamps to the Focus Zetec for £600, but the headlights are standard halogens – xenons only come with the top-spec Titanium X models.

Company car tax

Ford’s new Focus sits in the 15 per cent Benefit In Kind bracket, while its rivals are one position lower at 14 per cent. And despite their higher list prices, the SEAT and Peugeot bring lower tax bills, with the Leon costing higher-rate fleet users £1,168 a year. Those who go for the Ford face a £1,232 bill.

Verdict

1st place: SEAT Leon ST

It’s a close verdict, but the Leon narrowly edges ahead in this test. While it doesn’t have the space of the 308 SW, it makes up for it with practical touches, and you can splash out on some neat options and still undercut the Peugeot on price. Add in decent performance from the eco diesel, a combination of entertaining handling, cruising comfort and great value, and theLeon ST wins.

2nd place: Peugeot 308 S

The 308 SW is a roomy and practical estate, while the Allure model looks very attractive as it has plenty of big car goodies. Plus, the 1.6 BlueHDi is an excellent diesel, which delivers punchy performance and super-low running costs. However, we found the cabin isn’t quite as user-friendly as its rivals here, and the higher list price also counts against it.

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