SEAT's Toledo offers good honest motoring at a knockdown price. Score one for straightforwardness. Jonathan Crouch reports.
Ten Second Review
If you're a practically-minded family buyer on a supermini budget who really needs the kind of space you'd find on something much bigger, then you're target market for this car, SEAT's fourth generation Toledo, now even more affordable and well equipped. With space for five, durable build quality, low running costs and an enormous boot, it offers a lot of car for the money.
Think family hatchbacks are pretty much all the same? It's not true. Ask SEAT. If you're searching for something Golf or Astra-shaped, then this Spanish brand will offer you two very different alternatives. Most will choose the company's third generation Leon. Hi-tech and trendy, it's a Golf in all but name but better value and with a little extra attitude. But there is another option in the SEAT model line-up for Focus folk - another way to go. A less trendy take on the compact family five-door genre but one that's spacious and sensibly practical. Launched late in 2012, it's this car, the fourth generation Toledo.
This was the kind of model the Toledo was when first we saw the MK1 version in 1991, a no-nonsense hatch with an absolutely huge boot. Back then, it was the first fully Volkswagen-engineered design the brand had ever brought us and its size, shape and packaging was subsequently even more successfully copied by another Volkswagen Group brand, Skoda, in their Octavia of 1996.
For second and third generation Toledos, SEAT unwisely deviated from this winning formula and sales were disappointing. So when the opportunity came to re-invent the MK1 model for the modern era through the simple expedient of re-badging and re-branding Skoda's Rapid model, the Spaniards grabbed it with both hands. The result is, well, a sensible set of wheels, the kind of car the motoring mags get all sniffy about. But also the kind of car that makes eminent sense to real, recession-hit families in the current climate. Let's put it to the test.
There are no pretensions here. This car's motoring remit is to get you and your family reliably, safely and comfortably from A to B - no more, no less. You probably won't be approaching your first run around the block with any real expectations of out-of-the-ordinary levels of driving enjoyment and you won't get it.
Having said that, there's relatively little not to like. If you can operate a payphone, then you won't have much trouble getting to grips with the clean, uncluttered controls, all-round visibility is excellent and both steering and gearshift feel direct and positive. On the subject of transmission, there are three options. Both the entry-level petrol units - the unremarkable three cylinder 75PS 1.2 12V and the more modern four cylinder 86PS 1.2 TSI - get the same five-speed manual 'box - the one that the 90 and 105PS diesel models must have. Go for the desirable 105PS version of the petrol 1.2 TSI and you get six manual speeds and above that model, there's the option of an auto-only 122PS 1.4 TSI petrol variant.
From this little lot, you can't really go too far wrong, provided you don't opt for the entry-level 75PS three-cylinder petrol 1.2. It isn't really up to the task of moving a car of this size along and is far less economic than the four cylinder 86PS 1.2-litre TSI petrol engine that isn't much more expensive and should really form the starting point of the line-up. Rest to 62mph here occupies 11.8s on the way to 114mph and if that's not fast enough, opting for this engine in turbocharged 105PS form improves those figures to 10.3s and 121mph, very similar in fact to the performance return you get from the 105PS 1.6-litre diesel (10.4s and 118mph).
Design and Build
SEAT may talk about 'motion and emocion' when it comes to the styling of all its cars but the truth is a little different here. There's a SEAT-specific front end with its broad, angular headlamps and slender trapezoidal front grille. And a light makeover at the rear too. But these cosmetics apart, this Toledo is pretty much identical to its Skoda Rapid design stablemate.
Raise the wide-opening tailgate and you find yourself looking at a simply enormous boot. Though the damper mounts and wheel arches intrude a little from the sides, there's still 550-litres with all the seats in place, so this is nearly 60% larger than the trunk you'll find on a rival Ford Focus and nearly 40% bigger than the boot in SEAT's other family hatch, the Leon.
At the wheel, well it's more Skoda than SEAT, the design clean, functional but not particularly exciting, with many of the surfaces quite hard to the touch and things like the unlined storage bins suggestive of budget brand pricing. Still, everything is nicely laid out and seemingly built to last and there are plenty of useful nooks and crannies, including a slot for your parking tickets. A 'V'-shaped centre console rises up from the footwell to the main dashboard and houses both ventilation and stereo controls. Through the three-spoke wheel you glimpse a large, clear twin-binnacle instrument display. Nothing then to especially catch the eye, but everything perfectly in its place.
Market and Model
SEAT has recently slashed £2,500 off the price of this car, pitching this Focus-sized family hatch in at a supermini budget - expect to pay somewhere in the £10,000 to £15,500 bracket. I'd skip the very bottom of this spectrum, thereby avoiding the feeble entry-level three cylinder model. And I'd allow for a couple of well-chosen extras on top of the cost of the 86PS petrol 1.2 TSI variant that arguably represents the sweet spot in the range. Look beyond this version and it's easy to see why. After all, some will see paying another £1,100 to boost the power of this engine to 105PS and get a 6-speed gearbox as being unnecessary additional spend. And others will think that stretching up to the top of the range for a 1.4 TSI petrol or 1.6 TDI diesel variant dilutes the value proposition that remains such a compelling incentive for Toledo ownership.
British customers must be satisfied with a single five-door hatchback bodystyle and choose from a range of modestly powered engines. Petrol-wise, that means the three cylinder 75PS 1.2-litre entry-level unit or the infinititely preferrable 86 or 105PS four cylinder 1.2s, with the automatic petrol 1.4 and this 1.6-litre TDI diesel available at the top of the range. Whichever of these you select, equipment items include a leather-wrapped multi-function steering wheel, rear electric windows, rear parking sensors and a centre-rear headrest. This is in addition to Bluetooth, a six-speaker stereo with USB port, air conditioning and electric heated door mirrors.
Cost of Ownership
Though this Toledo isn't the most efficient contender in the Focus-class family hatchback sector, it probably does just about enough to satisfy most owners. Most effort has been reserved for the eco-orientated 'Ecomotive' version of this 1.6-litre TDI diesel, which at launch was the only variant in the range to get a Stop/start system (a set-up subsequently added to the 1.2 TSI petrol unit) able to cut the engine when not needed, say when you're stopped at the lights or waiting in traffic.
Thanks both to this and features like low rolling resistance tyres and kinetic energy recouperation (which gathers in energy that would otherwise be lost when cruising or braking), fuel savings of between 5 and 8% and a combined cycle fuel figure of 72.4mpg are possible, though CO2 emissions still can't dip beneath the magic tax-busting 100g/km barrier that some rivals breach - expect 104g/km. An ordinary Toledo 1.6 TDI like this one without the Ecomotive gadgets manages 64.2mpg and 114g/km.
But most sales of this car will be made to petrol people. Folk who, as I've been saying all the way through, should avoid the entry-level three cylinder 75PS 1.2 with its rather poor returns (46.3mpg on the combined cycle and 137g/km of CO2). In favour of the impressive four cylinder 86PS 1.2 that as well as being not much more expensive, more refined and considerably faster manages 55.4mpg and 119g/km of CO2. Opt to get this engine in pokier 105PS form and the returns actually improve - expect 56.5mpg and 116g/km.
'It's all the car you need'. SEAT's description of this fourth generation Toledo may well ring true for a large number of the older buyers and practically-minded family folk it's aimed at. If you're not part of that demographic and want something with a little more aesthetic and dynamic sparkle, then you may struggle to see the appeal. Even then though, it's difficult to argue with the Spanish brand's contention that this car delivers an awful lot for the money, especially with its recent equipment upgrades and price reductions.
It's the kind of tough, practical car that Eastern European, Asian and African markets tend to opt for by the bucket-load - the sort of vehicle that pampered Western Europeans should probably take more seriously, offering as it does the space of something Mondeo-sized for a price not much greater than that of many superminis.
Of course, this SEAT's near-identical sister design, Skoda's Rapid, can claim exactly the same attributes. But model-for-model, it's a few hundred pounds more expensive, which could make all the difference, particularly if you already happen to have a SEAT dealer on your doorstep. Buyers will tend to be enthusiasts for life rather than for cars - people, you could argue who, like this car, have their priorities right where they need to be.